On an Oh-My Meal

For a family gathering near the end of our trip to Italy this past October, my aunt wanted to take the entire family out to dinner. Well, actually a Sunday afternoon meal. Little did we know what to expect.

We drove about 45 minutes. Once we arrived I told my oldest cousin (in gist) that we passed 342 restaurants along the way, but they were closed – so this was the first one we could find that was open.

With the final part of the road being many twist and turns up a mountain, I knew that those who travel this road on this day must be going to the restaurant. In the image of the map, those familiar with Lucca (region of Tuscany) will see it toward the bottom. The restaurant is marked by the location icon.

The town is Fiano di Pescaglia, a small village with a population of less than 1,000 but a history that goes back to 847. On this day, the action centered on Ristorante da Valentino.

Note: I didn’t take any pictures of the meal, so you will have to rely on my descriptions. However, I want you to think about two important questions: How much did the meal cost (per person)? How long were we there?

RistoranteValentino

When entering the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the number of people throughout the numerous sections of this casual place. We entered one of the small rooms that had 3 other groups already seated. There was our table – actually several tables arranged end-to-end with 9 settings and a large bottle of red wine located at each end.

Each of us first received a small plate of appetizers: a slice of lunchmeat (Mortadella), fried polenta, 5-6 olives, and cheese.

Later, the server came by with a large bowl of mushroom risotto, and served a comfortable portion to each of us … returning after a reasonable time with a question: Would you like more? It was good, so both my wife and I accepted the offer.

Next, the server returned with a large bowl of tagliatelli in a wild boar sauce. Oh my, that was outstanding … and I can’t believe my wife ate it as she’s typically not accepting of dietary oddities. Surprisingly, I said no to the “Would you like more” question.

Later, the server returned with rolled lasagna that contained a filling of cheese and spinach with a different red sauce – yes, followed with “Would you like more” on which I passed.

Up next from the server with the big bowl was ravioli with a meat filling and a different red sauce that went into the same bowl that I’ve been using since the risotto. Of course, “Would you like more?” would follow later … I couldn’t pass on a second helping of this delight.

Attendants removed the well-used bowl, so the plate was now ready for the arrival of the next course: a platter of meat for each end of the table – small pieces of chicken, ribs, beef, lamb, and rabbit. The meats were especially tasty.

Before finishing the meat, the server made space at each end of the table for a platter of french fries and a platter with fried mushrooms and fried cauliflower.

Once it was obvious we were finished with this course, a small plate of salad appeared – an odd place as we Americans are used to eating salads early to prepare the way for the meal. But in this case, the salad was readying us for dessert!

The server delivered a platter of of variety of desserts for each end of the table. Pies, tarts, and cakes provided a delightful end to the meal.

Before describing the meal, I asked two questions: How long were we there? How much did it cost?

Sometime during this culinary extravaganza, I walked around the restaurant wondering about the number of people being served – and it was 165-190! Regarding the meal, my wife and I both agree that we were not stuffed until the desserts (we must have suddenly ran out of inner digestive space).

Finishing the 22 Euro ($24) meal 4 hours after starting, then we walked further uphill to the church … and the beautiful view of the valley.

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If you ever in this area of northwestern Tuscany near Lucca on a Sunday, I suggest you make a reservation at Ristorante da Valentino, then find your way to Fiano di Pescaglia.

On a Beach Walk: No. 1

I like walking the beach. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing on my feet.

Never a run – very seldom a stroll – but a walk – a good exercise – and as we age, walking keep us moving. My wife and I walk at home. We walk on vacation. We walk on the ship’s deck when cruising. We like to walk.

As we walk, conversations can be short or long – the topics deep or shallow – important or trivial. In times of silence, my mind keeps going – to think – to ponder the world. Thinking is also good exercise. Like the body, the mind must keep moving as we get older.

We walked a lot in January – yes – on the beach as this was our first attempt at being snowbirds from the north who went south for the winter. Walking on the beach as snowbirds facing the difficult daily questions of wondering about the temperatures at home – wondering what’s for dinner – wondering about the day of the week or the date because we aren’t sure. Be

As I walk the beach my contemplations are mental dictations on imaginary paper. Oh the blog post I have created my walking. Yes – the perfect words of never-to-be published gems that never make it outside my mind. Sometimes poetic in the rhythms of Frost, Keats, or Poe – well, at least in my mind.

My thoughts can be simple or complex. Some about wonder – some leading to awe. Others start with awe and lead to wonder. Some are personal, others professional, and others in wide-ranging topic – but fiction is a rare occurrence. All this as water refreshes my feet.

Sometimes after walking I attempt to recreate those insightful words. Usually in a notebook – but it’s never the same as the perfect string of words while walking the beach – yet future posts they will probably be – simple reflections from my mind as I walk on the packed sand along the water’s edge where water retreats to the sea.

There will be more walks in the weeks ahead because we were in the south for 27 days. More walks because I like walking the beach. It is good for the mind, body, and soul – and refreshing my feet.

Do you like walking the beach? Long distances or short? Do you contemplate or just try to chill?

earlymornwalker

 

On a Few Bits Upon Return

Greetings readers!

My wife and I returned a week ago from vacation, so I thought it was time to say hello to fellow bloggers. Below are a few tidbits that are on my mind.

I know … some of you are eager to know where we went, so here’s the scoop. We spent 2 ½ weeks in Tuscany on a trip that combined vacation time for the two of us and time with my family (an aunt and 4 first cousins). More on that trip over time.

Life in the rolling hills of Tuscany with the olives and grapes is a difficult task, but we were willing to accept the challenge.

tuscany

On this trip I almost made a connection with Debra, the Australian blogger who vacations in Bagni di Lucca. (One of my favorite places) Maybe next time! … but at least we talked on the phone.

We definitely don’t enjoy journeys involving three flights, but given our destination, we had no choice … Cincinnati to Toronto to Munich to Pisa … .and the reverse on return.

I’m looking forward to returning to my volunteer efforts with English Second Language students (adults). Before leaving I only had one class with them, so I’m anxious to help and get to know more good people from around the world.

I’m still at the golf course, but hours are less (and that’s OK). Because of work, I haven’t been volunteering at ballroom dancing with Down Syndrome adults. Hopefully, that trend won’t continue.

Thanks to DVR, we used last week to get up-to-date with Dancing With the Stars.

The handbell choir played last Sunday. Because my wife and I haven’t practiced in three weeks, we had a chance to listen. Nice piece … hopefully I can find a video in time.

This may have been the case three years ago when I visited, but I didn’t notice – but Italians now have a recycling program. Whew … is it ever different than what we do. At least they are trying something.

Being away from the election madness was more than wonderful. No news – no talking heads – no political gibberish – pure silence. In one location we only had Italian television, so we didn’t watch anything. Two of my cousins had satellite television that offered English stations (and I assuming CNN International) – but we resisted the urge. The day after the debate I looked at the headlines in Politico, but didn’t read any article because the headlines told me everything I wanted to know.

The first Republican debate was many months ago. I didn’t watch any of them … I didn’t watch any of the Democratic debates … and I have continued my pattern during the general election by not viewing any of the 3 to date.

Italians were very interested in our thoughts. I frequently answered this way: Non mi fido di lei, ma lui è un matto pigliacchioI don’t trust her but he is a mad clown. They also seem very confused about how Donald Trump can even have a chance.

Meanwhile, cheers to the Dutch team that came up with this one.

On An Unexpected Cap

This Explore has nothing to do with a hat or cap because Cappadocia is a region in central Turkey. I first heard about this region around 2010 while watching a 60 Minutes segment about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome – the head of the Orthodox Church throughout the world.

The segment captivated me in multiple ways because I don’t know much about the Orthodox Christianity or Turkey – but the part about Cappadocia and its role in early Christianity mesmerized me – especially the landscape and its history.

Today, hot air balloon rides are popular in this beautiful land of historical intrigue – the land whose rock sites are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Below the video are links to additional information about Cappadocia, including the 60-Minutes segment. Enjoy the journey and views courtesy of a drone.

More Informational Videos
Rick Steves segment with information and a balloon ride (3 minutes)
A travel promotion video (3 minutes)
60-Minutes segment that sparked my intrigue (14.5 minutes)

On the Rest of the Journey

This post is a synopsis of the rest of our trip. Previous post provided info about the most prominent stops. Not that the remaining stops don’t merit their own post, but I don’t want to drone on about this trip.

SpainCruiseShip

Gibraltar (UK)
I thought Gibraltar was a small peninsula with a big rock at it’s point. Wow, was I ever wrong because it’s primarily a rock with 30,000 people living around it’s base. We walked from the dock to the tram (which took us to the top), then we walked down, and back to the ship. Of all our days on this trip, this was our highest count of walking steps – 24,500+.

Gibraltar Whole Rock

Caves, tunnels, views, and monkeys entertained us on the way down. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the airport with a main road crossing the runways, so see this 1-minute video. The return trip through the strait was at night … and with city lights on each side of the ship, one can tell Africa and Gibraltar are closer than one may think.

Montserrat
We visited Montserrat while in Barcelona. Located about 30 minutes outside the city, it’s a monastery located at the top of the Serrated Mountains. Within the altar is the Black Madonna. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience the stunning views because of the lingering fog – but we are glad we went. Because of the fog, here’s a link to a Google Images search to accompany mine.


Cadiz
Cadiz (KA diz) is the closest port to Seville (Sevilla), but getting there is a 2-hour trip in each direction. Given we were only in port 8-5, we first visited Jerez (the next section), then spent the afternoon in the Cadiz’s Old City. To me, Cadiz was the most unexpected surprise of the trip. The Old City was vibrant, and a grand cathedral serves as its hub. Thumbs up!


Jerez de la Frontera (Jerez)
From Cadiz, we took a ship’s tour to Jerez, a 20-minute ride from the port. Walking through it’s main square and past the Alcazar castle of the Moors, the focus of our tour was the Gonzalez Byass Bodegas that produces sherry (wine). We loved both the tour and the sherry samples.


Cartagena
Founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginians, today’s Cartagena is a small city for 200,000+ nestled in a small bay flanked by 5 mountains. The dock is close, so we strolled the streets to the Roman theater, the old bullring, the waterfront, and to the Castillo de la Concepcion for panoramic views of the city.


Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca, the largest city and capital of the Balearic Islands, was our first stop after leaving Barcelona. It was a Sunday, so many stores were closed and the local free walking tour we wanted wasn’t available. The weather was beautiful, so we made the best of what we could without a map.


Although more posts about this trip may appear over time, the links to past posts from the rest of the cruise are below.

Lisbon Sun Effect

On Malaga

Welcome to Malaga, Spain!
Malaga View Dock

Malaga (MA la ga) is a popular stop for cruise ships. After all, it’s the capital of the Costa del Sol and the port taking travelers inland to Granada and its famed La Alhambra. This city of over 500,000 residents has much to offer because it’s cosmopolitan – thus fusing the new with the old.

Malaga a resort city with nearby resort towns.


Atop a hill, the Alcazaba is a sign for Malaga’s past ties to the Moors …
DSC03021

While being just below a protective fortress (Castle of Gibralfaro), Alcazaba overlooks an older structure from Roman times.


The Old City is right there with the newer parts of the city in the distance and on the other side of the hill.


Predictably, a grand cathedral towers over the Old City.

 

We loved the other sights as we walked the narrow streets.


Yes – Malaga was a good port on its own – and to think I was going to cover Malaga with a handful of images in the next catch-all post.

On Lisbon

Given that neither of us had ever been to Portugal and we’ve heard many good things about it, we were looking forward to our 2-days in Lisbon. My initial plans was a 2-day exploration of the different neighborhoods and city center, but the one-day in Sintra throw the plan out the window. But our overnight stay on the ship gave us these views of the day ahead.

Our Scottish dinner friends (Alex and Evelyn) took a hop-on hop-off tour of Lisbon. It was a two-day ticket, and they unexpectedly gave it to us. The overview was good, and we still had some time to walk and explore. Here’s your quick tour of our beautiful day in Lisbon.

I’ve always thought Lisbon was on the coast, but it actually sits on the Tegas (Tejo) River, a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean. Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) is a grand square along the river leading to the gates of the city (Baixa district – BYE shah). On our walk to Rosario Station to get our train to Sintra, we saw a lively city center.

Of the neighborhoods, I was most likely forward to Alfama, on old neighborhood a small hill east of Baixa. Dating back to the 6th century, it remains a bustling neighborhood with narrow streets and alleys. Lisbon still uses a few classic trolleys, and one accesses Alfama. Although we got to Alfama, the time was too short for me.

Belem is a district 3 miles (5 km) west of city center. It served as the send-off point for sailors, many who prayed at Monastery of Jeronimos – a very long structure with a beautiful church that houses the tomb of Vasa da Gama.

Belem anchors one end of a bridge that resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate – yes – the same architect. The Belem Tower guarded the port and the Monument to the Discoveries (a salute to the early Portuguese explorers) are in a park along the water. The large Praça do Império (Empire Square) with a beautiful fountain sits in front of the monastery.

At 5 pm on the second day, it was time to sail away. Great weather and great views touched the heart. Son long Portugal, and may we meet again.