Italy 2017

October 20, 2017 – Friday, Milan

October 20, 2017 – Friday, Milan

It’s an early start to Milano. The van loads the very heavy luggage, weighed down with delicious cheeses, wines, olive oils and balsamic vinegars. We don’t dare mention the ceramics, scarves and … there has to be something else. The van groaned as the driver stepped on the gas.

We settled in at Hotel Berna. Once settled, we took a more leisurely pace. There are only four of us remaining. Katie and Walt left us in Arezzo and returned to New Mexico, via Pisa.

We walked to the beautiful Duomo di Milano and wandered around that piazza, visiting the beautiful shops in the Galleria.


Then we headed to Peck’s where we settled into the coffee shop for our last bottle of Prosecco and tray of prosciutto, salami, and cheeses.

2017-10-20 Peck's b4 flight homeJust four of us remain by the time we get to Milano. We enjoyed our farewell at Peck’s and got set for the airport in the morning. That brings this blog on Italy to an end. I will return to blogging about art quilts again as soon as I get back into my studio and begin to create. Ah Italy. What a show you have given us…. never to forget.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. Arrivederci! Ciao!


Italy 2017

October 19, 2017 – Thursday, Cheese, Pork & Vinegar!

October 19, 2017 – Thursday, Cheese, Pork & Vinegar! – a dairy farm (Parmesan), a pork processor (prosciutto) and a balsamic vinegar distiller. This is the last of our long excursions, but these days have been a favorite of mine. I love seeing the countryside and experiencing a bit of the life of the locals, through their employment in most cases.

Off we go-first to the dairy farm.  -Azienda Agricola Biologica Reggiani- The address that came up on my iPad photos was this: Savignano sul Panaro, Nonantola & Castelfranco Emilia, Emilia-Romagna. Obviously, I had no idea where I was most of the day, but the hilly countryside with its narrow winding roads was delightful.

Milk the cows and then what happens? ( If the slides go by too fast, click on the vertical double bars between the arrows. This will stop the slideshow and you can advance or retreat at your own speed by clicking on the arrows.)


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Once it is a solid piece, it takes super human strength to deal with it. I purchased two big chunks of cheese, one aged 36 months and one aged 24 months. I could have bought cheese that was aged for 60 months, but after tasting it, I thought it was too dry and strong for our use.


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And now it’s time for BREAKFAST!!! Espresso AND wine?


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Into the van we go, and we are off to the balsamic vinegar distillery.


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Another stop – the Prosciutto processor – delicious to be sure.


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But of course, it is now time for lunch! Who is hungry?


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Better yet. Just come and stay for a week or two!

CorteAibo copy

It took six slideshows to tell about this day. It was jam packed with interesting locations, delicious food and more wine than it is possible to taste. Once back in the van, we wander the roads back to Bologna where we pack up for the early start to Milano in the morning. I could not do slideshows prior to this page because the WIFI in the hotels allowed me only to upload one photo at a time….. slow agony. Only one day in Milano and then…. it’s home to the USA.


Italy 2017

October 15, 2017 – Sunday, Arezzo-Siena

October 15, 2017 – Sunday, Arezzo-Siena

Sunday was an unexpected free day, so we boarded a bus and headed out to Siena, home to Il Palio, the famous horse races held in their piazza, del Campo, with the tall bell tower, El Mangio in the Palazzo Public. The art gallery featuring El Palio in a painting is Galleria D’Arte.


Andrea took a wonderful panoramic shot of Piazza del Campo. Can you imagine horses racing around the edges of this piazza?


After you climb the hill above the Piazza del Campo, you catch a glimpse of the beautiful Italian Gothic cathedral, Siena Cathedral.


Looking for our lunch place, where I had cheese-filled ravioli in sage/butter sauce, we crossed paths with another ceramic shop. Oh. Oh.


It took many steps to find our bus back to Arezzo and a good night’s sleep. All the steps were well worth the day filled with adventure and vistas.


Italy 2017

October 13, 2017 – Friday, Arezzo

October 13, 2017 – Friday, Arezzo

Italian language class in the morning. After some free time in the afternoon, the van/driver took us high above Arezzo to an organic winery. We were quite melancholy as we looked across the rows of grapes as we had just heard about the fires in Santa Rosa. Andrea and I have such fond memories of that region of CA.



Podere di Pomaio is the only vineyard and winery in Arezzo. The property had been abandoned and neglected after WWII. The family bought it in 1972 and have built and upgraded it ever since. The foundation for cellars and walls are stones harvested off their property from the Etruscan era. Notice their private selection of wines stashed between the rocks.

They now have their family homes as well as two guest villas that they rent to visitors, in addition to the winery and tasting facility.

My friend Nancy and Andrea and I took advantage of the good light and shadows to shoot some portraits in this beautiful place. It was sunny when we arrived, but dusk settled over us, so we enjoyed the beautiful transformation from day to night.

We ate dinner at a Trattoria across the street from the Hotel L’Aretino where we are staying.




Italy 2017

October 12, 2017 – Thursday, Arezzo- Excursion #2

October 12, 2017 – Thursday, Arezzo- Excursion #2

The van and driver picked us up in the morning for a drive to the northeast to La Verna, where the sanctuary of St. Francis of Assisi is located. The last distance was on a narrow mountainous road through a woodsy area. We thought it ironic that no animals were allowed. The physical beauty of the sanctuary and the vista from atop 3700 ft elevation is exquisite.


The sanctuary was donated to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando Cattani. The grotto where St. Francis slept and the rock upon which he slept can also be viewed.

“The Sanctuary of La Verna, located a few kilometers from Chiusi della Verna (Arezzo Region), in the National Park of Casentino Forests, Mount Falterona and Campigna, is famous for being the place where St. Francis of Assisi would receive the stigmata on September 14, 1224. Built in the southern part of Mount Penna at 1,128 metres (3,701 ft) high, the Sanctuary is home to numerous chapels and places of prayer and meditation. In August 1921 Pope Benedict XV elevated the church to the status of minor basilica.” Wikipedia

in addition, the della robbia artwork inside the sanctuary matches the physical beauty of the outdoors.


“Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) was an Italian sculptor from Florence. Della Robbia is noted for his colorful, tin-glazed terracotta statuary, a technique which he invented and passed on to his nephew Andrea della Robbia and great-nephews Giovanni della Robbia and Girolamo della Robbia. Though a leading sculptor in stone, he worked primarily in terracotta after developing his technique in the early 1440s. His large workshop produced both cheaper works cast from molds in multiple versions, and more expensive one-off individually modeled pieces.

The vibrant, polychrome glazes made his creations both more durable and expressive.  His work is noted for its charm rather than the drama of the work of some of his contemporaries. Two of his famous works are The Nativity, c. 1460 and Madonna and Child, c. 1475. In stone his most famous work is also his first major commission, the choir gallery, Cantoria in the Florence Cathedral (1431–1438).

Della Robbia was praised by his compatriot Leon Battista Alberti for genius comparable to that of the sculptors Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, and the painter Masaccio. By ranking him with contemporary artists of this stature, Alberti reminds us of the interest and strength of Luca’s work in marble and bronze, as well as in the terra-cottas always associated with his name.” Wikipedia

This is definitely worthy of a car and driver for a day trip. Or, stay at  an agritourismo nearby: Agritourismo Sassi -

On the drive we visited the birthplace of Michelangelo, also the home of his youth in Caprese, Italy. He had a solid “upper middle class” upbringing. Some works and those of others are displayed here.


We also stopped to view the the fresco painting by Piero Francesco, Madonna Parto, also commonly known as the pregnant Madonna. Here’s some basic information from Wikipedia.

“The famous work showing this subject is a fresco painting by the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca, finished around 1460. It is housed in the Museo della Madonna del Parto of Monterchi, Tuscany, Italy.

Piero della Francesca finished it in seven days, using first-rate colors, including a large extent of blu oltremare obtained by lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan by the Republic of Venice.

The fresco was at one time located in Santa Maria di Momentana (formerly Santa Maria in Silvis), an old country church in the hilltown of Monterchi. The edifice was destroyed in 1785 by an earthquake and the work was detached and placed over the high altar of the new cemetery chapel; in 1992 it was moved to the Museo della Madonna del Parto in Monterchi. The work was attributed to Piero della Francesca only in 1889. Its dating has been the subject of debate, ranging from 1450 to 1475. The 16th century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari wrote that it was completed in 1459, when Piero della Francesca was in Sansepolcro for his mother’s death.”

Partners in adventure shown below are Nancy and Beth who, 50 years ago, spent a college year in Spain where they met. Nancy lives in North Carolina and Beth in Oklahoma. Mary and Andrea are mother and daughter from NC.

There have been so many wonderful days on this trip, but so far with another week to go, this is a favorite. When you plan a trip to Italy put this on your travel path.

Italy 2017

October 10, 2017 – Tuesday, Arezzo- Casamonte Excursion #1

October 10, 2017 – Tuesday, Arezzo Excursion #1- Cintosienese Pork Farm

We started the day with a walk up to San Francesca, a 13th century church that houses the fresco series “The Legend of the True Cross”. (enlarge the pictures with a click)

Soon, we boarded the chauffered van to begin our trip to the “pig farm”. That had our interest peaked. We traveled through Tuscany to its internal region named Chianti located between Florence and Sienna. The farm is called Casamonte (hill house), and we saw beautiful country side and hilltop villages along the way. As we drew near, the van slowly crawled along a very narrow gravel road between two rows of cedar trees.

The feet are still attached in the first picture so the butcher/marketer can determine the breed. The worker is dressed in white to keep the area extremely clean. The pigs are actually a part of Italy’s controlled selection of the finest pork. Cinta, which means belt, have a belt of white across their chest and down their front legs. Cinta Sienese (from Siena) is the full name for this breed. They can be compared to Kobe Beef, but they are not mistreated. They roam the property and are fed a controlled scientific diet in addition to whatever they eat as they roam, which includes lots of acorns as in Spain.. The property is fenced to keep the wild pigs from entering and destroying the purity of the breed. The farm raises 600 pigs @ €12,000 per mo. for their feed.

Prosciutto di Chini is cured for 2 yrs. wrapped in rice flour, fat and mostly pepper. It is low in cholesterol and never smoked. Their meats include prosciutto crudo, Finocchiona, Capricola tenderloin, filet, and pancita ritolata which has spices incorporated.

Casamonte also has 6000 olive trees which produce 800 liters of olive oil. Their vineyard produced Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserve. The vineyard also has contols by the industry so the number of vines always remains the same. The logo is the black rooster. If there is a white band around the bottle label that means it has been approved,


After touring the meat storage area we enjoyed a typical five course meal which introduced us to the wines, the olive oil and the pork products.

When we arrived after our long van ride, the owner greeted us with a glass of prosecco and a tray of cheese.


After the tour, we were treated to a “light” lunch that included:

Meal- light lunch with Chianti Classico and Chianti Reservi
Pasta with capricola pork tenderloin, ground, in a white flavorful sauce.
Meats tray with three cold cuts-  proscuitto crudo, pancetta ribolata and salami            3 bruschetti (pronounced bruce ketty): cream cheese with olives; tomato sauce; mushroom and truffles
Parmesan cheese with aceto balsamico (25 years old)                                                  Tuscany L’Elogid di Casamonte – black and white label dessert wine; Super Tuscan,   Double fermentation
Dessert: frutta jam on tarta. Tart black cherries and orange.

We were a very happy group as we rolled along in our van, returning to Arezzo for the evening.


Italy 2017

October 9, 2017-Monday Evening, Arezzo

October 9, 2017-Monday Evening, Arezzo

Andréa, our driver, picked us up in the van and drove us across town to Chef Lalla’s cooking studio. Little did we know how fabulous this would be. She greeted us with stuzzichini – a delicious bruschetta, cheese with clementine jam and an aperitivo of  prosecco.

After donning our aprons, we mixed the flour and eggs together for the pasta, and we began to roll the dough.

Here is the pile of noodles made by the six of us. We all got busy with food prep while Chef Lalla gave advice and worked at the stove top.

The Tagliatelle “au coltello” Con Ragú di Salciccia e Timo, the primo or first course was ready. Tagliatelle refers to the type of noodle. Since we cut all sizes of noodles for practice, our version isn’t just tagliatelle. Ragú di salciccia e timo means it is a sausage meat sauce with thyme. It was delicious,hearty and savory.

Chef Lalla ate a small portion, but then returned to her cooking station, a five burner gas range, to complete the preparation of the Segundo, or second course, escalloped Italian zucchini and potato. She also prepared the chicken fillets, cooked in vinasanto, a sweet white wine. It is customary for Italians to eat all of these courses in a slow hearty meal. While we enjoyed eating the segundo, she prepared the dessert – sliced apples also cooked in the vinsanto and topped with ricotta mousse and pine nuts. For the official Italian, see the menu below.


Our cooking adventure has begun, and we have 3 more of these extravagant lessons ahead of us.

Italy 2017

October 9, 2017 – Monday, Arezzo

October 9, 2017 – Monday Daytime, Arezzo

Italian language class in the morning – we have a terrific teacher named Paola who really kept us on our toes practicing practical Italian like arrivederchi, ciao, buon giorno, buona serra etc. She filled her whiteboard with a spray of related words several times, explaining as she went. When Nancy told her we needed restaurant Italian, this is the spray of words she came up with.


Quick with her iPhone, Nancy clicked a picture we could keep for reference. Since our classroom is above a caffetteria, it is a particularly helpful to practice our Italian.


After class and a light lunch in the caffetteria, Nancy and Andrea decided to take a stroll around Arezzo. Being the senior member of this group of 7 by 9 months, I decided to return to the room for a rest and some blog and internet time. They came back laughing about how many times I would have objected to the route they took. Look at this one… They walked UP this street –  I most certainly would have taken a cab.

Photo by Nancy Garman

They did, however, get to see this beautiful Roman gate and wall.

Photo by Nancy Garman

Italian cooking class this evening – see next post.


Italy 2017

October 8, 2017 – Sunday, Arezzo

October 8, 2017 – Sunday – Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

Beth hired a van and driver and we were off for 10 days in Arezzo. After checking in to Hotel L’Aretino, we strolled about the area. We ended up at Piazza Grande on top of a rather steep in cline. We had a delicious lunch as you can see.

Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Italy


prosciuto, melone, mozzarella bufalo

After some quiet time on our own, we ventured forth again for a light dinner in a trattoria near the hotel. We shared a sausage pizza and had potato and leek soup. Always, a glass of red wine for me.


Italy 2017

October 7, 2017- Saturday, last day in Florence

We met Beth for breakfast at the hotel, and then were off for our 8:30AM tour at the Uffizi. We were glad to get there early because it is so crowded and despite the stringent crowd control, the air conditioning just cannot keep up. We left Beth for lunch on our own and grabbed a taxi to Piazzale Michaelangelo Plaza, a terrace high above the city for an overview of Florence.


The Ponte Vecchio is in the foreground with the post-1945 rebuilt bridges lining up behind it. After enjoying the sunny weather, we took a taxi part of the way, but walked through the streets once we were closer to the hotel, stepping into the shops to explore the extravagant good available.

Our friend Nancy arrived earlier in the day, and after she rested a bit, the four of headed out for an aperativo and dinner. We took a long stroll through the historic district. Nancy took this shot of us rubbing the nose of the florentine boar which will bring us back to the city again someday. We had a delicious dinner at Trattoria Ponte Vecchio.

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Italy 2017

October 6, 2017- Friday in Florence

October 6, 2017- Friday in Florence

Today in Florence, we have time to enjoy just being here. After the activity of Cinque Terre, we slept in until after 9 AM, and then leisurely walked to the Accademia Gallery where we had a guided tour which included Michelangelo’s David. It is always inspiring. On our way back to Albergo Firenze, we spent some time browsing through the Eataly store. This store was originated by a group of international chefs, including Mario Battali and Lydia Bastianich, and has many unique items to see.

Albergo Firenze, our home in Florence
The Eataly Store

From our hotel, the Albergo Firenze, you can look to the left and see the carousel of Piazza Repubblica. If we take a few steps to the right and look down the crossing street we can see the Duoma Cathedral. I took a picture of the Bell Tower adjacent  to the Duoma with Andrea, arms crossed, dwarfed in front of it.


We took a short rest in our room, and then met up with Beth, our guide for the remaining days in Italy. She tooks us on a stroll around the area. We arrived at the Arno River to see scullers drifting in front of the Uffizi Gallery with the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) just beyond.


During WWII, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge not blown up.  It could not hold the weight of armored tanks, so it was saved. The Allies were on the left bank and the Nazis were on the right side, each shelling the other. This part of Florence was destroyed and then rebuilt after the war.

The Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio – lined with jewelry shops and only open to pedetrian traffic.

Before stopping for dinner, Beth snapped a photo of the two of us with the Ponte Vecchio in the background.


After a long walk, we enjoyed dinner at Antico Fattoria. I enjoyed a favorite…fried zucchini blossoms and pasta with truffle sauce. Andrea also tried the zucchini blossoms and had pasta with wild boar and tomato sauce.



Italy 2017

October 5, 2017- Cinque Terre, Italy

October 5, 2017- Cinque Terre, Italy

The alarm rang at 5AM, and we were off and running! It was too early for breakfast at the hotel, so we grabbed a breakfast bar to eat later in the morning. Our cab was prompt and dropped us at the train station from which we would catch a bus. Then we were off on a two hour ride to reach Cinque Terre, a national heritage site much like our national parks. It consists of 5 towns built along the Ligurian Sea, on the northwest coast of Italy. When we reach the city of La Spezia, we know we are close. The city hosts an Italian Navy base and was heavily bombed in WWII. Now rebuilt, it remains a beautiful seaport. I caught a quick snapshot through the bus window of this thoroughly modern bell tower.


The bus dropped us at the top of Manarola’s heights from where we descended on foot to Manarola. My term for this is “Immersion Fitness”! Once we reached the bottom of what seemed like 1000 stairs, and probably was, I whipped out my sturdy collapsible cane to meander (or is that wobble) down the steep declining streets- luckily – no cars to contend with. One charming young guy was always at hand to assist me when the steps were huge or the decline more than I could handle. My ever-troublesome feet held out OK. It was “jelly” legs that were the problem.

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
The cliffs of Cinque Terre holds as many miles of terracing as miles in the Great Wall of China
Manarola Harbor, Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola Harbor, Cinque Terre, Italy
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Rio Maggiore Port, Cinque Terre, Italy

Once on somewhat level land, we proudly strutted our way through town, looking from side to side at the homes and shops, and boarded a train which took us to Rio Maggiore. Once, there we walked from the train station to the landing dock where we would board a water taxi for a boat ride along the coast. Andrea managed to find some magnets depicting the five villages, and I found a coloring book of the same. Since I brought my Inktense pencils along, I hope to begin coloring the village-scapes soon.

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy
Corniglia- the one village without a harbor.

Once we arrived at the 5th village, Monterosa al mare, we had a delicious lunch and then boarded the train for the ride back to La Spezia and the bus back to Florence (Firenze). We slept well after we walked 12,000 footsteps (6 miles) according to the Fitbit. Our legs are telling us all about it too!

Italy 2017


October 28, 2017 We are now home from our Italy food trip. Here is our group at the Florence Food Tour… we were usually just 6 total, but added 3 people on this day. Six compatriots was just the right size for the excursions by van that took us into the Tuscany hill town countryside. Click here to see our 20 day travelogue.


The Art Quilting emphasis of ‘M Unique Blog  will change back to art quilting very soon. I left a partially completed work on the design wall, and hope to soon be back working on it.