Friday, October 17, 2008


We stayed up and talked way too late on Friday night before we left, so both Teresa and I only got a couple of hours sleep.
Except for getting up really early, 3:15, to go to the airport everything was fine.
Airports and airplanes are really amazing, if you try to think back 50 years. We leave Seattle on Saturday morning, our time, and arrive in Italy on Sunday morning their time, with 6-7000 miles in between. Travel really is work, compared to the dreaminess of it, but compared to what it could be, it’s easy work.

We arrived in Milan and rented the car and off we go; south and east to a region, little known to Americans, as Le Marche, just east of Tuscany.

A month of so ago I googled “Agri-tourism Italy” and came upon a site for an Italian cooking class and was intrigued. I started to read the blog associated with it and thought this would be fun. It’s in Le Marche, that’s why we’re here and way up in the boonies. We have a GPS in the car and they gave us coordinates to get here, and bamm, we drove right to it.

We were greeted by our hosts Jason and Ashley. This is pretty crazy, but God kind of works these things out. I booked the date here and then started to communicate with them more and found out that they are from the northwest and more specifically, Ashely’s grand parents lived in Marysville right before they moved out to Camano Island. So when we talk about Granite Falls, they know exactly where we are talking about.

Jason is a chef from San Fran and New York. He took culinary arts classes in French pastry and he is very low key, at least in this setting, which begs towards low key, as there is no one around us. Ashley is very energetic and gregarious, with a back ground in hospitality and drama. Both a very genuine, sweet, late 20’s entrepreneurs. They have left the language and culture they know to move to another continent to pursue a dream and it does appear they are living the dream. If your marriage isn’t good, you probably don’t want to try this.

Dinner was delicious. I can’t remember everything we had, but I’ll list a few.
Of course you can’t start w/o anti-pasta of thin sliced meats and cheese.
The stuffed egg plant was truly amazing.
Sautéed greens with a little lemon juice.
Green beans and cheery tomatoes sautéed with garlic, yum.
A very small tortellini, with beef broth soup, topped with Parm.
Seconda was breaded veal, sautéed with chopped parsley.
And for dessert a local pear, with pear butter, tart.
We ate way too much and it was all fabulous.

Off to bed because we have a local market to go to tomorrow.

I slept really well. When I got up in the middle of the night it was so dark that I couldn’t even see my hand right in front of my face. There are no street lights here. The bed was really warm, because the season has just changed and it is pretty cool in the room, but that makes for good sleeping.

Day 2.
Teresa is still sleeping, so I got up and walked around outside to take some early morning pictures. It’s pretty cold and a little dewy. No noises except for some locals doing something up in the woods with a single piece of machinery.
What a great place to slow down, relax and do as the Italians do.

We went on a little drive this morning, through some small towns out in the hills around here. We tried to go to the local market, that was supposed to be on Mondays, but it was yesterday, so we just drove and stopped and then drove and stopped. We had a couple of pastries at a bakery and some yogurt, which is really good, but much runnier that American style.

Pretty much everything was closed. We stopped at a bicycle shop, but it was closed as well. We did find a hardware store open, so in true form, Teresa bought some gloves and a spade to work on the herb garden here. She saw it needed some TLC, so of course she is the girl to do it.

We came back to the house and Teresa, in true "I want to bless you with taking weeding" form, started to weed the small circular herb garden and around some of the roses close to the house and Jason and Ashley came home. We had already had a snack so they ate some pizza type bread and we decided to go back into the bigger city Urbino with Ashley. Jason needed to stay around here to look for a part to repair the downstairs water. He is pretty patient with the system here, which is, “I’ll be there in a few hours” and they really don’t arrive for days.

The drive to Urbino is along the ridge of hilltops and the views are beautiful. The rolling hills are spotted with fields that either have hay left in them, or have been freshly disked up, so the contrast is really stunning.

Urbino is an old, large and well maintained castle fort. It is quite beautiful as well with the round tower of bricks and stone set into the walls which are straight and high. The steeple from the cathedral is the highest, pointing towards Heaven.

The town itself is relatively busy, as there is a university there. Small shops line the street level with 2, 3 and 4 levels of houses above. Laundry hangs from the windows as daily life goes on above and around us; we’re here to take it all in.
We had Gelati for the first time this trip. It’s so good. I had dark chocolate with frutti di bosco, which is fruit of the woods. It’s like blackberries of all kinds in yogurt.

After an afternoon of exploring we joined Jason for dinner in Piobbico, a small town very close to their home.

I did notice during our dinner conversation that Jason was talking about something in the States and he started to say, “Back at home”, but said “In the States”. They are now home in Italy. What a great story they will have for their kids and grandkids.
During the day I also heard Teresa and Ashley talking about Ashley’s love of life itself. She is a breath of fresh air. She is pretty dramatic, but in a refreshing sort of way. She LOVES everything, but I think she actually does. If you’re not coming here to relax, slow down and enjoy life, you should consider another destination. If you are, you probably can’t find a more suited host/guide.
We have them to ourselves, these 2 days, and it’s so nice. Other guests are arriving tomorrow, when we leave, and so they will have 8-12 at a time for almost the remainder of Oct. This is great for their business and bank acct. as the tourist season is almost finished. Their ability to generate revenue is almost done for 3-4 months; that would be scary for me, but they seem to embrace all the idiosyncrasies of Italy, whether good or not so good.

Day 3
We’re going to explore a meat and cheese store today, make Tiramisu and go back to Urbino tonight for dinner. It should be a fun last day here.

Jason and I went to Piobbico this morning to get the ingredients for the Tiramisu and on the way home we stopped at a bicycle shop and I was able to purchase a riding jersey. We came home and Teresa was out “hunting” in the woods for treasures. The hike was steep and you could see the horse’s tracks that have labored up the clay trail and the slide marks of those same horses returning. The view from the top was really nice, and it’s so peaceful here.

We came back to the house and started on the Tiramisu. It’s such and easy recipe and Jason is a good teacher/coach. We laughed and made our dessert for when we came home from the day goofing off around town.

We then had to wait for a guy to come by the house, so I laid down in a recliner by the pool and the breeze and the sun felt so good. The season is finished for the pool tomorrow, so one last tourist by her and she’s done for the year.

Then it was off to explore to little towns and to pick up some more treasures of our trip.

First we went to Jason and Ashley’s landlord’s business, which happens to be a meat and cheese store. It seems Dominique owns half of Italy, or at least half of the surrounding area here and everyone comes by the shop and visits and has a little glass of wine, some cheese and tells a story and off they go.

His sons are loading up their trucks to go out and sell to the local restaurants in their small towns and villages and Dominique laughs and talked with us while they are steam cleaning the inside of their trucks. They are really clean.

We purchased a couple of loafs of cheese, some jars of sun dried tomatoes and pickled onions and a pigs cheek. It supposed to be really, really good, so with preparation procedure in hand we’ll go back home and try it out. They eat lots of pork here.

We traveled back to Urbino and walked around, had some Gelati and then went for dinner. That’s right, dessert BEFORE dinner.

We ate at an upper room, off the street level, restaurant. It happened to be where Jason and Ashley had come for some inside information before they moved here. They had talked to the owner about the actual running of a restaurant in Italy so they would be more prepared. They had only talked with the guy one time, about a year and a half ago, and he remembered them and all the details of the conversation. They were impressed.

To finish the day we returned home and had Tiramisu. I don’t really like Tiramisu that much, as I always think it is too “boozy”/coffee flavored. I changed my mind. This recipe is really good and so easy to make.

Day 4
Today we say “good bye” to the Ca’Camore” which means the community oven. All the people of the community would bring their bread to bake in the only wood fired oven.
We left and headed north along the Adriatic coast.

We had to stop and Teresa and I walked along the beach and Teresa searched for shells and trinkets. Of course Teresa had to take off her flip flops and get her feet wet. You can see by all the buildings on the beach that in high season this beach is crazy busy.

Then we got on the Autostrata and headed north to Rovereto, north of Verona. We arrived a the hotel and got checked in. It’s a nice place just off the main drag. Since it’s so far from a big city it’s pretty reasonably priced and the town is nice and quiet. We had pizza and gelati for dinner and went to sleep.

Day 4
Off to the show.
We went to the factory and visited and checked out the new materials coming in. There are some crazy onyx and nice new marbles. It’s always nice to see what’s happening in the heart of the company and the Italian side is amazingly clean, for a business this size.

Then we took the shuttle bus to the fair and walked around to see the vendors from Brazil and look to see if they have anything we haven’t seen, but most of them are focused on America and the market at home had been tough on them.

The fair has 12 halls which are at least 100k s/f each and then there are outside vendors.

We went back to the factory and then headed back to the hotel to change clothes to have dinner with a few people we know and a bunch of people we don’t.
We saw some old friends and made friends with some others we have just met. It’s such a nice business to be in, because we have something in common; stone.

The dinner is amazing; one of our yearly highlights for sure. The family is so gracious and kind to all of us and I love that this dinner is done with incredible excellence, from first course through #7 and onto dessert, with fireworks, like a small city in America on the 4th of July.

We stayed up way too late for our liking, but this is a great reason to stay up late. Off to bed.

Day 5
We traveled a rainy road into Affi to the factory to look at more stones and to visit with Niko for a bit. The factory was crammed with people and Niko was gracious as ever, trying to get time with me, when there are so many others that need to be helped. We decided to come back later and go into Verona to see what was going on there.

The weather was perfect for walking around and seeing the sites. There was a rock concert going on in the evening at the coliseum, which seems strange; world famous opera and rock concerts.

We tried to get back to the factory to see Niko, but when we left the traffic was really bad coming out of town and equally as bad coming off the freeway, so we plan to go back on Monday afternoon, when all the craziness stops.

We came back to the hotel and packed up to leave tomorrow morning. We tried to pack in such a way that we don’t have to unpack everything from here on out. It should be interesting to see if we succeeded.

Day 6
Off to Venice to explore.
The morning in Rovereto was clear and beautiful. The first dusting of snow on the mountain caps, but today was the only day we could actually see the tops, as it has been pretty cloudy in the mornings. We drove south toward Verona and then east toward Venice. The weather called for rain in Venice until noon and as we drove it was nice, but we could see we were going into the rain clouds. About the time we got to Venice it was raining, but in an hour or so the clouds burned off and it was a perfect weather day in Venice. We found an antique show along the main road in own, so we stopped and got some stuff that we didn’t need, but then again, what do we really need?

We did exactly what tourists are supposed to do; ate way too much, I bought too much stuff and just walked around and took pictures and looked; again, a perfect day for it. We came back to the hotel area and there was a sort of carnival atmosphere, so we started to explore what was going on and found a traveling food and trinket show going on. We people watched, ate too much again and enjoyed the evening.

Tomorrow we drive south to Florence and Siena. The weather is supposed to be nice again, so hopefully we’ll get to take some more pictures.

Day 7.
We woke up to perfect sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. We had breakfast and checked out and we were on our way south through Florence to a little town called Tavarnelle, just south of Florence, but slightly north of Siena.

The drive was uneventful, as much as driving through the heart of Italy can be, but no issues. The scenery is great, but widely diverse; from fields, like central California, to hills covered with trees, vineyards with castle-like houses, and olds villas everywhere. The weather changed as we drove south and it was just misting when we arrived here.

We checked into the hotel and then went to San Grigiagna. This town has a medieval castle; wall, turret and the works. We walked around and there were musicians playing along the walls and in the piazzas. We listened to a harpist playing right on the edge of the wall, with the Tuscan hillside right behind him. This reminded me of what Saul must have been thinking when he was having David play for him. Then we walked some more and ate more gelati. We came into a piazza and this amazing music, which sounded like an orchestra playing, came flooding through the hallways leading into it. I didn’t initially realize it was someone playing, but there was a flautist, with a background cd, and we listened to him for a while.

We then went back to the hotel and called on the hot air ballooning schedule for tomorrow and then went to dinner, by recommendation of the hotel clerk.

Dinner was great, the waitress spoke great English and almost the entire restaurant was filled with English speakers.

We came back again to the hotel and I was able to log on to the internet for the first time this trip. It’s nice to catch up on the pile of emails I would have had if I didn’t read some of them today.
Tomorrow is the balloon ride. We are hoping for good weather so we can go.

Day 8
I woke up and called into the pilot for the balloon and heard the news that there was a possibility of rain/wind, so no ballooning today. Well, we were tired so we went back to sleep for a little while, as the call had to be earlier than sunrise.

We woke up, ate breakfast and got on the road to Florence, on a quest for ties and scarves. I was literally just standing still and something popped in my back and I was in pretty severe pain. I laid down in a shop and tried to stretch it out, but couldn’t get it out.

We did find a bunch of ties and some scarves as well, and I also found a nice little shop so I purchased some wine and an antique bottle of Balsamic vinegar. It’s amazing.

We went from there back to the factory, about 2 hours drive, and looked at the material we had selected and selected a few more choice bundles.

We then drove over the hill to Bardolino, on Lake Garda, and had dinner overlooking the lake watching the sun go down. There were some swans on the walkway that were eating everything the people would feed them, they were gigantic.

We then proceeded to get lost going to the motel and it took us an extra 2 hours to find it before we could check in. We had to unpack all the bags and repackage them to be able to take them all on the plain. We got a lot of stuff.
Off to bed for the flight tomorrow home.

So that is the trip to Italy in a nut shell. Teresa is great to let me drag her all over the place. We did have a nice time, though since the US market was crashing while we were away it was a drag listening to the TV give us a blow by blow ever day.

God knows what is to come and in arriving back to work I have to remember He is on control of all those things.


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Ashley & Jason said...

oh we miss you guys - that was such a lovely time!! your pics are great!! and it was fun to see & read how your adventures continued - happy holidays! we think of you both often - all the best, ash & j