Olive Oil Tour & a Night at the Opera

mtn fogToday we have an “olive oil” tour with Johnny Madge – an expat English guy married to an Italian. Unexpected fun.

He met us and an American couple at the Fara Sabina station. We piled into van and drove on West Virginia type roads (curvy, mountainous) but populated with medieval towers, churches and modern towns. Every time we stopped, Johnny showed us wild herbs. Chicory, fennel, marjoram, rosemary.cloud town

Olive Tree First stop: 2000 yr old olive tree. They are hollow in the center so matter was taken and carbon dated. On to Johnny’s town: Casperia. At his wine bar we DRINK olive oil. 3 types, unmixed. You snort in reverse after you coat your mouth. Fumes everywhere in your taste area. He also opens a wine, which we drink. Harder to walk back down the hill!olive grove

About extra virgin olive oil: the olives are “combed” from the tree and the sooner you can get them to the mill, the better. If your oil smells fusty – “a little like crayons” – there were spoiled olives when it was pressed. It is not extra virgin. It should smell like tomatoes.

river of clouds

On to lunch. Baked tomato slices, bruschetta w/ fabulous oil, chick pea puree, beans with sage, cheese wedges with grape jam (yum yum), frittata with marjoram, baked onions with crumbs, eggplant parm – the best I’ve ever had, and spicy greens. We drank another 2 bottles of wine at lunch. Add the food to 4 sips of oil, plus 4 pieces of bread with oil – my stomach roils thinking of it. I have never been so full. Ended with coffee. Last stop – a mill where the olives are pressed. I was mostly impressed with the house.tower w trees

We say goodbye (after 6 hours) and head off for our final adventure. We had decided not to book a hotel since the plane left at 6:45 AM. My hubby DROVE into Rome – OMG. They are crazy. They double, double park. All the streets are one way and not laid out in a gird. And, of course, there are people walking around. Like a nightmare.blue door

Finally find the parking garage and we panic – can the boat (big car) turn 90 degrees on a tiny street and get down the ramp. Barely.

Off to the opera – Barber of Seville. Cute theater – a little art deco. Tiny stage. The soprano is singing Mimi and Rosina in rep, which seems like 2 very different types of singing. The Don Basilo is good. The old lover a hoot. The rest adequate. Tiny live orchestra. B says it’s probably like it was when it was first produced. Lasts until 11:30.

We find the parking garage again – yay. And off we go to the airport. We settle in about 1AM. I sleep on the cold floor – doze mostly. B is reading. Finally the night bleeds into a flight home, 5 hr layover in Frankfurt. But…flower window

Oh, doggies, we’re coming!! Love to go. Love to come home. Arrivederci Italia.

Orvieto Legends

floating church 2
Orvieto! From a distance, the famous cathedral floats over the town. Up close, just getting there is a pilgrimage. First, a funicular, which is like a streetcar up the mountain. And I mean UP.  It’s because the city is built on a volcano plug, much like the Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters. At the top, we take a free circular bus. The maniac driver careens down streets so tiny I could have put my hand out and touched the walls we were passing. And we weren’t going slow; all the pictures I took are blurs. But then, the duomo. Completed in 1310, it is knock your eyes out beautiful.

pillarsFor me there was more than the beauty of the carving, the gold, the mosaics, the statues. Part of the design consists of four “pillars” – Adam and Eve, Jesus’ Family Tree, a tree of life (I think) and the resurrection. I found the pictures tremendously moving. Trying to understand why, I remembered my first time in Athens, riding on a bus through the city, the Acropolis soared into view and I cried. My emotion was similar here. No matter what I believe now, these stories were the ones told to me as I grew up. They formed a base in my life, as did the Greek myths;


madonna closeup
Anyway, I have placed a slide show of pictures from this marvelous church below. I love the pigeon resting on Mary’s hand, the lively heads of apostles (I’m not sure; maybe they are the donors to the building fund), and the creation story carved into one of the pillars (note the protective plastic at the bottom of the pillar…tourists can’t resist touching.) It begins with Eve being taken from Adam’s rib, followed by the perfidious snake,the casting out of Eden. On the resurrection pillar, angels blow horns to awake the souls. And notice the skeleton – surprisingly correct, although the skull looks like E.T.

Even if these aren’t your stories, the artistry is to be wondered at. We have one more day in Italy, a night at the opera, then finito and on to other things. Wishing you all a new year of health, creativity and happiness.

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Pitigliano, Italy

Returning to the Italian trip, on the home stretch! Driving on a cloudy rainy day.
We are heading towards Pitigliano. My hubby picked out the town after watching a Rudy Maxa program – I was skeptical, but WOW.

At first it didn’t look like the pictures. I asked (in Italian) and understood everything the guy said (yay). We were in the modern town. A 20 minute walk – Ecco.
pitilano 6

We were starving, but luckily, just as the town hove into view, there was a  real mom and pop trattoria. We had a lovely lunch while looking across at the town.

Pitigliano is totally perched over two ravines with views down both sides. Its water comes from an aqueduct built in the deMedici time.  Looking in shop windows is always entertaining – never know what can be seen. I liked the old cash register. pitilano 5 The cat I posted earlier, but since it’s my favorite picture from the trip, you get it again.pitilano 7




We walk and talk about buying a house here. Sell the our current place and move. Then as we leave, we both think, we’d last about 3 weeks before going stir crazy. Nice place to visit but…
pitilano 4






BTW, it stopped raining while we were in town. We really have been blessed. The countryside around here is different – not plush, more scrappy. We see chickens and roosters. And different trees.

Next up: Orvieto.

Pienza and Montepulciano, of the great wines

church doorGeraniums










Pienza. Love the back streets. And since it had rained, not many tourists.

The duomo is wonderful – painted ribs in the arches, pillars that are round and then go to square. So many little niches in the town.

Drive to Montepulciano. Luck into free parking. THIS is a hill town. Hiking up and up twisty cobbled streets, passing myriad shops including an iron monger, a cheese seller – the famous pecorino displayed with real grass and the table of a person who makes mosaics. Lots of wine shops but the Montepulciano is too pricey for us, even though I love it.
cheese shopmosaic shop



Lion of Florence is on a wall. We’ve seen them all over Tuscany; those nobles of Firenze had a long reach, but only if you don’t compare then to the Romans. .lion


Finally the town opens out onto a big plaza. The church is unfinished outside – just brick. And the inside is a simple arch. Kinda boring. But there is a della Robbia. Love the guy!

There are bell towers everywhere. I loved this free-standing bell struck by what looks like Pinocchio. This is a close up; the bell is on a tower way above the street. Thank heavens for the camera my hubby bought for this trip – it’s a marvel.


Clouds lying low on the hills. I must say I love the Italian clouds – they are so artistic! Every vista with them is beautiful. I can understand why so many churches have clouds and cherubs in the ceilings.

Behind our hotel is an olive tree full of unripe fruit. I tried to convince B to eat one; unsuccessful. He remembers the story of me eating one in Greece — ack, ick, pooey, spit, spit, spit!

Dinner with ½ bottle of Montelcino wine – the best of this trip. ½ bottle does us in. Stagger home, happy. Love Tuscany and it’s NOT raining.

Tuscan Story Excerpt

Today I want to experiment by posting part of one of my short stories. It takes place in Tuscany: an introverted biochemist and her fiancé are on an engagement trip. The ending isn’t quite as happy as this excerpt may lead you to believe… (Reminder to self; next trip take more pictures of people!)


The Tuscan trip was a wonderful gift. As Patrick suggested, I refrained from thinking and just enjoyed. We visited all the hilltop cities: San Gimignano, Sienna, Orvieto, and Perugia of the divine chocolate.

Although building on the hills began as protection against marauding neighbors, the towns now afford lovely views and strenuous walking. Patrick and I went everywhere, swinging hands, looking up at geranium-filled balconies, down at worn cobblestones, and into alleyways filled with laundry or arches.

When the heat became overwhelming, we would go into a church — there was always a church, it being Italy and Catholic — where we’d sit in space lit by eerie light from round windows floating in the stone. Each church seemed styled into its own universe: the bucolic with white stucco and a cloud-painted ceiling; the spooky with a Saint’s finger, ear, or heart enshrined in a jeweled box; the artistic with smudged frescos. Despite their decoration, the churches reminded me of my laboratory–orderly, concentrated and cool.

Once refreshed, we would burst back outside into the heat and sun where tiny trucks with three wheels rattled and soccer games blared from open windows. Patrick was in bambino heaven; here a baby toddling across a piazza in a yellow sweater, there a tot kicking a ball with tiny sandals, up the street an outraged little one howling over a mother’s shoulder.

Speaking in his stilted Italian, he exclaimed over the babies–ché bambino caro–touching their chubby fingers. None of the mothers objected, which is surprising given the statistics, but he is a responsible, kind man and perhaps it shows in his demeanor.

In the evenings we ate pecorino cheese and drank vino nobile while sitting outdoors. The patio would remain empty until 9:00, then the Italians began to arrive, talking loudly, laughing, stretching in the warm evening. Arguments erupted, cheeks were kissed. Waiters rushed around with little plates of Italian pizza, which wasn’t at all like the American version.

I felt I was in a wonderful play, not in the audience, but on stage and not caring if I got tipsy or laughed too loud. I ordered more wine, per favore, and tried waving my arms when I talked. I licked the metal sherbet cup of gelati. I kissed Patrick in public, shook out my hair, and smiled at the staring men.


The only disturbance in Italy was the dirt and dust, which spilled from the ancient buildings and monuments like the powder in the rubber gloves I wear when examining a risky organism. Everything was old and handled and trod upon. The strange wine caves. The smell of cheese–moldy milk. I pulled my little bottle of disinfectant from my fanny pack hourly. But despite the germs, I loved Tuscany. I loved myself in Tuscany.


Tuscany and Asciano

landscape2Drive the Tuscany scenic path recommended by Rick Steves. So many forests around Volterra – beautiful. The tall pines lined up on the hills. trees


We tried to stop in Sienna but only saw the skyline – there were NO parking places although we drove for almost an hour. Not even paid places.


hilltownOnward. We’ve left the forests for rolling hills, the Crete Sensi, which means clays of Sienna. Some hills are plowed, some with winter wheat (a guess – light green.)

tree line

We stop in Asciano for lunch. Ate our first pastries of the trip. Almond and more almond. Yum. Wandered a bit, walking off pasta.
Some nice little corners in the town, including a belltower.tower



And no one around but the cat.








So far, it’s threatening but no rain. Someone’s umbrella is ready, though.umbrells


Driving on towards Pienza, we get a little lost – the girl in the GPS sends us in circles. I think she thought we wouldn’t notice.

But everywhere there is beauty…town or countryside.
back of houses