Saturday, 28 September 2013

Ruins, ruins and more ruins

It seems, that I came to Amalfi coast from a wrong side... Today I took the road towards Salerno, through Analfi and small towns Manori and Maiori. The road and the views opening after each turn were beautiful.. and I had a realy nice 1h+ drive.



Thursday, 26 September 2013

Amalfi coast


Yesterday I still spent a half day lazy.. and in afternoon headed towards the Amalfi Coast. Originaly I planned to have a stop somewhere around Rome, but got into those Termal waters and didn't want to get out.

So the journey took me nearly 6h...after 4h in the car, I was already thinking to drop the Amalfi Coast idea, but the shot of espresso made it's job and the next 2h gone quite fast (like 150km/h fast.. yes yes.. I was carefull with safety cameras).

I was planning to reach the place by the sunset, but at Neapoli area there were some trafic jams, so missed the target by half an hour.. Reached the Positano already in dark. 

Why everyone says that driving in Italy is hard? All my trip I was looking for those "crazy italian drivers"... seen none. Of course...in the moddle of Tuscany you will barely meet a car every half an hour... But in Florence, highways...nothing unusuall. It made me think that maybe we, lithuanians, are driving the same "crazy"? so that's the reason I didn't notice? The only difference I spotted were the scooters in Amalfi coast...wow there's realy a lot of them, passing from all sides :) 

And I was amazed by roads - they are very good in Italy. Well maintained, all have security fences on the sides.. nothing to compare to roads in France or Spain, where you basicaly can drive off the cliff on those serpantines.. Even the tiniest roads in the hills are well marked and safeguarded (some times looked that the rock fences have been acctually build ages ago).

Positano
Woke up quite early, but I was already the last one to have breakfast..looks like everyone wakes up at 7am ..why do you want to do that on vacation? 

And went down to find a bus (decided not to drive, as the parking would have been a nightmare there), but they all were so crowded, that didn't even stop... with no luck for an hour, just asked a middle aged couple from Austria to drop me off at Positano (..found them in parking area). They gladly agreed to help and here I was - walking the streets.


Frankly, I didn't like it. Of course - it's nice to have a look, nice to walk around for couple of hours.. it's a nice view from the top-hills, beautifull view of the sea.. but probably it's not my type. Too crowded, too much tourists (and it's not the busiest season!)... Honestly - I wish I stayed in Tuscany... 


And people do come here for weddings! (Saw like 3 couples in no time).. 


Then found some nice Fish restaurant, in the middle of the way to other beach and sat there for couple of hours, enjoying the calm location (outside the buzzz), reading a book and watching a speed boats passing by..

Btw - i was astonished to learn that having a private small speedboat to take a tour from Positano around Capri and drop me off at Praiano would cost from 500 to 1000 eur!! (For some 2-2,5h) And it's not like I would like to rent a whole yaht of smth... unbelievable.. 

For reference - I have stayed at B&B Casa Colombo in Praiano town. Which is 10km from Positano, towards Amalfi. It's worth recommendation, if you are traveling by car - they have their own parking lot for 5-6 cars, which is rare in that area. Also a bus stop is right at the bottop of the steps (250 steps..huh..) It cost 80eur/day and have spacious rooms with air conditioning, small terrace (with umbrella, sun bed and simple table) and lovely VIEW of Positano and Capri island:


View from Breakfast terrace:

Ciao!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

In Hot Springs: Bagni Vignoni


Why life cannot be stable? If yesterday was below expectations, so today it was exceeding them! Can't it be just "Met"? 

Montepulciano
Anyway.. today I headed back to middle of the Tuscany, with anticipation what the Montepulciano medieval and Renaissance hill top town will reviel. Not sure why, but I was looking forward to visit it and was amazed.. Tuscany is definitely at its best in its small historic hill towns.. 


Fields around this town produce "a violet-scented, orange-speckled ruby" wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I read somewhere that Vino Nobile is known as Tuscany’s number-two red because it’s slightly less beefy than Montalcino’s Brunello.

By the way - there is also a Montepulciano grape and It should not be confused with the similarly named  wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from predominantly Sangiovese (typical no1 Tuscany grape) and is named for the village it is produced in (..like many Italian towns it is the wine that comes from the area that defines them), rather than for containing any Montepulciano grapes in the blend. Confusing, a? :)


After nice rammble through the streets of Montepulciano, wine and cheese tasting in between, I arrived at Bagni Vignoni.

Bagni Vignoni

Bagno Vignoni is a small spa (306m) of medieval origin, although it was already know in Roman times, the fascinating tiny village is clustered around a large pool closed on three sides by the town walls, one metre and a half tall with water that flows at 52°.

Adler Thermae
I have cought another Last Minute deal and this night (to be precise - the afternoon and the night) ended up at Adler Thermae SPA resort. It was a finding! Absolute dream in the middle of the Tuscany fields and hills, just a footstep from the ancient town pool.

My Last minute deal included "Wine experience" - 2 treatments: "Red grape pealing, Brunello wine bath, oil relaxing massage with a wine tasting" and tomorrow will have a "Grape seed face peeling and regenerating treatment". The wine bath was superior experience... I was curious if I will be soaked in a bath of red and will come out blue..or what?.. It turned to be a termal water jacuzzi bath with a 3litres of gorgeous in smell Brunello wine (at least they said it's Brunello).. After the treatment and couple hours in termal pools before - my skin became baby soft.

Having some time before dinner, I have explored a souna areas... very cozy, beautiful places with wonderfull smells. I loved Grotta relax room - made to look like a cave I've been yesterday, with calming waterfall sound and a relaxing music in background.


Place is trully amazing! 



Monday, 23 September 2013

In Hot Springs: Grotta Giusti

Today I had a real "vacation" - meaning spending a Day at a pool, sun-tanning and reading a book. As Tuscany is famous with it's Termal waters and natural hot Springs, I search for a place I could enjoy this. The closes and most attractive was a Grotta Giuspi SPA .. definitely the most unique Spa experience I had! You have a natural underground sauna in a Grotta (Cave).


It has 3 areas - Limbo first (warm), then you proceed to purgatory (warmer) and end up in Hell (hot) to relax, meditate and sweat out all the toxins in your body. I immediately fell asleep... and seems not the only one to do that, as woke up by someone snoring at the other end of the cave room :))


P.s picture is not mine, as it's quite hard to get anything taken...and you are not allowed phones..as they would get quite wet after an hour there..

Having in mind that I got a great Last Minute Deal - it was a good experience and a nice place to stay (even I feel 30 years to young being gere..).. But I would not spend more that 1 day here. It's overall a bit dissapointing in price-quality that they charge the guests.. even though I don't have much experience in Luxury places and SPA's (which they concider themselves to be).. I find it hard to believe that this is "luxury" standard for Tuscany. 

Anyway - termal water pool and sunbeds (area reserved for Hotel guests only) was good place to be today...

Tomorrow I plan to head to Montepulciano area and get some "Wine experience" treatment in another Termal Springs area.. will see, what it would be there. 

FYI - found a nice article, where you can get the impression and directions to the Natural and Free Tuscany Hot Springs. I might try to drive through Saturnia and have a look at that natural wonder:

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/may/01/italy-tuscany-natural-hot-springs

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Defying the gravity laws

Lucca and Pisa where my today's target. Eleonora and Marcus were very nice giving me a tips for getting to and spending a time in Lucca.

Lucca
As the Lucca has been chosen as official START of the 2013 Road Cycling Worldchampionship, I have also rented a bike at one of the "hundreds" bike rental shops and drove through the impressive Lucca city walls to explore.. 

Lucca town is completely surrounded by XVI Century walls. The walls, 4.3 km long, are allowed only to walkers and bikers, and it looked as a perfect start point. 


Then I spent couple of hours driving through narrow streets, just enjoying the points of interest and watching people walking around.

From all I saw, I liked the Guinigi Tower most - nice feature that it has a trees on the roof and is the one of the few remaining towers in Lucca.


Nice view from the top:

Pisa
I should say the Pisa leaning tower has realy impressed me... I even sat at corner cafe drinking Aperol Spritz (the popular Italian aperitive drink made from Prosecco, Aperol and dash of sparkling water, topped with Orange wedge) and for 20min just admiring the view..



While walking around, I sneaked into the group of some kind of Pharmaceutical Conference people, who were having an English speaking tour. I listened to the stories about campanile (or Leaning Pisa tower), the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Campo Santo (the monumental cemetery). Was quite interesting and had a though that it's acctually worth taking a guided tours.. The places come alive, when you here the stories, legends and the secrets.

I came back to Forestaria (liked the place..)  with a feeling of a well spent Day.. Will head to Thermal spa tomorrow to relax and treat myself with something nice :)

Chiao!

Forestaria

Saturday I dropped Brook at the Arezzo and headed towards Lucca.

Montecatini Terme
On the way I stopped at Montecatini Terme, as it had "something nice" on the top of the mountain. The town was built around it's mineral water springs and it appears to be largest and most know Thermal town. I got onto the tripadvisor and found that on top is a Montecatini Alto - and the best and most enjoyable way to get there is to take a Funicular.


The view from above is amazing...as I could already expect. It's a standard for this region.

Walked around, had some light lunch with porcini mushrooms and headed back. 


By the way - today the 2013 Road Cycling World championship started, that will be all run in Tuscany from September 21st through September 29th, 2013. The race will cross the most charming Tuscan roads, will climb the world famous hills and will arrival in Florence..

The race is said to be as famous as Tour de France. Just this one is "Tour de Tuscany". All week they will be starting a race from different little towns, which ends always in Florence. Montecatini looked like a town where different teams placed their base camps - all parking lots were full of Cycling Team trucks (not sure if they are called trucks) and hotels being a Base camps for different teams. So it was good that I stopped today, as the were signs saying that roads would have been closed next day. And the championship was also a reason I did not return to Florence, as everyone adviced to stay away...if possible, as it becomes a nightmare during a race.

Forestaria
It was already quite in the afternoon, so I decided to hurry up to my night place, which I booked through airbnb.com. It had to be somewhere up hill.. surounded by Olive trees, so I didn't want to wonder around at night...as GPS was only approximately pointing me there. with a bit of struggle, I managed to arrive at "Forestaria" just at the moment when sun came down... I was happy with a choice I made - nice, clean, simple Villa with a young couple being an owners. They bought an old house with Olive tree gardens 3 years ago, renovated it and gladly hosting people in their 3 spear rooms on the second floor.


They pointed me to a nearest place, which serves the Food and there I met a couple from London, who happened to be staying in the same place. As the "restaurant" was fully booked for 2 different parties, I sat with them at the only available table. They came here for a weekend and were cycling around. We had a looong evening, eating 5 course meal.. which we were just served, without much of interest what we wanted.. the food was just served. 


It was another lovely evening here.. thanks guys!




Open your Fantasy!


I didn't write yesterday, as It was a long night of "Good Byes" and lots of good words...


This is a bunch of my new friends - whom I definitely miss!

From left:
Raymond (Australia) - the most calm person in a group, but very efficient! He will definitely remember this as a "pigeon nightmare" - he had to debone 6 little pigeons...and when he though he finaly done all (in 2h..) - the another one was found. The funny part was that we are the pigeon ragu in 2min... it was so tasty..

Next to me - Betsy (US). Comming for a 2nd time, as an aniversary present by her "non participating" husband Joe. They were the one of the oldest couples (she 60 and him 68). But so fit, funny and full of stories, that I personally enjoyed their company most. Joe was great non-participating guest - always comming at a "Food time".. looking after wine supplies, with a smile and energy. Taking us around the medieval towns and driving a car adms he drives his motobike..

Paola - The teacher. The bundle of endless energy, filled kitchen with laugh and good emotions, payed attention and cared for every single person in a class equally. Pushed us hard, beyond our limits... we were making ~20 recipies a Day. Wonderfull person!

Nilda (US) - the poor ladie broke her leg in Florence on arrival.. still - with good attitute and her smile participated in all lessons. Paola made sure she gets recipies that do not require much movement around and we all got assignments to help Nilda. 

Rosy (Australia) - as Paola said "looked like shy calm lady on an arrival day, but turned out to be a lady with a chilly peper in an ass.."..

Roberto (Australia) - the Teddy Bear of the group. The one of the most funniest guys in the world. Can't imagine the course without him.. He was a returning gyest after 8 years and it made even more special - as Paola knew him very well and made a jokes of him (like assigning him to make Tortellini..)

Sue (Australia) - Roberts wife, the absolutely lovely lady, every day discovering that "She can do it!" She was full of discoveries and good emotions during the cooking, that it kept us all awaken!

Brook (Australia) - "allow me to talk".... Imagine, that 2 days before.. over a lunch I became very popular with a phrase "Brook, go to the point".. which was then quoted quite often by everyone :)

Cecile (Canada) - very sincere, nice and kind person. In the kitchen very direct and not disturbing, unless needed. Full of joy and smile, beautifully filling up the company.

Ronaldo (US) - Nilda's husband, who took a great care of Nilda.. and a pationate cook. Eager to try and learn new things. 

This was amazing group of people.. the last Day we even done a Flash Mob (!) of "Hand washing dance" at a Gangnam style...which Paola so much enjoyed. I'll post a video later!! That was something.. with everyone participating.. that was soooo funny!!

Last day was a bit easier. I got a starters - Octopus Salad and Marinated anchovies:



Anchovie:

And adms true Lithuanian, who mostly eat potatoes, I got to do a Potatoe & Rosemary bread (mmmm delitious):


And this is Joe fire... That he was litting every night for us to sit and enjoy with last glass of wine..


Miss you guys!!

...But!! the second part of Holdays start!


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Day off


Today was a Day Off. (So.. no pictures..)
I decided to do nothing and spent most of the Day at a pool, enjoying a Sun.

Some of the people when off to Montepulciano, some stayed in Villa and done nothing as me. 

As it was a Day Off - we were not served neither Lunch nor Dinner and we left alone in the Villa. It was interesting to see, how everyone started gathering at 6pm... one setting a Dinner table, the other one making a pasta, other one heating a leftovers... I done a cake.. It felt so hommie. 

Cooking is all about pation. And it unites everyone - despite the age or nationality... No one forced..but we felt so good to sit all together at Dinner table, clap for people who made a meal, appreciate the Food. You could see people being proud of making a Meal for others and it makes you feel honoured of being able to eat and enjoy it. It's a nice experience, which is difficult to describe and you can only experience.

..then it smoothly transformed into Dancing party! Even out Nilda in a wheelchair was dancing !! I done some introduction into Lithuanian Folk music - Polka.. then our Villa manager done the Sirtaki (he is Greek) lessons.. it was so much fun. 

Tomorrow is a Last Day.. who could believe it will go so fast.






Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Lamb & "Torture'llini"


Today Paola (the teacher) promissed a hard day. She said we will be "Disastered"...in her Italian-English she acctually meant Exhausted :)

...it was true..after the Introduction (we start a cooking class by going through recipies we will be making ..receiving tips and comments) we realised that we will have to make 23 recipies!!! And basically quite a complicated ones..

I got the Lamb (on a Leek&Spinach bedding with Garlic souce and cherry tomatoes) - which turned to be a delitious dish!


Beside that, we were again making pasta - but this time was a Tortellini... which Robert called a "Torture'llini" - as for him is was a nightmare to make those small creatures...and looks like Paola on purpose gave the biggest man in a group this task - to make a Fun for all of us! ;)


Camaldoli
...in the morning we went to Camaldoli - The holy Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli. The monks living there still make use of homegrown medical herbs. 
On the way back we took a very narrow, small and picturesque road through the hills back...amazing...


Antique Farmacy:

Tomorrow is a free Day!
...and now is a Hot Tube time! 

Ciao!



Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Food Lovers Tour

Today was no Cooking day and from the early morning we left for a full day trip.

Arezzo
First thing we stopped at Arezzo which has a charming medieval historical center. One of the main attractions is Basilica of San Francesco (13th-14th centuries), built in Tuscan-Gothic style, with massive fresco the History of the True Cross (1453–1464) cycle by Piero della Francesca in the Bacci Chapel. The fresco is stinning and must see!


Villa La Ripa
Next stop was a Wine tasting. Not a traditional place. A current owner (Saverio Luzzi) bought a Villa with a 100 years old wineyard in 1998.. and was not planning to get into wine making. 7 years later, he was planning to get rid of the wineyards while one of most famous Tuscany wine makers made him an offer - he asked Saverio to give a grapes a chance: he would help him to grow and harvest the grapes and make a wine. If it would be not good - he can destroy it.. 


The wine turned to be a great one, having Silver and Gold awards! The secret lies 1) in the sole - the grounds of the area have sulphur - which adds and preserves the wine flavour and 2) the fact that they have only 1,5 hectares of the wineyards, which allows them to harves a grapes in 1 day. Selecting a right day is said to be extreamly important for the tannin (sugar and acid) levels.

The Red wine ( 50% Sangiovese + 50% Cabarnet Sauvignon) was absolutely awesome and appreciated by all of us.


Ravagni (since 1421) - Olive oil & lunch by "Italian mama"

Next stop was at an Old small Olive oil manufacturer - Francessco, the current owner, who took it over from his Dad, Dad took from his Dad and etc. The process appeard to be extreamly simple - mash the olives with a mill, get all purre on mats, put under press - and you get the Oil with water, centrifuge it and it's all done. People usually come at November, pick the olives and press the oil themselves. Should be fun!

It was interesting to know, that the first drippings of the Oil (before pressing) are called "Most of Oil" and it has much more fresh taste.

(In picture is Francessco at the Oil press)

Then we were invited to his Family (Mom, Dad, Sis, Aunt and etc..) house for lunch. It was realy very Italian domestic place. A Dad (79) came out at the end of the Linch with home made grappa and sang us some Italian songs - that was pretty fun :)



Anghiari - the Textile manufacturing

Then we shortly stopped at another beautifull medieval town Anghiari (there is a famous - currently lost - Leonardo Da Vinci painting "The Battle of Anghiari") and stopped at the Textile manufacturer, to watch the old machines still making a textiles.. I watched and watched and couldn't figure out how it works with these "perfocards"..(need to google one day)



Last stop was to have a look at a Goats and taste some cheese.. We were shown the milking process - I even tried myself (the only one who dared to do that).. then patted a nice baby goats.. and tried a very Fresh Ricotta and some other nice cheese.
...unfortunatelly the camera went dead..so cannot show any of the moments. Will add later, when get some photos from the other guys.

We all slept in the bus on the way back ... day was long... and were so happy to get only a light dinner - The Minestrone that I made with Rose on Sunday (Paola said that Minestrone needs to rest before being eaten), Tomatoe and mocarella salad and a Panacota (made by Ronald) - I was lucky and got 1,5 of them... it was perfect! 

..I couldn't imagine people being so happy about finishind a Dinner at 9pm.. there were clapping around the table :)) (just to give a background - First night we finished at midnight!, next day at 23.30, then at 22.30... and the eating/drinking is soo exhausting..who could ever imagine)

Arrivederci!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Pasta & Zuccotto

Day Five and I'm already tired.

I think, I'm tired of the eating.. I feel like it's a 3rd Christmas Day.. we cook, we eat, we eat again and we eat again. The only good thing - there is definitely no time and energy to think about work or any other distraction from the "Reality".

Today I took the lazy morning and missed everyone going to a nearby (4km) medieval village Poppi, which is included in thr list of "The most beautifull villages and towns of the Italy". This is a view from the road to Villa:


I will go there the other day. Instead - I wondered to road to other village Pratovecchio and found a nice XI century Monastery & churche of San Giovanni Evangelista. And up the hill - the Castle where they say that Dante Alighieri lived for a short time during his exile from Florence. The last looked more like ruins, but acctually was rebuilt and quite visited by the tourists.



The afternoon was the Pasta Day. In Italy, as they say, there are as many pastas as paintings of the Virgin Mary. It's hard to comprehend just what pasta means. what other Food can be ethereal or earthy, plain or complex, saucy or dry, lusty or reserved, trendy or traditional, rugged or silky? 

...coming back, from Pasta I managed to make only dough.. as got an assignment to make a Zuccoto - a semi-frozen, chilled dessert made with brandy, cake and ice cream (we made with Ricotta)
. My real pasta day will be on Wednesday.

Basic Pasta
200g All purpose flour
2 Eggs
2 tbsp of Olive oil
pinch of salt

Mound the flour on a countertop and form a well in the middle. Add the eggs and beat them with a fork. Mix gradually adding the flour as you go, until most of it is incorporated. Then knead the dough until smooth, about 10min. Shape into a flattened disc, cover it and let it rest for at least 30min.

Making pasta by hand seems meditative..



Zuccotto
As mentioned above, Zuccotto is a semi frozen dessert, usually made with ice cream. Today we made it with Ricotta cheese as had not so much time available for the chilling. 
This dessert is traditionally made in a special pumpkin-shaped mold (Zuccotto means "little pumpkin" in Italian) - see the picture below. It's also believed that the shape of dessert was inspired by the Florence Duomo Cupolo....
 It does not look any fancy, all the key stuff (ricotta filling) is inside.. 


With Rose and Paola (The chef) serving my Cake and Rosies Peach pie. I loved the pie - easy but sooo tasty!


Tomorrow is free from Cooking Day.
Will have a full-day Food Lovers Tour around the Tuscany!! So looking forward..

Kisses from Tuscany!