Monday, October 29, 2012

Don and Gail Travel Update #8

Well, here we are in the middle of Iowa with the wind blowing and the sky raining. Not good driving conditions, so we will sit here for a few days. I am still looking for a good place for Dixie and I to pheasant hunt. Pheasants are scarce due to several years of harsh winters, spring flooding and then followed by several more years of drought conditions in summers.

While traveling through Idaho heading east we endured the smoke from many forest fires, especially going over historic Lolo Pass. It truly was intimidating to see fires burning low and close to the highway.

We had great fun “playing” music with our rock hammers at Ringing Rocks in Western Montana with our friends. Twinkle, Twinkle and Jingle Bells sounded splendid!

Picture 324

We had a terrific re-visit to Mt. Rushmore (still in perfect pose) and Custer State Park even though temps were in the 20’s every morning. The many animals and fowl we viewed were lovely to see out and about during a snowy, cold day.

In eastern South Dakota we paid a visit to the actual Little House on the Prairie where Laura Ingalls grew up. It was a lovely place to visit with lots to see and experience. Old buildings restored to original condition and furnished with period pieces as well as some of the Ingalls family pieces, a farm planted and worked by neighboring farms, fields of prairie grass which is seldom seen nowadays, and hands on tools and machinery to try. The only thing missing were the Ingalls themselves (though now and again I expected to see Michael Langdon, himself, round the corner!).

And heading east again, we just happened to come across the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” in Le Mars, Iowa. I think Don must have had some sort of magnetism to the place, perhaps his “ice cream gene” at work again! Yep, we had to have a luscious sundae there before leaving! “Yum!”

In Iowa we entertained ourselves traveling the “Barn Quilt Trail” one cold and damp afternoon. We sleuthed out over 30 unique barn quilt designs in just one county that had a total of 60+ to see. Great fun to see and read about their origins, patterns, and the families, farms and buildings themselves. We have seen them in other states as well.

There’s lots more to share but it will have to wait for another time. Hoping all is well with each and everyone of you. We miss you all.

-Mom and Dad/Don and Gail

Friday, October 12, 2012

Italia Days 5-7 & Home


Day 5 was all about Cortona
We awoke to another sunny Tuscan day and were off to a slow start. We made our way down the hill to Camucia for the Thursday market. It's like Target comes to town in tent format. You can buy shoes, bedding, curtains, socks, underwear, clothes, food, kitchen ware and even some gardening tools. We bough some pecorino fresco and salami from Ambra & Alfiero. Afterwards we went to the Etruscan Musei in Cortona. We learned all about the Etruscan tombs which were found during excavation and saw some local, ancient art. We tinkered around town for a little while and headed back to the apartment for delicious leftovers from Ambra's home cooked meal the day before.

Camucia Market

Megan & Sebastian from Del Brenna

Day 6
The day we leave our favorite spot in Italy we woke to pouring rain, which somehow mimicked the tearful goodbyes we shared with Ambra and Sara that morning. We were instructed we must return and we promised to do just that...besides we have Ambra's new B&B to see.

After another round of hugs at the car, we began our trek to Roma. First a stop in Orvieto. This was the one town we stopped 2 years ago and wanted more time to wander around. We ate at the same restaurant we had lunch during our last visit. Dean shared a picture of the sandwich he had and they seemed delighted and honored to have return guests. They treated us to some homemade pastries and a small glass of dessert wine to accompany it. The unbridled generosity of many Italian people is unexpected and overwhelming at times.

Duomo Orvieto

We arrived at the hotel in Roma and took the free shuttle bus into town. We went back the neighborhood near the Trevi Fountain in search of the fantastic mushroom soup I had two years ago. It was still good and the best I ever had. Totally loaded with mushrooms.

The trek home
What is with the rain? We woke to rain and a very humid morning. Check in was a multi-layered process filled with lots of walking and check-points. We were fortunate to have minimal no lines in Rome. New York was another story and we made it onto our connection with only about 15 minutes to spare. Exhausted and so ready for our own bed, we arrived to an expected cool evening and rain.

Now, it's time to start thinking about the next trip!
Till then
T & D

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Italia Day 4


We enjoyed another lazy start to the morning. The weather started out cool and humid then by lunch time the sun was out to stay. I cooked breakfast then we were back to the laundromat to dry towels. I put them in the washer too late the night prior so there was no chance they'd dry on the line with a chilly, moist night.

We were indoctrinated into every day Italian life after receiving a parking ticket. The city implemented paid parking where it didn't exist two years ago. Dean went to the city offices and was sent to 3 people before he figured out we had to pay the ticket at the post office. Well go figure right? ...not so much. Guess all government offices teach their employees the art of the run-around. So off to the post office I went to join 5 locals who were also paying parking tickets. With a little sign language, a few words of Italian from me and a few words of English from the postal dude, we figured each other out.

Now, back to vacation. We headed off to Montepulciano for a bit of lunch and sight seeing. We knew it was worthy of a trip back. The walk to the top is long and steep with amazing views and beautifully decorated alley ways. We caught some sun over a really great pizza and wound our way back down perusing the shops. We, rather I, made it to the bottom without buying a thing except lunch. A-mazing! The views are staggering. Take a look!

That's me in the purple shirt.

Piazza Grande

Olive groves and vineyards

Back in Cortona we cleaned up and headed over to Ambra's house for dinner. They have a gorgeous home. Full of antiques of all styles, huge tall ceilings, and really big rooms. The dinner table was dressed beautifully and the house smelled divine...our mouths started watering the instant we walked in the front door.

Keep in mind this is all homemade food ... Ambra served a starter plate which included bruschetta, pâté on crostini, cheese with fig jam on top (you must try this at home!), rolled salami, and two other meats. Then came this amazing pasta, creamy red sauce with bacon and small rigatoni shaped pasta. I am getting the recipe for this! Dean and I are thinking, great meal dessert must be next. Yeah, not over yet. Then came a roasted pork loin, which was juicy and seasoned so perfectly, simple salad (greens and radicchio only, no ranch) and fried potatoes. Now dessert....homemade apple cake. Yeah, getting the recipe for this too. Ambra liked the idea of having to practice her English to send them to me.

The chianti served with dinner was perfecto! I think Ambra's husband was trying to get me drunk, he filled my glass twice with huge pours. They all laughed at my reaction. We enjoyed a small sip of dessert wine liqueur, with the apple cake, which was different and delicious! As if our tastebuds hadn't already received the royal treatment we devoured a small glass of homemade creamy (not clear) limoncello! Oh my, my, my!!! They could have given me a straw, put me in a corner and I would've been happy for a month! Ambra's mother makes it with tree ripened lemons from Sicily. She has a friend who sends them when they're ready.

The conversation was non stop. We learned a ton and laughed a lot. They showed us their vacation pictures and shared some great stories. In typical Italian fashion they sent us home with enough leftovers for a full meal.

Ambra on my left and her husband and daughter, Sara, on my right. We still don't know Ambra's husband's name. They say it so fast we haven't caught up yet.

Tomorrow we stick close to home for our last day here. We plan to go to the market in Camucia, see the art museums in Cortona and do some exploration of the city streets/hills. Need to work off some of the pounds we earned in Ireland.

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Location:Cortona Italy

Italia Days 1-3

Have you been wondering what happened to us? We've been soaking up the Tuscan sun and scenery.

Day 1 Italy (Day 14 vacation)
We arrived in Florence around 6 pm to warm, slightly overcast and mildly humid weather. We left our feature loaded, totally powerful, silver with leather interior, Audi A6 S Class in Dublin and were assigned a very cute, totally gutless, dark grey, 5-speed Fiat 500. Dean cannot sit in the driver's seat because his head hits the roof and there's no way to make the seat go lower. Picture this ... the scene from the move Mr. Incredible, when he's in his car. One cool thing is the tight turning radius. It's almost like you could just put your feet through the floor, hold the steering wheel, pick the car up as you stand and simply turn around. Just like that ... a 180. I did get quite comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road after 13 days, yet have to admit it's good to be back on the right side of things. These folks in Italy are super aggressive and drive like they're all in a video game.

Driving up to Cortona we felt excitement, familiarity and a sense of coming home. We met Sarah and her fiancé at our apartment. Ambra wasn't able to meet us and still found a way to make us feel so welcome. She prepared a little welcome note and plate of assorted meats, cheeses and small slices of bread. We're in a different apartment this time around and it's equally as charming. The crazy climb to the front door has not changed. Below is a short video of our space.

Day 2 Italy (Day 15 vacation)
We slept in, which was a treat. We wandered through Cortona in search of a quick morning bite. Much smaller fare for breakfast here than we were getting in Ireland. A pastry and cafe or tea, although you can get a mini pizza at 7 am. After a quick trek down the hill to Camucia to do laundry we took a walk through Cortona and the first stop was Del Brenna. A favorite boutique jewelry shop with one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry. I asked them to resize a necklace for me and ended up buying something new. Megan and Sebastian remembered us after I triggered their memories and reminded them they helped me find a doctor the last time we were here (I managed to get bronchitis on our previous vacation here in Italy).

Looking towards Piazza de Republica from Via Nazionalle. Take a right at the palace (building straight ahead with clock on top), head up the hill 200 yards and you've arrived at our home for the week.

Via Nazionalle at night, the only level street in the whole city.

View of valley from Piazza Garibaldi.

We texted with our friends and set up a time to meet and visit in our apartment. Sara and Ambra came over and we chatted for 2 hours. Ambra is learning English (she spoke no English when we were here 2 years ago and understood just a few words). It was great to be able to have a real conversation and learn more about each other. The visit ended with us receiving an invitation to dinner on Wed night. We headed to a favorite restaurant for dinner, Trattoria la Grotta. It was tutta bene (all good)! Photos of Ambra & family to come soon.

Day 3 Italy (Day 16 vacation)
We were out of the house before the birds this morning and on the 7:00 am train to Firenze (Florence). We had a very important date with The David at Musei Accademia. When we arrived, it was raining with distant lightning and thunder. David was every bit as spectacular as I remember. The other exhibits in the museum had changed and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.

We headed to San Lorenzo church and went through the open market and bought a few small things. On our way to the Duomo I found a must have pair of shoes. The rain let up by the time we finished lunch. We spend about 40 minutes inside the Duomo and then headed to Ponte Vecchio and looked at all the glittery jewelry for sale. It was not even tempting...Del Brenna, it is not.

San Lorenzo Market - in the rain.

Duomo in back (with dome), baptistry in front and campanile (bell tower) on right side.

Inside the Duomo. There is no cost to go in and you can stay as long as you like. I didn't have it in me to climb to the top this time. It was so humid and sticky I would have been done for before I reached the first viewing level.

The alter and part of the dome.

Views of the Arno River from Ponte Vecchio (ponte - bridge; vecchio = old...Old Bridge). This bridge used to hold a slaughter house primarily due to the convenience of dropping the discarded parts in the river below. Eeeuuuww...right? The butchers lived in the rooms above the bridge. No excuses for missing work. It was moved due to the stench. Now it's full of gold, silver, glittery stones and big price tags.

Back in Cortona the sun was shining. The Canadian couple we met yesterday recommended Ristorante la Bucaccia (pronounced: boo-kachia). This place has had good recommendations and several months back a writer from Newsweek Magazine ate there, never identified himself, then went home and raved about it in the magazine. This Italian man's business has been non stop ever since, in his words "no book-a, no eat-a" We watched him turn away several couples or encourage them to come back at 10 pm. We happened to get lucky and got the next to last table outside with no book-a... and oh did we a-eat-a. Dinner started with an appetizer they serve to everyone, a small scoop of homemade ricotta cheese (made by the owner) with new olive oil drizzled on top (made when the olives are still green) and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Deee-lish! We each had a small bowl of the vegetable soup. This is hard to describe, it was so full of veggies there was no broth. It was like eating fresh vegetable stew. Yum! The main course I had chestnut ravioli filled with potato, cooked in olive oil, and served with several types of sautéed mushrooms on top. I love, love, love the funghi and they put them on everything here. Dean had this pasta with a creamy sauce and peppercorns sprinkled on top. This sauce was to die for. Wowza it was good!! We both wanted to lick the plate. Desert and service were a bit of a disappointment, yet we'd eat here again in a heart beat.

Tomorrow we're off to taste the vino in Montepulciano or Montilcino, then back to Cortona for a special homemade Italiano dinner with Ambra and family.

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Location:Cortona, Italy

Monday, October 8, 2012

Doing Laundry

While we are doing laundry here at the "Landravia" in Camucia, I thought I'd post a blog with some miscellaneous pictures.

Terrie took some great sunset pictures our second to last night in Ireland (last night in County Armagh).

As you all know, I love to post pictures of what we eat, and our last two nights in County Armagh we ate at a small place (in the middle of nowhere) called O'Tooles.

I had the Steak and Guiness pie...

...while Terrie and Dennis had the Fish and Vegetables.

Our last night in Ireland, we stayed in Dublin near the airport. On the way down, we stopped to grab a bite and Terrie found her favorite licorice candies from years past.

After landing in Florence (Firenze), Italy, we grabbed the rental car (a far cry from an Audi this time) and headed down to Cortona.

After getting into Cortona...

...we immediately checked in and then grabbed a bite to eat. Here's Terrie sitting at the restaurant directly below our apartment in Cortona.

Looking up from where we were eating, you can see our room with the windows open.

This morning, we sat out just on the "main drag" and had a bite before coming to do laundry.

Ciao for now!

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Location:Via Lauretana,Camucia,Italy

Friday, October 5, 2012

Emerald Isle Days 11, 12, and 13

Bet you've been wondering what happened to us up in the Northern Six, huh? Well we had a couple, long and fabulous days seeing the sights and meeting a man we believe may be distant McVerry cousin!

Day 11
Started out super foggy and by the time we reached our first destination the sun was out and stayed out.

What We Did on Day 11: We headed up to Derry-Londonderry. What the Irish call it depends who you talk to and sometimes it depends on whether they're Catholic or Protestant. Generally it's known as Derry and is sometimes referred to as the "Walled City". It is the 2nd largest city in Northern Ireland and sits along the River Foyle. The English displaced the Irish Catholics and built a wall to protect the English & Scottish settlers. The wall was built between 1613-1619 and is about 12 feet high and roughly 20 feet thick. It is the only wall surrounding a city in Ireland which is fully intact and in it's original state.

Derry is a border town which has seen much conflict, destruction, hatred, rebuilding and efforts to bridge divides which have occurred in very recent decades.

Despite the efforts to move forward and put the hate aside, everyone we met said it will be at least 2-3 generations before it is somewhat dispelled. So much emotion is still too close to the surface.

The monument below is called Hands Across the Divide. It is a metal sculpture of two figures extending their hands to each other, inspired by the growing hope for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I find it interesting that they're not actually touching.

Our tour then entered the Bogside, a Catholic neighbohood outside the city walls of Derry. The area has been a focus point for many of the events of "The Troubles", from the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday. These are all events we are likely old enough to remember.

This one is called Bloody Sunday. It shows Father Edward Daly waving a blood-stained white handkerchief while trying to escort the mortally wounded Jackie Duddy to safety. Jackie Duddy was the first fatality that Sunday.

This mural includes the Bird of Peace which is rising from the darkness into a brighter future.

Then we headed over to the Protestant side of the river. Somewhere along the way the sides of the river were named the East Bank and the West Bank to mimic the Gaza Strip where conflict and violence are so prevalent. The mural below I believe is called the Peace Mural and each square in the banner tells the historical tale of the city and the bridge in the center is call the Peace Bridge. It's an actual foot bridge which connects the east and west sides of the river.

After the tour of Derry-Londonderry, we drove north to the Giant's Causeway. The Causeway coastline is stunning and considered to be the most windy place in Ireland. It is steeped in myth and legend. Legend: Carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool, who left behind an ancient home full of folklore. Science: A geological wonder with over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, it is the result of intense volcanic and geological activity. It is a glimpse of 60 million years of the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows.

Here we are sitting on Finn's boot

What We Learned Today: We learned so much more than mentioned above; however, we thought this tidbit of info connected to America was cool. Turns out Derry is also known for the linen and shirt making trade. One of the factories actually supplied shirts to both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. We figured out gas cost about $8.52/gallon in Northern Ireland, which uses the English Pound for currency.

Oh!! We saw a Dollar Store, guess what it's called - yep, the Pound Store.

Word for the Day:
To let = for lease; "Apartment to let."
To hire = to rent; "We hired a car when we traveled to San Francisco."

Day 12
Was sunny when we hit the road, rained a little in the middle of the day and ended up sunny again.

What We Did on Day 12: We headed to Belfast to see the Titanic Center. This is a fantastic tribute to the ship building industry in Belfast. It's by far one of the best exhibits/museums we've been to. It included all types of multi-media presentations including a short theme park type ride (geared for those higher in age), movies, interactive displays, and samples of what the rooms looked line on these luxury liners. It took a couple hours to see the whole exhibit.

The building is very cool. The corners look like a big ship cutting through the water and there are small ponds which surround each corner as if the ship sitting in dry dock just waiting for a push.

Two the cranes which were so important to the industry still stand as a reminder to the people of Belfast. They are called Sampson and Goliath.

What We Learned Today: Geez, where to start! We chose to head back towards Armagh after the Titanic Center and Dean says let's go through Belleek (County Armagh) where you're family is from and just see what we see. So we do, we park the car, look up and see a small business with the McVerry name on the sign. Freaky? Not yet... We found the small perish church in this tiny little town and decide to go inside and look around, then we take a stroll through the cemetery. Much to our surprise we find it's full of McVerry headstones. We couldn't believe it. As we're wandering through, a man and his son come in and stop in front of one the McVerry headstones. Dennis wanders over to him tell him what we're doing and to see if he just might be related. Well after 40 minutes of conversation and lining up what we both knew, we pretty much determined he's probably a distant cousin! His grand uncle was possibly the brother of my great grandfather (keep in mind we found out on Day 10 my great grandfather was one of 11 children born over a 20-year span). This man, Declan McVerry, invited us back to his home (not house) for tea with he and his wife where we chatted for another hour and a half comparing notes and sharing pictures. He had a picture of my great-great grandmother and is in the process of attempting to get one of my great-great grandfather. Seriously, what are the odds at 3:40 pm on a random Friday afternoon we'd run into a distant family member, in a tiny cemetery in Ireland. How's that for freaky? We exchanged contact info and promised to keep each other informed as we dig up pieces and try to connect our families. A true pot of gold for sure!

St. Laurence O'Toole Church in Belleek, Parish of , built in 1849

Declan and Fiona McVerry

Word for the Day: Up Market = up scale; "I stayed in this really up market hotel last night."

Day 13
We woke up to a chilly, bright sunny morning. What fantastic weather for our last full day in Ireland.

What We Did Today: Declan McVerry told us about a grave stone for one of my great-great uncles in a town not too far from where we were staying. We decided to see if we could find it. After tromping through 2 graveyards and no luck, we made the trek to Dublin. We had a good dinner and early in the morning we'll be headed to the Airport. Dean and I are excited to see Italy again.

What We Learned While Here: Ireland is a gorgeous country with an amazing history which is so very close to it's people's hearts. It is remarkable how each person we met carries the very distant and very recent past of their country with them. The other thing which surprised me was how acutely aware they are of American politics and the world beyond their own borders. The people are warm, open and have quick humor. There were times we thought everyone must have kissed the blarney stone because they do have the gift of gab.

Man, they know how to make a good ale, Smithwick's rocks!!

They have this uninhibited willingness to share who they are and tell you they're collective and personal stories. It made each person we met memorable in a way that will stick for a long time to come.

More to follow from Italia!

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Location:Northern Ireland