Cook in Tuscany – Il Primo Giorno

Hello my friends!  Since I cannot will not bombard you with a slew of pictures all at once, and a TLDR text, I shall pretend I am blogging daily from Tuscany.  Sounds good? Great!

I left the lovely Milena’s B&B by taxi to get to the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme to meet with the van that would bring us to La Costa in Montefollonico.  I was sitting inside the station and noticed a white van.  No markings.  Hmmm… just as I picked up my stuff, deciding to wait outside, a man walked in holding a sign “Cook in Tuscany”.  Well, now!  I followed him and settled into the van.  Wow… first to arrive? Okay then.

Next thing I know, George pops his head in and says:  “You must be Dale.  Follow me, a bunch of Canadians are all sitting at the bar across the street!”  I gladly followed him and was introduced to friends Terri and Janet, from Vancouver; and friends Donna and Sandy, also from British Columbia.  Ordered my first Aperol Spritz (funny enough, it is a cocktail gaining in popularity at the golf club too!) and were soon joined by Alison from Louisiana.  Along came mother and daughter Rosemarie and Venetia, from Ontario.  We hopped into the van and car and off to La Costa in Montefollonico where my real adventure begins!  Turns out we would be seven Canadians and seven Americans in our group of 14.

I cannot lie.  I was brought to my room where I was welcomed by a bouquet and apron and bag of goodies.  I dropped my suitcase, opened up the door leading to my balcony and started to cry!  It was a mixture of “oh-my-God-I’m-finally-here” and “wow-I’m-here-all-by-myself” and “Mick-should-be-here”.  I was NOT expecting that at all!

Once I unpacked my stuff, I set off to explore my home for the next week.  A few of us ended up on one of the terraces and decided to order a bottle of Pinot Grigio with some antipasto and get acquainted before freshening up for our welcome cocktail.

We were served Prosecco and deliciously simple tomato bruschetta at 6:30 pm and sat around in an informal circle (how does that happen anyway?)  Linda and George Meyers, owners of Cook in Tuscany asked us to introduce ourselves and share our how we came to be at Cook in Tuscany (CiT).  Here we met Frank (whose wife, Mary Ellen was bed-bound with a stomach something) and Cindi & Conrad, both couples from Orlando, Florida, as well as long-time friends Paula and Nancy from New York and Santa Fe.  The “how’s” of getting to this particular cooking vacation were most interesting.  Cindi and Mary Ellen gave the trips to their husbands for Christmas… Uh huh… husband’s gift!  Donna had heard about CiT on Facebook and asked her friend, Sandy, if she felt like joining her – she did!  Forty years ago, when they were young mothers raising their kids, Paula and Nancy vowed that one day they would do something special just for them!  Friends, Terri and Janet, just decided it would be fun to do something together.  Venetia wanted to celebrate a certain special birthday with her mum and was going to organise this super trip in England (birthplace of Rosemarie) and so saved for two years for said trip.  When came time to book it, it was no longer available!  She had found this cooking trip in a magazine and suggested it be the middle part of their trip.  Alison’s son had just moved out of the house and she finally felt it was time to do something for herself.  As for me?  Well, everyone who knows me, knows this has been a dream for a very, VERY long time!

Linda then brought us for a walk around the inner walls of Montefollonico (population about 100 or so), showing us the castle that was built to defend against neighbouring Montepulciano (kinda funny that both are built high up on a hill and can see the enemy coming for miles…)  Quite a lovely little town, built in the 13th century.

Time for our first dinner together!  Fair warning… may cause hunger!

I could tell that this was going to be a fabulous week shared with a wonderful group of people.  Please note, those not yet pictured, will be so soon!  Off to bed with hopes of a good sleep.

Just Before Cook in Tuscany

Well. So much for that!

I was positive I would be blogging daily, keeping you all up to speed on the happenings of the moment.  Didn’t take into account the 13th century walls being too thick for adequate WiFi!  As my Facebook friends told me:  “Don’t stress, enjoy each moment and tell us about it later!”

Guess what? Now is later🙂  I have an hour to kill at the Firenze airport so…

*** Note:  it has taken me days to write this!***

The plane ride from Zurich to Florence was a mere hour and we still got a snack and a piece of chocolate.  No complaints here…

Got my bag, found a taxi and 22€ later, was at the Firenze Treno Terme where I got a ticket to the Chiusi-Chianciano Terme.  Having no access to WiFi and not being able to find the document Linda from Cook in Tuscany sent us, I had to rely on my memory for the ‘how-to’.  Well, somehow, I chose an open ticket with the milk-run operation instead of the direct one.  Ugh.  Almost two hours later….

I was so late, my hostess from l’Albero di Gameli called my cell to find out where I was.  No way I was answering that one!  I didn’t bother getting a plan for my phone since all the places I’m staying at have WiFi so I can reach and be reached.   Anyhow… A 10€ taxi ride later, I arrived in Chiusi.

The very beautiful Milena Mazzella greeted me by telling me that, had she known what time I was arriving, she would have picked me up… dang. 2nd time I could have saved a buck!

She showed me my room and made me a sandwich with a glass of wine which I had on their little balcony.  Her partner, Marco, then came out and kept me company, soon joined by Milena and her youngest, Iliana.  She then got the classic Tuscan duo of contucci (cookies) and vin santo (sweet wine).  Dip, bite, drink… yum!

My room was beautiful with my own private bathroom.  Truly a gorgeous place to stay.  Kinda wished I had a few more days with them.  Ah well, la prossima volta!

As if their welcome wasn’t enough, Milena and Marco like to to give a gift of jewellery made by Marco.  All the rings were too small or too big and they insisted I choose this lovely pair of earrings.  So very generous of them.  Milena and I have become fast friends and I know that if ever I want to come back, there is a place for me!

Lovely gift!

Lovely gift!

Tomorrow… I tell you about Cook in Tuscany!

Ciao!

A Day in Zug, Switzerland

Hello my friends!  Day two of my trip and I’ve yet to sleep… I tried. Lord knows I tried on the flight to Zurich.  Sleep or no sleep, I can tell you that I shall be choosing Swiss International for all future European trips (and there will be more)!

I paid a premium for extra leg room and boy did I get it! (I shall be working on getting upgraded to Biz Class in the future… Wow!  What a setup they had!)  Anyhoo… I had Seat 40D, which is an aisle seat in the middle section next to the Emergency Exit. A gentleman was sitting in my spot so I had him scoot over.  The lady in the aisle seat next to the Emergency Exit (with waaaaayyyyy more leg room) did not want to sit there as there was no pouch in front of her to put her paraphernalia.  I gladly took her spot and the gentleman managed to convince her to sit in his seat so he got mine!  Musical seats and all were happy and that’s what mattered.

So, once settled and in the air, we were given some rosemary-flavoured crunchy things and a drink.  An hour or so later, supper was delivered.  In hard, reusable plastic dishes with real cutlery.  Salad, chicken curry with rice and string beans, bread, cheese, chocolate cake… deelish!

Everyone has their own screen to watch whatever movie or show or listen to music or play games.  I chose to watch “The Boss” with Melissa McCarthy (what a hoot).  This is when dinner was served.  I started to watch “A Bigger Splash” with Ralph Fiennes, and Tilda Swinton then told myself to smarten up and get some sleep.  Yeah… No.  I “may” have dozed but frankly, don’t think so. By 5-ish a.m. local time, breakfast was served! Mini croissant with butter and jam, orange juice, yogurt and a coffee.  Did I mention how impressed I was with Swiss?

Getting off was a breeze.  Once you collect your bag – and in my case, I had none as it was making its way to Firenze – you can choose between the entrance that says: nothing to declare or the one that says:  something to declare. Trust and no paperwork.  I like that.  I stopped off t get some Euros from the ATM (as was suggested to me by a few people) and found Urs waiting for me.

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Big smiles, hugs and kisses and we were off.  He showed me where he lives (very nice) and then we made our way to Zug (pronounced Soog) the city just past Zurich.  I don’t know if it has a more modern side to it, but we went to the older section with the classic “Swiss” look.  There was also an organic market complete with two llamas making the rounds!

There were dancers and musicians and I so loved hearing the quintet of men playing a lovely song.  The attached video is the same tune they played!

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We had lunch in a lovely little outside terrasse – a tapas meal with a glass of white wine and resumed our walk.

*** ran out of juice – both me and the computer! It was 1:00 a.m.! ***

Walking along, we came upon the fountain of Gret Schell (I Googled it, seems there is missing an ‘h’); a woman who had to carry her drunken husband home as he is wearing a jester’s hat and bearing a rod – apparently this was statue-worthy and is celebrated yearly.

I love the cobblestone streets and various buildings

Urs wanted to introduce me to the local renowned dessert called the Treicher Zuger Kirschtorte.  A cherry schnapps loaded sponge cake… yum!

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My feet were pretty much done and we had an hour to kill before I had to be back at the airport so we sat by the Zug Lake and watched the ducks and swans and enjoyed the shade.

My visit with Urs was over and it was back to the Airport to wait for my next plane. Sitting on the floor as there were no more seats!

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And We’re Off! (OK… I’m Off… ;) )

It’s here, it’s here!  Finally!  After all this time, I am finally  making my way to my dream destination of Tuscany, Italy.  This has been a long time coming.  Of course I was last minute everything,  Booking my Airbnbs, getting last-minute items and by 1:30, was still packing my bag!  Considering I had to leave the house by 2:00 pm, I’d say that was cutting it a “tad” close, don’t you think?

I was going to try to use the Über but got flushed twice.  Hmmm… By the time a taxi was called and arrived, it was already 2:15. Cutting it close again. They say to be at the airport 2 hours before take-off time.  That meant arriving at 3:05.  I cannot believe it, considering the amount of traffic we got, but we made it by 3:15!  Cost me a bloody fortune, though. $75.55… eesh… if it costs that much to get home, it would have been a better bargain to use the Park ‘n Fly!  Ah well.  Now I don’t have to worry about losing my car key!  Silver linings, Baby!

So, here I am at Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Airport in Dorval, sitting waiting for flight LX87 to Zurich, Switzerland.

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I am so excited! I have a friend in Zurich so I took an 11-hour layover so he could show me around.  Way to start a vacation, eh?

Hope I don’t bore you all to death with my daily postings (considering I haven’t written but one post in how many months?)

See ya tomorrow!

Canadian Frenzy

Hey there folks!  It’s been a long, LONG time since my last post and I’ve missed you all terribly.  I’ve been working long and weird hours and when I do have time off, must either recuperate with sleep or attend to other stuff.   I haven’t had time to write nor read but do promise you, a change is a-coming!  Call this the first step.

The Hip

A fascinating event — nay, phenomenon — has taken over the Canadian people and I have, subconsciously, allowed myself to be swept along.  To show how strong this phenomenon is… I was never their biggest fan.  Oh, I like many of their songs.  Actually, since this whole thing has started, I realised I like a LOT of their songs!  Just never gave much thought to it.

How could this happen?  More importantly, why?  They’ve been around for thirty years, have released over 14 albums and a bunch of singles over the years, winning awards and such.  What was the big fuss all of a sudden?

It started with a most sad story.  In May of this year, the lead singer, a man a mere two months older than I am, Gord Downie, announced that he had terminal brain cancer.  A shock to fans everywhere.  Amidst cries of anguish, The Hip (as they are commonly known, counting four other members: Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay and Paul Langlois) announced they would do a farewell tour and, on top of that, released an album this past July called Man Machine Poem.  Needless to say, it is at the top of the charts.

So, tonight, August 20, 2016, is the final concert in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.  The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is showing/playing the concert on all their platforms from radio to TV to on-line.  They’ve even pre-empted the Olympics for this momentous occasion!

As I was driving home from visiting family, I listened to CBC Radio 2 with Rich Terfry and his Hip pre-show.  There were snippets of interviews with various famous Canadians such as Mike Myers, Serena Ryder, Geddy Lee of Rush, etc. all saying how The Hip have been an important part of their lives.  I was surprised at how emotional I felt!

Rich presented the top ten The Tragically Hip songs as voted by listeners across Canada and I was shocked that I barely knew number 1!  It is a beautifully tragic song dedicated to David Milgaard who spent 23 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

I got home at 8:30 pm – just in time for the show to start.  Even our Prime Minister was there!  How cool is he, anyway?

Needless to say, the emotions were running high and after an almost three-hour concert (including the three encores), tears were shed.

The love between these five men, friends since forever, was palpable.  Not shy to show said love in front of millions with kisses – on the lips, no less – and you know it is not just for show.  It was real.

Like our PM said, we don’t know if we are saying goodbye or celebrating Gord Downie, honouring him or just celebrating Canada.

Like The Hip or not, it was a special evening, to be sure.

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More Than Play – Friday Fictioneers

Wednesday is here as is Friday Fictioneers.  Rochelle is working on her third book in her fabulous trilogy – I cannot wait!  So, our hostess is on summer hiatus and is sharing beloved past posts.  However, for me, they are all new!  Thanks to Douglas M. MacIlroy for this fun photo.  If you would like to give your interpretation, please click here for the hows and whats.  Just want to read others?  Click on ze Bleu Frogue.

©Douglas M. MacIlroy

Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

Genre:  Fiction

Word count:  100

More Than Play

There she was, Julie Cousteau, discoverer of all things ocean.  The best of the best.  For hours she’d live in her underwater world; learning, sharing her discoveries, one with the ocean.  She felt so at home there.  Why was that?

Her reverie was broken by a rap on her head, followed by a snarky: “What’re you doing, Dingbat?”

“I’m not a dingbat, I’m a great oceanographer”, she retorted.

“Mooooom!  Julie’s wearing that stupid helmet again!”

“Leave her alone, Ben. She’s not playing. She’s planning her future.”

“Pfft!  Girls can’t do that!”

“Oh? Now where did that foolish notion come from?”

 

Self-Sufficient – Friday Fictioneers

Friday Fictioneers is here once again.  Rochelle has decided to take a summer break and will be sharing re-runs, which for me, who’s only been around for a bit over a year, are all new.  This weeks submission was suggested by Sandra Crook (love the choice) with photo supplied by Piya Singh.

Click on the frog to read more stories or better yet, to add your own!

©Piya Singh

Genre:  Fiction

Word Count:  100

Self-Sufficient

He’d always preferred the woods over the city.  Oh, he’d done his time in the hustle and bustle of the city.  He’d even held his own, to be sure.  Honestly, it was not where he was happiest.  Give him a cabin in the woods, an axe and his rifle – he’d make do.  Cut his own wood to keep him warm and cook his food.  Shoot whatever game he could find.  Plant a garden to provide his vegetables.  Totally self-sufficient. Could manage on his own.

Trouble with this scenario? He was no Thoreau. He loved people too much and was so lonely.