Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 4 – Travel Day to Umbria

We slept in a bit this morning as I think the toll of travel finally took precedent over the excitement of being here. Once awake and showered we were off for a quick bite at the hotel restaurant and then off to the San Lorenzo street market and the main food market.

This is always one of my favorite stops. I sure wish we had something like this food market in Phoenix…only problem is I would weigh 400 lbs. They have everything here from meats, to fish, to flowers, pastas, seasonings and spices, cheeses, wines… goes on and on. We stocked up on some risotto, spice and seasoning mixtures, and we were off.

We rushed back while stopping at a few of the street carts to pick up a few goodies for those back home and it was back to the hotel. We had an 11 am transfer from the hotel to the airport where we would get our cars for the trip to Umbria.

Now driving is always a little initial stress for everyone. We set up two people per car so you eventually have a little freedom, privacy and space. I love the Florence airport because it is small and easy to get out of. A couple of turns and you are on the Autostrada and on your way. This year we have 10 travelers, so 5 cars. I am the lead car. I have to say this was the smoothest transition we have ever had. Trust me – we have had some adventures with this little event over the years!!! But this time, no glitches.

We were off – Goodbye Florence and hello countryside.

We made our way south on the A1 towards Umbria – but we had a little stop along the way to the Prada Outlet. Thank God for the Iphones – they now make my life SO much easier on this trip. Tracking location is great and with all of Italy on Goggle Maps including street views – it is a much easier endeavor. In the past all we had was walkie-talkies and after a mile of separation you might as well be on Mars. I can assure you we had some separation issues in the past but this trip, at least in terms of our first day, we all managed to stay together – for the most part.

We made it to the Prada Outlet and we turned the ladies loose. Luckily there is a little café next to the store and so those not interested in taking advantage of the 40-60% savings were able to relax and grab a beverage and something to eat.

After about an hour and a half of shopping we were ready to go. Back on the A1 and then across Tuscany over the hills and down to the Niccone valley and Umbria. We stopped at the little market in Mercatale a stocked up on supplies – jug wine, coffee, milk, and whatever snackage needed. Then it was down the valley across the river and then up, up and more up the dusty, gravel road to the country houses.

I always love arriving and getting settled in. It’s always interesting to see who picks what spaces for their week here in the casas. We all figured it out, got settled, and then the jug wine was cracked open and the vacation continued  but now at a very relaxed pace.

I love the crescendo and decrescendo of this trip. Just like a piece of music this trip amps up and then winds down only to amp up again at the end. Getting my travelers to the country is wonderful. It is fun to see everyone adjust and familiarize themselves with this completely contrasting environment from that of Florence and its tight streets and constant buzz of Vespas and sirens.  The country is relaxing, calm and rejuvenating.

A quick swim in the pool and it was time to go up to the main house for our welcome dinner prepared by our host Elizabeth and her partner Paola.  To start, they prepared an assortment of local cheeses, sheep and cow cheeses and three honeys - chestnut, acacia, and sunflower. A little dab of one of these honeys on a piece of the cheese and wow what a delight. Add some local sausage and melon and proschuitto and a glass of vino rosso and we were settling in for a relaxing evening. 

Dinner included home made lasagna with homemade pasta that just melted in your mouth and a delicious salad with homemade dressing  over local greens from someone’s garden in Umbertide. Fabulous setting as dinner was served on the big farmhouse table in the La Pietra cocina.
We enjoyed dinner which was capped off by one of my favorite desserts, panna cotta with fruiti di bosco – local berries. Anyone who has been on this trip remembers this dessert! Wow unreal!!!

With one jug of wine gone and the second jug being cracked open we enjoyed conversation and the cool mountain air out on the porch terrace. Slowly the tempo wound down and it was time to call it a night.

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 3 - Welcome dinner in Florence

Originally, this dinner was scheduled for the evening we arrived. However, due to our delay in arriving we were fortunate to move our reservation to this evening. I am glad we were able to as this is always an amazing evening.

Dinner at Villa San Michele is always the making of a marvelous memory. We all met in the Hotel Brunelleschi bar for some cocktails. Everyone was dressed so nicely and I could tell no one had a clue what they were in for.

After our cocktails we grabbed some cabs and made our way out of the maze of streets in Florence and escaped to the hills above the city. Immediately, you feel the contrast between the hustle and bustle of the city and you sense the calm, serenity, and beauty of the country. As we pass villa after villa lined with olive trees and Italian cypress groves you realize that something of a treasure is awaiting us.

Finally you arrive at this fantastic façade designed by no other than Michaelangelo himself, with amazing cars in the foreground, all there to greet you. We took some pictures and just soaked in this amazing vista of the countryside punctuated by the Duomo and the city of Florence below.

We proceeded in where we were welcomed and escorted through the hotel to the beautiful back terrace/garden were we were seated for cocktails. Nothing like a bellini on a terrace in Tuscany!

We enjoyed the terrace for about an hour and then proceeded to dinner on the grand loggia and my usual table and waiter, Antenello, who has been serving our group for the past ten years! That is one of the things I love about Italy – the familiarity and permanence of having the same waiter for all these years. It just makes the dinner so special.

As the sun set over the Florence and the wines of the region flowed the evening and our table came alive! Everyone tried different appetizers, entrees and desserts from a rack of lamb, to sirloin with a Brunello sauce, veal to lobster – I think every dish available was being enjoyed at our table. The meal started at 7:30 and we finished at about 11:30 – nothing like a 4 hour meal in Italy! 

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 3 - Florence

What a great day we all had today in Italy! Today was our free day in Florence. We ALL pretty much did our own thing and everyone had a great day and a lot to report back.

Like usual, I was up at 5am. Downloaded my pictures and did my blogging! With just 4 hours sleep in nearly 48 hours I guess my mind just wanted to go - I knew I was in Florence and had just one day. I was going to make the most of it! 

I finished writing and with my camera empty, I headed out to the streets of Florence. There is nothing better than this town without any people. Because later, it will be hot and packed. At 6 am it was empty but for a few workers sweeping the streets, and an occasional couple who apparently lost track of time and were still making out on a bench - after all it is Italy!

I wondered around snapping away at anything and everything that inspires me or catches my eye - again not a problem here! My first stop was the Duomo - the main cathedral - Brunelleschi's Dome. What a masterpiece! As I walked around under the light of the morning dawn capturing and appreciating all of the unique elements and details, I wondered if Brunellschi ever looked at this amazing piece of architecture upon completion and asked, "dang, I should have made that corbel bigger, or I can't believe the City made us add that handrail right there...." I'm sure he did not feel he attained perfection. I don't think you every do, and if you did feel you achieved perfection, you probably didn't push the envelope enough. That's what I love about architecture, every project is a unique work, and something you learn from and add to your repertoire of knowledge. Having designed over 1000 homes now in my 30 years, I am amazed at how much I learn and am aware of now as opposed to 30 years ago. You see at such a higher level and I can only imagine what I will be thinking and seeing 30 years and hopefully, another 1000 homes later!

From the duomo I wandered to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery and then back to the hotel to awake my Isabel whom I couldn't let sleep any longer! How nice to open the windows and hear the bells of the Duomo. I think I need to create an alarm app for that! With a little coffee and a quick shower we were down to the lovely hotel breakfast. I have to tell you - I love mozzarella for breakfast! At breakfast we ran into Gicela, Rebecca, and Heather who were off to shop for the day! We were off to explore this city.

Our first stop was the Duomo. The line was already forming so we popped into the campanile and started the climb and working off that mozzarella ball I just slapped onto my midsection. Ok - this is a great little work out. For 6€ we headed up, up, up. It was already hot and humid so we broke a sweat in no time. What I love about this little tower is there are little peek-a-boo openings as you climb and then intermediate platforms to first trick you into thinking you made it to the top only to find another stair across the way tempting you to go higher.....another great little metaphor for life! Did I tell you they are everywhere..... So higher we went, to the next platform and then higher yet again, until FINALLY we made it to the top where we were rewarded with a spectacular view. I love this vantage point as it gives you an opportunity to see the whole city and chart out your course for the day.

With our morning workout completed it was time to descend and then tour the Duomo which is beautiful. Its simple and unadorned interiors are an amazing contrast to the beauty and complexity of the exterior with the exception of the center domed ceiling and its stunning frescos and the inlaid marble floors. They are both amazing. 

About this time we received a text from my daughter Tiffany, who is also on the trip with us, who had awoken from her jet lag sleep and was ready to join us. Luckily the Duomo is just a couple blocks from our hotel so we headed over there to wait for her...and wait for her.... and wait for her. Ok - I have one day here and I was not going to wait much longer and we couldn't reach her on the phone so we texted her to join us at the Paizza Vecchio just down the street. We made our way there and by now the piazza was packed. We finally received a text back from Tiffany that she had tried to find us but was apparently lost and somewhere by the Church Sante Croce. So Isabel stayed at the Piazza Vecchio and I headed the few blocks to the Santa Croce where I found Tiffany. We proceeded back to the Piazza Vecchio and we ventured into the Palazzo for a wonderful tour. 

As we came out Larry and Gloria were there and we wandered across the Ponte Vecchio and the River Arno to a nice little spot for a quick bite and drink! From there we proceeded to the Boboli Gardens. With it being close to 100º and add a little humidity and about 500 steps and we gave ourselves another good work-out! What struck me this year as opposed to other years, is how extremely dry it is here – I mean everything is brown, the grasses are basically dead, and the leaves on the trees were already in a autumn state – not from fall but from drought.

We made our way through the gardens, back through some good shopping areas, and then back to the hotel and a little rest before we started our evening and dinner at Villa San Michele.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Candelaria Design Tour Italy - Day 2-1/2 - We arrive in Italy!

I do believe we are finally going to make it to Italy. We have been traveling for nearly 30 hours now and 4 different planes. Starting with our initial departure from Phoenix to the mechanical issues with our second  jet in Atlanta, to our delay in Amsterdam, and now our final leg from Paris to Florence….wow what a journey this trip has been. Heaven knows if our luggage has kept up with us????

Again, why do I do this???? I swear at least three times today, or should I say today(s), as the first day is now close to approaching day 3, I thought to myself, damn why do I do this to myself. But then when I arrive in Florence and hear the Italian language, and see the beautiful architecture, and eat dinner in front of the Duomo, and see the happiness on my travelers faces, or that first bite of amazing gelato, etc. etc. all of those frustrations and speedbumps from the journey fall away. What I have come to recognize from this trip is that this trip is like life itself – condensed into 14 days. Just like this trip, life has its speedbumps, its delays, its mechanical issues, but you carry on and you keep pushing forward to that perfect sunrise over the Umbrian hills, or that marvelous plate of pasta.

My life has been this trip, that is an understatement. Two marriages, businesses, business deals, surgeries, children, graduations, births and deaths, new loves and heartbreaks, and that’s only the start. But like this trip, I push through the roadblock and I stay on this journey as it has led me to so many amazing places and allowed me to meet so many amazing people.  I cannot imagine if I hade the attitude – “Oh, it’s too much trouble.” Or, “ too many things can go wrong.” Or what most people do, “I’ll just go on someone else’s trip.” Or better yet, and sadly so common, “I’ll just rent a movie about Italy and watch Life on TV!” I choose to live life – see where it takes me. As I always tell everyone – there is no TIVO in life.

And so I will keep doing this trip – both the trip to Italy and this trip called “life”! I hope you enjoy our blog and our trip inspires you to live life, fall in love, try something new and different, and venture out of your comfort zone. You never know what you are going to get!