I’d like to say that this post is all about Jean’s first lunch on a train.
The trip from Firenze to Napoli included lunch as we rocketed through the countryside north of Roma at 275km/h. Compared to typical airline food this was a feast of pasta, ragu and buffalo mozzarella all washed down with a Sicilian Chardonnay.
But really this post is just an excuse to use the title.
Rental cars are commodities. You get handed a set of keys, jump in and drive. It was only when we returned to our rental in Radda later in the day that we realised we had no idea what make or model it was.
It’s one of these – thank heaven for remote unlocking.
Last Friday we visited our dear friends Dani and Olga at their home for dinner. We had not seen their new house before or the delightful hamlet it is part of. As the sun set, we took some photographs that go some way to capturing the beauty of the area.
The meal was absolutely superb and the company delightful. Grazie mille Dani and Olga.
One of the things we love to do on holiday is cook. Dishes that makes use of local ingredients can’t be beaten and when we spent a few days in a villa, the apron comes out.
When it was time to cook at Il Diaccino we assembled the ingredients for a Carbonara and Jean went to work. Local fresh Pici pasta and pancetta, fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese, black pepper, egg and a little cooking.
Last week in Chianti we were lucky enough to dine in style at Osteria Il Papavero in the hills above Gaiole in Chianti.
We visited Il Papavero with our friends Dani and Olga two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the food, wine and company and when we discussed a dinner venue this time there was no doubt – it was Il Papavero again.
This is not a restaurant that gets “passing trade” as it is located in the hamlet of Barbischio – high in the hills above Gaiole in Chianti. The views are expansive and on a warm summers night there is seating inside and out.
It helps that Dani and Olga are regular customers so we were greeted like locals. We discovered that following our last visit we had become part of Tuscan legend as one of our party (you know who you are Jean) was the only person who has ever ordered one of Papavero’s steaks “ben cotta” – well done. Two years after that, it was still remembered.
Despite this we were allowed in and enjoyed a great night.
The wonderful thing about Papavero is that their menu is supplemented by as many special dishes again, all produced using local produce that is seasonally available. So last night we had everything from anchovies and pesto through to Calamari shaped pasta with pork and olives. All washed down with fine wine and finished with a local digestivo.
Wine buffs will know we are staying in the Chianti Classico wine region. Within a few kilometres of our local town, Gaiole in Chianti, there are over a dozen producers ranging from the very large to the very small.
On Sunday night these local wine makers, together with the restaurants of Gaiole in Chianti got together and held a wine and food festival in Gaiole – Calici di Stelle. Loosely translated that means “Glasses of Stars”. For sampling were some fine Chianti Classico wines along with a range of other wines they produce.
Our dear friend Olga was assisting with the Ciona winery stand (our villa Diaccino is on the Ciona estate) and invited us along.
It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. Starting at 8pm and running to midnight the event was a chance for locals (and visitors like us) to sample the local wines and try the local food. More than that, it was clearly a chance for families and friends to spend time together and catch up.
We got to sample some very fine wines as well as chat with the wine makers. Dinner was in the form of beautiful Gnocchi, roast pork and various accompaniments.
We had a great time but sadly the jet lag kicked in around 9:30pm so we had to leave early.
Locals sampling the local vintage
Jean wandering through Gaiole looking for another wine stand
After a long day travelling from Rome north to Tuscany we arrived at Il Diaccino, our place in Chianti for the next week. The villa is beautiful, set among olive trees and vineyards and overlooking the valley. The towers of Siena can be seen on the horizon – just a reminder of where we are.
The terrace is an ideal place to sit and watch the changing view – from the blue haze of morning to the pink sunset of the evening. It is kept cool in the unseasonably warm weather we have experienced by the breeze coming up the valley.
The villa is so comfortable – like moving into someone’s home – and it’s a chance to unpack and settle for a week. Within 24 hours we had managed to catch too much sun by the pool so we will be sitting in the shade for the next day or so.
We are half a world away from home and enjoying the hospitality and heat of Rome.
Our flight was largely uneventful until an unscheduled two hour delay on the tarmac at Hong Kong due to “congestion over South China” – whatever that meant.
We found out it meant that our 11 hour flight from Hong Kong to Rome stretched out to 15 hours – 2 hours on the ground and an extra 2 hours in the air as we flew a course well north of the usual route.
Rome greeted us with a 40 degree day which even the locals said was “molto caldo” – too hot.
Rehydrating in Piazza Barberini, Rome
We spent the day walking – in the shade, keeping fluid intakes up and shopping. Jean is the proud owner of a new handbag called Louis IV which I’m sure will feature in a future blog post.
All this before the jet lag kicked in and we were asleep around 7pm. We were wide awake again at 4am so for the first time in living memory the Mowday’s will be the first in the breakfast room at Hotel Barocco this morning.
Today we travel north to Tuscany and start our week staying in Chianti – still in temperatures that will top out at 40 degrees. Not that we are, in any way, complaining.
I’m not sure if there is a best way to see Siena. Walking the narrow streets it looks great. Standing in the the middle of the Campo it looks great. But from the top of the Torre del Mangia it looks breathtaking – quite literally breathtaking – because of the 400 steps (exactly 400 steps) that need to be climbed to reach the top.
Here are some shots taken once I had caught my breath.
When we were living in Tuscany having visitors arrive was always a treat. The opportunity to show people around “our neck of the woods” was always something we looked forward too. And as an experience of the essential Tuscany, San Gimignano was always a winner.
You may have heard of this village and it’s many towers. Originally it is said that there were up to 40 towers but now only 7 or 8 remain. But even with only a few towers it is still one of the most recognisable villages in the region.
Initially we thought that San Gimignano might be “too touristy” for our friends, but everyone we took there loved it. The walk up the hill from the Porta San Giovanni to the Piazza della Cisterna was always a great introduction, with the multitude of small shops that line the street adding to the feeling that this was the quintessential hilltop village. A drink or lunch in the main piazza was a must with a leisurely stroll down to the Porta San Matteo to follow.
We always seemed to leave with something – linen for the table or fresh pasta or a simple gelato from the award winning store Gelateria di Piazza located in Piazza della Cisterna.
A few years ago we found ourselves in the hiiltop town of Monteriggioni about 20 minutes north of Siena. It was late in the afternoon and there was a view through the Eastern gate looking out across the Tuscan countryside that just had to be photographed.
When I saw the shots on screen I was disappointed. In some shots the gate surround was almost black and the shot lacked colour and contrast. In others, when the exposure was long enough to show the gate surround the countryside beyond was over exposed. The obvious thing was to load the shots into Photoshop and do some work. Which is what happened.
One of the great things about digital cameras is that they store a huge amount of the detail lurking in dark areas of a shot. The area may look black but with a little coaxing the detail can be brought out. Usually without affecting the exposure in the rest of the shot. This is what I did along with increasing the contract and saturation in the shot.
I guess the test of the finished shot is whether it represents the scene as I remembered it at the time? And yes it does.
For the northern summer of 2011 our life consisted of doing very little – but doing it very well. On the fine sunny days – pretty much every day between May and October – we spent time at our villa pool.
And after a hard afternoons sunning and swimming it was a short walk back to the cottage for a G &T, a beer and some time to recover from the stress of the day.
For no particular reason, a panorama of Siena taken last August. I had never got around to stitching the 6 shots together until a few days ago. Once a few errant street lights and poles were removed, the result is quite good.