Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Limoncello Recipe

Well, here is it, for those of you who are not able to travel to Italy to taste this magical liqueur.



Ingredients:

15 - 20 lemons
2 x 750 ml Everclean Alcohol (or Vodka)
2 cups of water
3 cups of sugar
1 x 2 litre glass jar with a sealed lid

Preparation:

Wash and dry the lemons and remove the yellow peel from the lemons with a sharp peeler or fine grater

Place the peels in a glass jar and add the Everclear alcohol to about 2 inches below the top and seal tightly

Leave the jar to steep in a cool place until the peels lose their color - at least 2 weeks.

After the two weeks place the water and sugar in a saucepan, stir and slowly boil until liquid turns clear.

Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature then add the cooled syrup to the jar with the lemons and place them back in a cool place for a further two weeks.

Strain the liquid through a coffee filter and pour the limoncello into another container.  Press down to remove all the alcohol that you can from the peels before discarding them.

Stir the liquid with a clean plastic spoon.

Pour the liquor into clean bottles, seal tightly and leave the finished bottles for at least 1 week before consuming.

Enjoy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Italy Roundup

I'm most disappointed to announce that our time in Italy has come to an end. Yesterday was our last day in Rome.

I must admit that if one wants to explore Rome adequately, one should spend at least a full week in the city. A couple of days are not nearly enough to see everything in it's entirety.

Yesterday we went back into the city and spent a couple of hours at the Vatican City. We were there early and already there were hundreds of people lining up to get in. The churches and cathedrals in the city are magnificent. They have the most amazing artwork inside and one could spend hours inside just taking it all in.

My driver and I also spent a whole heap of time walking around the city to the various attractions. I loved the Pantheon in particular. The building/ruin is hardly worth looking at from the outside, but once one enters through the marble pillars the inside is spectacular. The floors are marble and so are the walls. There are a few tombs behind glass enclosures and massive paintings around the walls. The inside of the building provides a cool relief from the tremendous heat outside.

Another highlight for me was the Trevi Fountains. One walks along a corridor of buildings and at the end is an opening which leads directly to the fountains. One can hear the water raging from quite a distance away. The fountains are truly beautiful and the rushing water has a calming effect. There are literally hundreds of people scattered around the area, either sitting on the steps looking at the fountains, or standing around marveling at it's beauty.

The Gelato Bars do exceptionally well in this area and the cost of an ice cream is €5.00 for one scoop. Don't let this put you off though, they are well worth the cost.

I managed to support the economy slightly, but any little bit helps, right? I certainly didn't spend nearly as much as I had budgeted for however, my driver kept on reminding me that I had spent a squillion dollars on diamonds prior to leaving Canada, so unless I spent money surruptitiously, my driver was on my tail watching every move of mine!

One of the annoying things in Rome is that wherever there is any attraction, the street vendors are rather aggressive in trying to get one to purchase thing from them. Illegal street hawkers try to shove fake Gucci handbags in ones face and hound one to purchase there items. They are actually rude and obnoxious. The police are constantly walking around chasing them away but as soon as they leave, the hawkers are back.

The Smart Car is an amazing invension! Since the very first time I ever laid my eyes on one, I thought they were hidious but when one is in Italy one can see exactly why they were invented. They are fabulous because they maneuver incredibly well, they can park in any small spot that one may think is impossible to get into and they seems to go quite fast.

When renting a car in Italy, try to get the smallest you can because parking is extremely difficult and the streets are awfully narrow. When we picked up our rental car we were upgraded to a bigger car... Nightmare! You do not want an upgrade, ever! Size does matter and the smaller the better.

The countryside is constantly changing. The south coast is very mountainous with few roads and no freeway. The locals rely on subsistence farming and it would appear some send their women out to be adventurous and earn a quick buck. Northern Italy is hilly, very green and the hills are scattered with olive plantations, vineyards and agriculture. The north coast Is ruggered and beautiful but if one doesn't wish to compete with hundreds of tourists in tiny places then this is a place to avoid.

The people are fantastic. The Italians in the countryside are extremely humble and incredibly accommodating. They will give you the shirt off their back if they think it will make one happy. The larger centers are quite multicultural, especially Rome where most people around are foreigners.

My driver will still tell you that he is not impressed with Rome but I do believe it boils down to ones own preferences. Some people prefer quieter areas, some prefer shopping. For me, it was a mixture of cultural experiences and the coastal lifestyle. I loved the quieter vineyards too however, I certainly didn't mind all the crowds in Rome.

I've had the most marvelous experience with some of the most amazing people I have come across. Thank you Italy for such a memorable experience and fantastic vacation.

Arrividerci.

~ Vanessa

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rome, Italy

You win some you lose some.

My driver looked on booking.com to find accommodation for our final two nights and found a very charming hotel on the outskirts of Rome, with awesome reviews. We need to be fairly close to the airport for our flight out on Sunday morning, yet close enough to the city so that we could see all the attractions.

When we left Spoleto today, my driver gave George the very prestigious and important duty of taking us to our new destination. George has been behaving exceptionally well of late and I wonder if he didn't hear me saying something about him being the worst navigator I've ever had, because things have changed and suddenly my mate George, is responsive and alert - a bit like your first boyfriend who dotes on you, then all of a sudden, three years down the track and he turns into a monster!

George found our hotel very easily and as I watched our surrounds and where George was taking us to, I started praying that he was lost again. He took us into the seediest place, down the dirtiest, darkest streets where we saw the most awful looking people. Then he navigated us up a steep road and there it was, our charming hotel. It looked a bit like a hospital from the 11th century. One could imagine gurneys lining the sides of the building, horses and carts littering the filthy road and sick people sitting in a line on the unpaved walkway, waiting to see the local medicine man.

We checked in however, wondering if we shouldn't just make a dash for greener pastures before we settled. Before we knew it, we were fighting our way into the smallest room with the ugliest decor ever. We could hardly fit our suitcases in the room without rearranging the furniture to fit everything in. It would appear those Internet reviews were falsified. It's not a trains ash though because one only sleeps in the room, right?

Then it was time to find our way to the city for some serious sight seeing. Our hotel man directed us to the nearest station - about ten blocks walk away. We found the right train line and train without hassle. The entire train ride (about half an hour) was underground.

Rome is a magnificent but dirty city. My driver will tell you that he is unimpressed by it. He will tell you that it's a waste of time visiting, but believe me, when one arrives in the heart of the city and when one begins to see all the archeological sites unfold, one is totally blown away.

I felt absolutely insignificant by the sheer magnitude of the Colosseum. It is breath taking and spectacular. It's so hard to think that the remnants of a broken down building could be so beautiful, but it is. We did a radio walking tour of the Colosseum and it was well worth the extra cost. One gains so much information. I couldn't help wondering how much of that information was in fact 100% factual and how much has been added on for effect over the years.

The Colosseum used to seat between 40 000 and 70 000 people at any one time. The Romans of those times seemed to be barbaric and cruel and class distinction was huge. How fortunate we are that times have changed.

The Vatican city certainly is the place to be if one is Catholic. One can see nuns walking the streets in groups, the odd priest and men dressed up as Cesar. There are just hundreds of people walking around and one is exposed to a few rather sad social issues. We saw an elderly lady sitting on the sidewalk with all her belongings around her. She had about 10 lettuce leaves spread out on the floor with her pet snails neatly placed on the leaves while she poured a little water over them to either cool them down or hydrate them - whichever was in her mind at the time.

While we've seen some, but not very many social issues in Italy, I must admit the litter and general disrespect of the land is huge. The big cities are far dirtier than the country villages. I'm surprised there aren't any serious diseases in these major centers.

We took a hop on, hop off bus tour around the city to get a general feel of the layout, then we walked. As it gets dark, the place comes alive. People all congregate around all the water fountains. One can imagine this would have happened in bygone days.

We found a little watering hole and had two beers and one coke and were charged €17! Be careful where you go to and what you pay, there's always a shark out there preying on the innocent. Thank goodness we had the good sense to find a different restaurant.

When it was time to return to our hotel, there were no trains running. Apparently the station closes at 21h00 on a Friday night - we had no idea. We walked all over the city trying to find a bus that was heading in our direction. We eventually found one after midnight. It dropped us a fair walk away from our hotel and we were forced to walk the dark, seedy streets alone. I didn't feel safe at all and even removed my wrist watch from my arm and put it in my pocket so that it didn't attract unwanted attention. Even my driver was not feeling safe, although I'm sure he will deny this if questioned later.

No time to sleep, Rome awaits!

Ciao.

~ Vanessa

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spoleto and Assisi

Today was another one of those very fine days!

This morning early we left Tuscany and headed south towards Rome again. We want to explore Rome in greater detail, so will need as much time there as possible, however not too much, since we do not want to spoil ourselves.

My driver was feeling the worst he's ever felt in his life, he told me, so we took it quite easy.

On the way south to a place we marked out in our map book called Spoleto, we stopped off at a place called Assisi - this little village is a world heritage site, and one can see why. It is beautifully preserved and well taken care of.

Again, one cannot drive into the village so one has to park, pay and the walk into the village. I shit you not, we arrived just at the beginning of siesta - again. This is driving me insane.

Assisi represents an ensemble of masterpieces of human creative genius, such as the Basilica of San Francesco, which have made it a fundamental reference for art history in Europe and the world. if only the walls could speak, they would have so many stories to tell.

We walked around the village and then found a restaurant so that we could have lunch - might as well, since we weren't going to spend any other money. The Romans built these villages in ingenious ways. All pathways are rounded and because of this, they seem to catch the wind and the wind in turn blows through these allies creating a cool temperature throughout. The buildings are all incredibly cool inside. One also spends a lot of time walking and climbing - thank goodness for good walking shoes.

After Assisi, we drove to our final destination for the day, Spoleto.

Spoleto is another medieval village, which was built entirely in the 12th century. My driver and I took a walk up to the Rocca Albornoziana, the local castle. The castle is magnificent and a lot of the original paintings have been preserved. The walk up to the castle is not pleasant for a girl like me with all the heat, carrying heavy camera gear and most of my valuables, but there is an escalator which makes it much easier - we only found this on our way back.

By the time we walked back to the village, siesta was coming to an end and I was starting to get a little excited, however my driver hated everything he saw and put me off everything again. I think from tomorrow I will insist that the driver and George spend the day together while I get some serious retail therapy underway.

My driver is too sick to eat dinner tonight and far too sick to go out either, so while the sun sets, I sit at my little window in my hotel room like Snow White waiting for the sand man to visit me.

Goodnight children!

~ Vanessa

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fattoria La Loggia

25 May 2011

How utterly marvelous it is being here in Toscana (Tuscany for those of you who are English speaking). We've had the most magnificent day. My driver and especially George were wonderfully behaved and it shows in my mood.

Today the three of us did some serious exploring, I was in my element, my driver is still sick - in fact today he was more sick than yesterday whereas I have put aside my Italian illness completely. George is ready to be admitted to the home for the bewildered. My driver made some serious internal changes with George this morning so he was unusually accommodating.

We went for a walk this morning early but in all seriousness I kind of wonder why one would walk in a place like this because it is so vast and one certainly can't cover ground by foot - unless of course one has all the time in the world. I much prefer to cover ground by vehicle or scooter, that way I get instant gratification by seeing what I want immediately without having to wait for the prize. Of course the other drawback is that because it is so hot here one perspires so much that it becomes uncomfortable.

After breakfast - two natural yogurts for me and steak for my driver, we hit the road. We drove to Sienna ultimately, but went off the beaten track to discover and explore other villages. We stopped at places like Grieve in Chianti, Montefioralle, Poggibonsai, and Castellina in Chianti. These are all incredibly beautiful places and as previously mentioned, our ultimate stop was in Sienna where we parked the car and walked around the village.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this, most of the villages are inaccessible by vehicle. One can drive up to the village but then one has to park the car and walk into the village. Parking is charged at a rate of between €1.00 to €2.00 per hour.

We walked the streets of Sienna and found the magnificent cathedral, it is open to the public daily at a rate of €10.00 entry fee. The steps leading up to the cathedral are solid marble. The Duomo Santa Maria Assunta was originally planned to be bigger than St Peter's in Rome and was largely completed in 1215. The breathtaking facade was added after 1284.

I'm ecstatic to report that at this time I have been able to support the economy, albeit marginally. I bought myself a pair of handmade Italian leather shoes. Don't misunderstand me, I do not have a shoe fetish but given the opportunity to support local talent I was eager to relent. I was equally eager to support the local potters in Sienna by purchasing a beautifully decorated ceramic plate with hand carved drawings of the Toscana landscape, however my driver was unimpressed with the design, the color and the originality. He felt the plate looked cheap and mentioned that he had seen far better on the south coast - which incidentally, we are not returning to!

I'm over siesta's, honestly. If I were living here and working here then I would fully support them but seriously they happen at the very moment I feel the urge to do some shopping! I don't believe in coincidences and have a very strong suspicion that between George and my driver, they are only taking me into places where I can exercise the elasticity of my credit card after 12:30 each day. Once is a coincidence, but since this has been a daily occurrence, I fail to believe that it's not premeditated. I could always take control and insist on driving the car but then all the stress would be placed an me and I'd have to then content with the traffic, George, my driver and have to dodge oncoming vehicles and scooters all at the same time. It will be a bit like playing Russian Roulette and while I don't mind dying in Italy, I don't want to die just yet there is still so much to see.

Yesterday I asked the lady who works here if she could give me some brochures or dope on the local history. She said of course, anything is possible right? But she didn't give me anything. So I told her I would return a little later. When I returned she told me that she would print off some information a little layer still. This morning I returned and asked her for my information and she was horrified that I would even suggest that she give it to me at that time. She said she was incredibly busy with stuff. There was not a soul around, no phone ringing and nothing for her to do. I'm wondering if she simply couldn't find it in her heart to tell me it wasn't possible.

Prosseco is lovely to drink when the sun is going down and the landscape is cooling off. It is also a great anesthetic when one has injured oneself. Yesterday I fell and sprained my wrist (I'm not complaining because I am conscious that my driver is still sick and I don't wish to steal the limelight), However my point is that whilst I am injured and having to carry my arm in an imaginary sling, the prosseco is doing a marvelous job.

Ciao and arrivederci.

~ Vanessa

La Loggia, Tuscano

24 May 2011

My Driver is sick!

This, as you can understand is a travesty. If the driver is ill, the conditions of living, driving, relaxing, and enjoying, deteriorate. Suddenly my two day illness has had to be moved to the back burner while I allow the driver to be the sick one for as long as he likes. He is like a bear with a sore tooth mind, so I'm wondering how long I will tolerate the frivolity for.

I'm resilient though - as resilient as a butterfly in a wind tunnel, so all is good.

Today we decided to return to Tuscany - I told you my driver is sick! After already staying in this area and having my driver state that he was unimpressed with Tuscany, he has done an about turn and re-calculated. I don't mind at all because I think this place is awesome and the people are awesomer.

I mentioned that it was hot, but I don't think there is an adequate word to describe this heat. Fortunately we found a place in the vineyards to stay in and it has a large swimming pool. Now one can truly relax. We are staying at a place called Fattoria La Loggia.

Fattoria La Loggia is not a hotel but a working farm, which produces wines, spumante and olive oil. I'm not here to work, if that's what your first immediate thought was (banish it right away). I'm here to eat cheese and drink wine and watch the other people working.

George has been at it again. He seems so have no clue at times and with us having less of a clue, it makes driving conditions incredibly stressful. We had to call it a day a few hours ago because he seems to be struggling with his memory - to the extent that my driver was forced to use expletives on him. I didn't join in on the cussing but I was surruptitiously ecstatic! Finally it's not just me who thinks George is a dunce sometimes.

We drove around this morning in search of a place to overnight and followed some signs (to give George a rest). We found the most magnificent place. It looked almost like an apartment block, but way better. We parked the car and walked inside to find the reception area. This place was absolutely beautiful. The front garden had an automatic lawn mower riding up and down on the lawn, making patterns and cutting as it went along.

I was walking around taking photographs and my driver was opening doors trying to find the reception. We walked around the side of the property and heard a dog barking. I immediately dropped to my knees to give the dog some loving when a lady walked out a side door and started talking to us in Italian.

In our broken Italian (Prego - the only word I know - means it's a pleasure - and it really was a pleasure) we tried to tell her that we were looking for reception. She immediately told us we were in the wrong area and when we wanted to walk back around the corner she told us we were not at a hotel but a private residence!

We apologized and left in search of a hotel, with me taking photos all the way back to the car.

We went shopping!! Not to shops that ladies like to go to, my driver took us to a grocery store to buy food for dinner. What could have taken literally 5 minutes ended up taking over an hour. All we needed was two steaks and potatoes, but my driver spent twenty minutes in the vegetable section! I have a feeling he was having an epiphany of sorts and thought we were having company for dinner. Then he kept saying he needed something green to have with his tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, carrot salad, cheese and biscuits! No wonder the belt buckle has had to move a few holes to allow for more room in there.

Wine tasting, although possible, is not so easy unless one has made an appointment with the respective vineyard. My question is this: how the hell does one make a reservation when one has no idea where one is going or when one will be at said place that one never even knew existed before the moment one drove past it's gate?

We have decided that we will stay here for a couple of nights. We have an apartment - I think that's what one would call it. It has a main bedroom, bathroom - with tiny shower, lounge room and kitchen. It was built in the early 1800's. The concrete stairway leading to the apartment is worn down and uneven. The doors are solid wood and so are the windows. The ceiling has wooden beams but it looks like the actual ceiling is some sort of terra-cotta tile or brick. It is incredibly cool.

Dinner will be served shortly, after a few glasses of good local wine.

Cheers.

~ Vanessa

Legend:

My driver: Kimo
George: the GPS with no sense of humor

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chinque Terre

Oh my goodness it's hot!

Today was 34 degrees C, and for someone who has recently experienced minus 25 degrees C, this is ridiculous. I'm ready to expire.

Today we drove through Tuscany to Florence, Pisa and the Chinque Terre. Tuscany is an awesome place, with undulating hills and vineyards or olive plantations growing on them. Most of the hills have either little villages on them or a Tuscan Villa - or even a castle on the top.

Most of the castles are ruins but one can still appreciate the magnitude of them and the associated history.

I was surprised at the size of both Florence and Pisa, both very large cities but do not be alarmed, I have STILL not been shopping, even though I am dying to support the economy. My driver and George seem to have built in antennae that tell them to avoid cities and especially places of interest for ladies! We even passed the Gucci factory without batting an eyelid!

George has been getting us lost all day today, in fact he is so full of tripe that when he starts to talk I already have my "whatever" hand up. We took a walk into a village in the Chinque Terre, and my driver took George with us. We were looking for a hotel. We were on foot. George was directing us. He started off by saying "in 25 meters, turn right". We did. Then after walking for a few more meters he said, "perform a U-Turn when possible". He has absolutely no clue.

The Chinque Terre is a magnificent stretch of coastline consisting of five small fishing villages at the bottom of a mountain pass. Once one reaches the bottom of the pass, one can walk from village to village along a ridge on the mountain. The villages are only accessible by foot. Cars are allowed as far as the top of the mountain pass, then one has to park (and pay, mind) and then trek into the village by foot.

We went to one of the villages hoping to find accommodation, but unfortunately they were all fully booked. We eventually drove to a seaside city called "La Spenza", where we are now stationed for the night.

We have been very close to France and Monaco and somehow my driver thinks he is racing in the Formula One. The speed limit on the freeways is 130 kilometers per hour, that has gone well but on the winding roads along the mountain passes, my driver shifts his gear stick into lower gear and puts his foot flat on the accelerator. I wouldn't mind if the roads were wider and if there were no other cars around but in my drivers case, he is performing a dangerous act. My calf muscles are aching from pressing down my imaginary breaks so often.

The freeway system in Italy is fantastic. There is a major freeway that runs up the centre of Italy. This freeway is actually a toll road but is unlike any toll road I have ever been on. In Italy one enters the toll by collecting a ticket (not paint money) and if one switches freeways one still doesn't pay. One can drive to anywhere that the freeway system goes to but one only pays when one exits the freeway. Payment is therefore calculated by how far one has driven ob the freeway instead of a set fee for a section of road. I have to admit, these guys are ingenious.

We are thinking about staying at this hotel for a couple of nights so that we can fully explore this area. The hotel is fairly new, but the rooms are very small. I know one only sleeps in a hotel room, but I do like my comforts!

~ Vanessa

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tuscany

Last night we stayed at Villa Maria Pia. I thought it was quaint, clean and comfortable - no hidden meanings there at all. It is a fairly new hotel and I quite liked the owner, Julia. Her mother in law is actually Maria Pia. My driver was somewhat unimpressed with the venue, annoyed because he felt we were ripped off and felt there was no service to speak of - even though Julia kept on saying "It is possible..."

After breakfast - dried out bacon, twice scrambled eggs and only one cup of coffee (cold), we hit the road south - first to Salerno and then north towards Tuscany. We had to travel through Napoli again, which is (no offense) the ass end of Italy! I'm appalled by all the litter along the roads! It looks like the rubbish collectors have been on strike for the past six months.

Napoli is a very large city and spreads far and wide. It is also situated alongside Pompeii, famously wiped out by the volcano on Mount Vesuvius. From the mountain pass into Napoli, one can distinctly see the volcanos path of destruction.

George took my driver down a whole heap of back allies, into unknown territory - down dangerous narrow pathways and up no entry roads. There was no stopping these two! George has no manners at all (he is not Italian, by the way), he gave my driver no warning when he had to turn down a road, forcing my driver to break the law numerous times.

My driver now drives just like an Italian, except for the agility and smoothness of the locals. He doesn't wait at stop streets and certainly doesn't wait for vehicles who have right of way to continue on - he simply squeezes his way into the traffic and beyond.

Between the two of them, I was feeling very stressed about the driving today. Once out of Napoli we entered the motorway and the driving conditions were far better than anywhere we've been so far.

We stopped along the way to fill our car with fuel and I went into the little shop to buy some coffee and to get a cup of hot water for my meds - I seem to have picked up some influenza along the way, it's no doubt really, I've been kissed and touched by all and sundry - not complaining at all, I'm just mentioning that while the Italian men have kissed me and touched my hands, no one has dared to pinch my backside yet! Anyway, moving right along....

So I went into the little shop and ordered two coffees - one an "Americano" and one a "Cappuccino". The man behind the counter struggled with Cappuccino, but got the Americano right. I tried to explain that a Cappuccino has milk in it but he wasn't buying my story. After begging for milk he finally relented and frothed me up. Then I asked for a cup of hot water for my meds and he had no idea what I was saying. I took out my sachet of powder, which incidentally is all in Italian and showed him. Eventually he gave me a glass of cold water. It took my driver some forward thinking and miming to pretend he had burnt his fingers with the "hot" water. Suddenly it dawned on the coffee maker and he gave me about a quarter cup of hot water.

We drove all the way to Tuscany and then drove around trying to find a place to stay for the night. Of course George got us horribly lost, although I fail to see how we could have been lost when we had no idea where we were going in the first instance!

Eventually we found ourselves a hotel at about 6:00 pm and checked in. The hotel is lovely, we booked into a suite (bedroom, lounge room, full bathroom) for less than we paid at Villa Maria - the luck of the draw, I guess. Then we walked around this quaint village we are staying in.

Our receptionist at the hotel recommended a restaurant for us and we went in search of it. We found the name plate on the wall and walked into the first restaurant we saw enquiring if they were the place we were looking for. No one inside could understand a word we were saying. Our receptionist told us that the restaurant served any meat and any pasta. I tried to ask our waiter, who incidentally was drunk and stumbling already, to explain the menu to me.

Pictionary would have come in handy here! This guy had no idea what we were asking and we had no idea what he was replying to us. I asked for steak and he said they serve pasta only. He brought us bread and water while we discussed leaving via the back door and running like hell.

I was ready to run when he came back and stared as though I was being rude! My driver told him (pictionary style), that we had decided to leave because they didn't serve steak. He told us to wait and again I got ready to run. My driver thought we should exit through the front door, which is the same door we entered in by, but I was keen to leave out the back. As my driver passed the kitchen he saw the chef with cleaver in hind chopping at a huge piece of meat. He told me we had to wait a short while longer.

Eventually our waiter came back with a piece of T-Bone steak, which was about 1.5 kilograms big. He asked if that was okay for us. We were over the moon. About 15 minutes later our steak arrived, chopped up and beautifully presented. I told you the Italians should be called the nation of "it's possible". We were served potatoes with our chopped up T-Bone and it all tasted delicious!

We've seen some really amazing villages today. In ancient times the Romans used to build these tufa villages on the tops of smallish mountains. They would build the houses directly on the cliff edges going around in a circle. These villages still exist today and are accessible through a huge wooden gate - now left permanently open.

We are currently staying in one such village called, Monte San Savino, a historical town in the heart of the Tuscany, overlooking vineyards, olive plantations and wheat fields. The views from our hotel room are endless and breath taking.

After an exhausting day, it's almost time to attempt sleep, but first I'll need to read a little to get myself in the zone. Incidentally, it is incredibly hot here. Today was 33 degrees celscius, rather hot without a sea breeze.

~ Vanessa

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Italians are a Nation of "it's Possible"

It is not possible to find a hotel like the Sheraton or the Grand Hyatt along this stretch of coast, possibly because these are not Italian hotels or Italian innovations. But there is an absolute abundance of boutique hotels, ranging from three stars to five.

Star ratings have nothing to do with cleanliness, service or accessibility, which is good in Italy because these are all qualities that are part and parcel of the Italian culture. In other countries one may struggle to find either of those qualities - even in a large hotel chain, but here it is free.

Many of the hotels here are nothing to look at from the outside, but they are gems when one is inside them. Our hotels have ranged between three and four stars so far, however I would rate the service and friendliness as high as ten stars.

Accessibility to many of the hotels has been difficult. The roads are narrow and winding and many hotels - especially in the ver popular towns - have no parking at all. This means that one has to find ones hotel first then drive down the road - sometimes for miles - before one can find parking, then one has to carry ones luggage to ones hotel. The solution here is to travel light, very light.

Many boutique hotels have a Luggage solution. That may be a tiny elevator, only big enough for a medium size suitcase or the hotel owner will personally collect your luggage and carry it to your room. Some hotels have a basket with a pulley system attached to it where ones luggage is placed and then transported up or down to ones room, (from outside the building) this one is my personal favorite - that way I am not embarrassed by the weight of my suitecase and my "porter" doesn't break his back carrying my goods.

Hotel rooms are beautifully decorated with the individuality of the owner. The floors are tiled with volcanic tiles, hand painted using ceramic paints which have then been baked in large kilns. These tiles are super strong and are crack, stain and chip resistant. They provide a colorful individuality to the hotel rooms and foyers and certainly add class and style. One will find such tiles in most hotels - if not all, and in a lot of cases, these tiles will be scattered along walkways or in the markets.

Hotel rates vary and are consistent between €80 to €130 per night. Weekend rates are usually high and can jump from €80 to €120 on a Saturday night alone. The Italians are not beyond haggling, so one can negotiate a better deal - as long as you are dealing with the hotel owner and not a young princess behind the counter.

Internet is not always available and Italy doesn't seem to have a covered 3G network. Some hotels offer Wi-Fi but a lot of the time this means that while they have Wi-Fi, it is only available in the reception area, on the terrace or outside a rare Internet cafe! I've managed to secure a Wi-Fi connection at two am on the stairs going up from the reception area (in my PJ's), on the terrace at three am, overlooking the Sorrento skyline, at a bar in the harbor overlooking the many ferries coming in and out while eating a chocolate sundae and by buying an internet Wi-Fi package valued at €10 for three hours, which my driver managed to haggle down to €5 for three hours with a free connection for the second user!

It's possible. Anything is possible in Italy and the Italians should be called the nation of possibilities. If you need anything, one simply has to mention it to the locals and they will immediately start off by telling you, "it's possible ...". Even when they have already found a solution for something, it's possible to find another one!

At a restaurant a few days ago, my driver and I discussed dinner options with our waiter. We could read what was on the menu, say what was on the menu and select exactly what we wanted but our waiter told us "it's possible" to have what we wanted OR "it's possible" to have a slight variation. When the meal arrived it was possibly the last thing we expected to get! But anything "it's possible", and I enjoy that.



The Isle of Capri

I remember when I was a child at junior school at a school play, we used to sing a song about the Isle of Capri. As I recall, it was a love song but I no longer remember the words; something about meeting my love on the Isle of Capri!

I certainly didn't meet my love on the island, but I did fall in love WITH the island. It's certainly a very charming spot. I have a feeling it would have had a lot more charm, had my driver allowed me to actually do a spot of shopping! His form of serious shopping is window shopping, whereas mine involves going into the shops, looking at the stuff, feeling it, touching it and then ultimately purchasing it. That's what I'm talking about... Sadly my day for shopping has still not arrived, but I'm a patient gal - to a point. I'm about to lose my cool though.

This morning we changed hotels and took a tour to the Island of Capri. Our hotel owner called our tour guide and asked them to fetch us by boat at the foot of our hotel so once to climbed to the bottom of the stairs we had a short wait and then our boat arrived.

There were six of us on the tour and our guide was fantastic. He took us to places that most people would never take a boat to, including driving the boat into caves and almost touching the rocks on the sides!

A lot of our information was delivered in Italian - for some reason some of these people speak to me in Italian and think I am understanding every word they say. I think my blank stare has failed me. So our tour guide explained a lot of what we were seeing in Italian and I was doing my own interpretation, which may or may not be dangerous!

Our tour included a trip to the Faraglioni rocks, the marina Piccola, the White Grotto, Villa Malaparte, the Green Grotto and the Azzurra Grotto. When we arrived at Capri, we were dropped off and told that we had four hours to explore the island - we rented another scooter - there's no better way to explore than to rent a scooter.

We rode to the other side of the island to marina Piccola to a quiet restaurant where I had my very first real Italian Pizza. I've been dying to try this out and finally today was the day. I've always enjoyed pizza, but today the pizza tasted nothing like I am used to. The crust was thin, soft and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

When my pizza arrived I didn't think I would be able to finish mine at all - they were huge! But to my delight and utter surprise, I was able to eat it all up. Not because I was hungry - there was a tiny element of hunger, not because I was a pig - there was an element of that too, but because it was so good I couldn't stop eating. The other reason is that the pizza is not as filling or as "heavy" as I am used to.

We drove around the entire island on our bike. My driver sometimes thinks he is on the Autobahn and I'm not impressed but I'm not complaining at all, I don't really want to have to walk to some of the places we've been able to take the bike to.

My driver has discovered that he is rather partial to Lemoncilla! Lemoncilla is the liquour made from lemons right here in Italy. While we've already tasted and enjoyed and purchased some Lemoncilla, my driver went into a shop today, looked at the yellow "stuff" in those lovely decrotave bottles and enquired what it was. The beauty behind the counter was very surprised that he hadn't seen it before and asked him how long he has been in Italy. He was vague and told her we had "just" arrived. She then asked if he wanted to try some of the lemon drops and he first pulled his nose up then acted as if he might as well try it given this is the first time he's seen it.

She was very proud of her Lemoncilla and poured us each a shot glass. I'm not too keen on it myself so I handed mine to my driver who drank both portions, pulling a face as though he hated it. The beauty wanted to know if he was interested in purchasing a bottle but he said he could never buy something he disliked as much as that! You've got to give it to him, he organized two free shots!

We are now snug in our new hotel, another gem right on the ocean. In the short space of time I've been sitting here I've already seen a few dolphin, a whale and a cruise ship go by.