Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Buon Natale dal Golfo dei Poeti...

Wishing you all a wonderful and safe holiday weekend.  
And "cin cin" to a new year full of hope, health and happiness...

Tanti Auguri - Megan

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tuscany Flavors
My friends, Stefano and Grazia Conti, have a terrific store in Florence's Mercato Centrale called, simply, Conti.  They sell such wonderful goodies, everything from local olive oils to 100-year old balsamico (not to confused with balsamic vinegar as this is straight grape juice!), delectable jams, pasta, incredible sun-dried tomatoes from Sicily as well as other produce, and the list goes on.  One of the things that makes the Conti store so special (beyond their fabulous products) is the warm hospitality they give to everyone who stops by.  They offer tastings of their products with no "hard sell" and make you feel like one of the family.  

A few years back while visiting the store, I had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte, a vivacious and entertaining American girl, who too had become a dear friend on the Contis.  In fact, she was there working in the store.  I came to find out she already had a successful business back in San Francisco, but she so loved the products of Conti, she came over twice a year for about a month to help out.  Eventually this friendship turned into a business venture as well.  And now Charlotte has opened the Tuscany Flavors Online Store which carries exclusively Conti products making them much more accessible to the American market.

It may be last minute, but if you are looking for something special for that "foodie" in the family for Christmas, this just might be the place!

P.S. A big GRAZIE to the Diva for introducing me to the Contis.  She is the most "in the know" person on Florentine food in my books!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tutte le Belle Cose in Casa Nostra Oggi...
(All the nice things in our home today)

I woke up to the sight of this:
Glorious alba making its westward way.  And believe it or not, it wasn't even that cold outside. No rain, lots of sun and mild temperatures in December?  Now I feel like I'm living on the Italian Riviera!

The next one is BIG:

Do you see that white and blue box up in the left side of the photo?  That is our brand new water heater for the "summer kitchen".  That means no more freezing fingers or hauling in buckets of hot water from the bathroom at dish washing time!

This one is the other accomplice in making our kitchen life so much more, well livable, our "stufa" (gas heater): Because of this little guy, we get to use the summer kitchen all year long and enjoys the views of the garden and even Lerici.  Yippee!

And of course, all beautiful things must find a place to rest at the end of the day:  
Lucy has made a new spot right next to the Christmas tree where she can watch the lights until her eyelids get too heavy.

So today, I will cherish the "belle cose" in my house & life, and forget we have 3 months of winter ahead of us!  Hope your day is filled with "belle cose" as well...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Like Sugar
(and a little sourness!)

Last night Lui and I went to the Zucchero concert in Florence.  (And stupid me, forgot the camera at home, so no photos here.)  For any of you out there who have no idea who Zucchero is, he's part Joe Cocker, 100% Bluesman, definite drinker with a soulful voice ranging from gently soft to dynamically strong. He's internationally famous, yet probably least known in the states, which is a shame.  He has an amazing presence on stage and has some of the most melodic songs I've ever heard. But last night I had another one of those "out of Italy" bodily experiences as I like to call them...

So, the first 3 songs were ballads and everyone was sitting.  Ok, I can accept that, although maybe the 80's headbanger in me couldn't completely understand.  Then Zucchero went into a fury of GREAT dancing songs: Bacco Perbacco, Cuba Libre, etc., and there was me and two other people standing and dancing.  I looked at Luigi like "what the heck" and he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled and continued sitting, along with the other 10,000 people.  I kept dancing, singing, clapping and enjoying the music.  Until a security guard came up to me and told me to sit down.  Can I repeat that loud and clear: I WAS TOLD TO SIT DOWN AT A ROCK CONCERT!!! So I sat, still able to appreciate the music, but in complete shock for about 20 minutes.  Ok, some more ballads, but then another big set of fun, get out of your seat and jump around songs.  I was crawling in my seat.  What is wrong with these people?!  My eyes were shooting "vergognati" daggers at everyone!  FINALLY, Zucchero said "Why are you sitting? Get on your feet!"  And so the "lame-o, oh we're watching opera" crowd FINALLY got off their butts and begin to dance.  Every age, every type and all having a blast (including Lui).  Where were they the first half of the concert?  

After the concert I asked Lui, "was that normal?"  His answer, "Well, we did have assigned seats."  My jaw dropped open.  Then I said, "Seats are not for sitting at concerts, they're to assign you your dancing space and basta.".  He knew he wasn't going to win this one, so instead just said, "I wanted to dance from the beginning too.  Maybe we need a little more Megan in some Italians."  Awww...all's forgiven for not moving his booty sooner.

Anyway, if you have friends or family who enjoy good music (blues, rock and ballads), his latest (and greatist hits) CD,
All the Best, just might be the perfect Christmas present!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

One Week in Lerici...

Lerici & The Gulf of Poets

The season has come and gone (a while ago actually considering the brutal fall we’ve had), but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Italian adventure! As property manager of a lovely villa here in Lerici, I am often asked, “What would we do with a week in the Cinque Terre”?

Well, first of all, Lerici is not in the Cinque Terre, but in the gorgeous Gulf of Poets nearby. Secondly, there is so much beyond the Cinque Terre (and the other famous Riviera hotspot, Portofino) that you could actually skip these two and still have a fabulous time.
BUT I don’t actually recommend that. Instead, I believe they are a part of what could be one incredibly fun and enriching week while staying in Lerici.

So here is my suggested “itinerary” for the week. It’s based on a Saturday to Saturday stay, just because most rentals are that way (not mine though!):

Day 1 - Saturday
Arrive settle in to you accommodations and take a “passegiata” along the lungomare of
Lerici. Don’t forget to enjoy a glass of Prosecco at sunset from Bar Pontile or Corona, followed by a delicious Ligurian meal at either Bonta Nasconte or Golfo dei Poeti.

Lerici Port & Lungomare

Day 2 - Sunday
Board the 25 minute ferry across the bay to the gem of a place called
Portovenere. Explore it’s 1000-year old carruggi (little alleyways), the commanding Castle Doria, the calata boardwalk and the colorful facades of the palazzi, take a swim in Byron’s Bay and don’t miss the breathtaking views from the porch of San Pietro. All this and a good meal at Da Iseo or Bacicio, and then head back by ferry to Lerici.

San Pietro & Byron's Bay, Portovenere

Day 3 - Monday
Assuming you have a car, drive to the Sarzana train station only 12 minutes away (non-car people can take the bus which runs every 20 minutes) where you can catch the train to
Le Cinque Terre. Spend the day hiking between villages as well as swimming in the sapphire blue Med. I suggest lunch at one of my all time favorite restaurants in the area, La Lanterna in Riomaggiore. Trains run back to Sarzana until early evening.

The Vines & Trails high above Le Cinque Terre

Day 4 - Tuesday

You can either drive or take the train from La Spezia to the truly fascinating and underrated city of
Genoa. The architecture is unbelievable and the old city center is the largest in Italy, full of history and color! Make sure to stop at the port as well, maybe even the aquarium (especially with kids).

Palazzo Reale, Genoa

Day 5 - Wednesday

30 minutes south is the Tuscan resort town of
Forte dei Marmi which holds its famous flea market every Wednesday. Go and scout out some deals, but be prepared for some hefty prices as well - this is the only flea market I know of where you can actually buy real designer stuff!

Afterward, head 20 minutes east into the marble mountains of
Carrara where you can tour inside a quarry at Fantiscritti.

If you’re still raring to go, make a stop in the medieval walled village of
Sarzana for an aperitivo and passegiata, one of the best in Liguria.

Carrara "snow"

Day 6 - Thursday
Living la Dolce Vita can be found in
Portofino just an hour north by car and slightly longer by train (due to stops). There is not a whole to see in Portofino but it does provide for some of the best people watching around, especially in the summer when the uber-yachts arrive. You can also hike to or take the ferry boat to beautiful San Fruttuoso.

If Portofino proves to “high roller” for your taste, head 15 minutes north to the seaside village of
Camogli which oozes old world charm.

The Inlet of Portofino

Day 7 - Friday
One of the most authentic and enjoyable outdoor markets I have experienced in Italy happens to be in
La Spezia. The city gets a bad rap for being just another ugly port town, it’s not (nor is this the first time I've mentioned this but...)! They have really clean up the place over the past 5 years and now you can enjoy some beautiful Liberty style architecture, a lovely port side promenade, excellent restaurants for a fraction of the cost of the neighboring tourist areas and on Friday, the always fun flea market on Via Garibaldi, the deals are really deals here!

In afternoon, I say enjoy it at one of Lerici’s 5 sand beaches. There are some nice beach clubs where you can rent chairs and umbrellas such as Lido di Lerici and Colombo, or you can go free to Venere Azzura and San Terenzo beaches.

Port & City Center of La Spezia

Day 8 - Saturday

Bid arrivederci to Lerici knowing with another week you could visit: Lunigiana, Lucca, Pisa, Versilia and more in one hour or less (heck, you could even lunch in Monte Carlo, only 2 1/2 hours away!).  Needless to say, you touch the surface with one week in Lerici.

Hope to see you here soon!

Portovenere from Palmaria Island

Friday, December 05, 2008

Siamo tornati...
Sunset in Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach, California

After a whirlwind 3 1/2 weeks in California, we have returned to rainy, windy & cold Lerici. 

Being able to spend time with friends and family is always priceless.  Being able to eat every type of food imaginable is a luxury.  Being able to take long walks on the beach in a t-shirt & shorts in November is heaven. Being able to but deals at the Gap, Old Navy and Target is a must once a year.  Being able to enjoy California wine is a challenge (!).

But being to able to come to our little house on the hill and waking to up the sounds of LucyLu again, makes me realize Italy is now really home.

I need a few days to settle in, then blogging will begin again. Until then, it's nice to be back...

Friday, November 07, 2008

It's that time of year. We're making the annual pilgrimage back to Cali which means pancakes, mexican food, sushi, In-Out Burgers and the list goes on...

I probably won't be blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be checking in from time to time on my favorite bloggers.

Enjoy November and see you back here in December!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Well, November has hit us with a bang...

That would be lightening, thunder, hail, wind and other fun side effects of Mother Nature PMS'ing.

The last night Lucy has woken me up no less than 7 times (yes, I am counting) while Luigi sleeps like a baby with no clue of the tempest going on outside.

She also smells about as bad as a dog can smell, and there's no hope for trying to change that as long as the torrential downpours continue.  Why is it she wants to sleep in the mud?!  Can't wait to give here one of these again...

The garden is now a pond and all of the drains are plugged by the falling leaves.  Water is spilling everywhere. Ironically, for some reason, we have no water in the house this morning. Ahhh, Italia.  At least I got some great, winter photos of Portovenere...

4 days (and counting) until our trip back to Cali!

Monday, October 27, 2008

ZAP!  I've been tagged...

Scintilla at Bell'Avventura sent me this.  Let's see if I can actually do this right (and those who follow me!).  Here are the instructions:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Here it goes:
  1. When I was 8, someone ran over my left pinkie toe and it's been paralyzed ever since.  Sticks up straight when I bend the others.  Guess it could be worse huh?
  2. My dream job was to swim with Shamu at Sea World (still wish I could!)
  3. For exercise and mental release, I turn up the music and dance around the house - alone.  I've only been caught once by my husband who proceeded to join me.  Quite therapeutic.
  4. I am scared to death of getting on a motorcycle or scooter (bad place to be for that huh?).  Two wheels, a motor and hand brakes just don't make sense to me.
  5. If I had the time, I'd learn to sew and paint.
  6. I am a closet KISS fan (love "house dancing" to I Wanna Rock n' Roll All Night"...)
Now it's my turn to tag:

Buon divertimento & have a great week!

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's That Time Again!

The olive harvest has come to the Golfo dei Poeti a little early this year.  Usually it's the month of November when you see the red nets unravel around acres and acres of olive trees lining our winding roads and the hills. But due to the unseasonable weather (cold and rain in the spring, hot and humid summer, warmer than usual fall), the olives were starting to fall!

Our home and borgo is surrounded by uncountable numbers of these gorgeous, green and lavender glistening trees. And there is only one man who can get the job done right - our dear Gugliemo (William in english) - caretaker of nearly every holiday home in our borgo, my gardener and grappa drinking partner, and all around sweet man who sings while he works.

That's him hard at work cutting down the overgrown, olive laid branches (for which I recuperate a good part of my view, grazie!).  He and his wife take each branch one by one and either pick the olives off directly, or hit two branches together so the olives fall off (somewhat) naturally.  He's been at it for nearly weeks now and still has about a week to go.  But as he says, "Bella Bionda (can't pronounce my name correctly so he's settled on that), Gugliemo (in the third person!) e un'uomo preciso."  William is a precise man.  Which is his way of telling me, he'll not only get the job done, but he'll get it done perfectly.  He has also promised me a nice bottle of olive oil awaiting my return from California.

Is it safe to say I have a crush on the gardener?!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Learning to Love La Spezia: La Pia & Farinata

We all need a little “comfort” food now and then. My favorite is a typical Ligurian dish called Farinata. And the best place to have it (along with a slice or two of the famous thick crust pizza is La Pia.

Opened in 1887 (no that is not a typo), La Pia has been serving the same basic menu of farinata, focaccia di castagnaccio and pizza in the same old brick building for more than hundreds years. Signore Pia opened his establishment to provide “cibo per i poveri”: food for the poor which in those days referred to manual labor workers, artists and sailors. It is said there was always a line out the door during the lunch hour, and that hasn’t seem to change much over the last century! La Pia is still packed all day long. If you are on the go, you can just grab a slice in the “forno” (oven room) or if you want a complete dining experience, you can still in the old dining hall sharing tables with locals. The place is a gold mine and rightfully so!

Farinata is a thin, pizza-like pancake from La Spezia. It is made by stirring chickpea flour into a mixture of water and olive oil to form a loose batter which sits over night before baking it in the oven. It sounds so simple but the magic is really in the oven, in which farinata can only really be perfected in a wood burning one, just like those for good pizza. It should be crisp and golden on the top, soft and moist on the inside, with a hint of olive oil. Farinata may be seasoned with fresh rosemary, pepper and sea salt or topped with onions and cheese, but it is best eaten plain, right out of the oven.
If you are ever in La Spezia, you should not pass up this finger lickin’ delicious dish made at the best place in town.

La Pia
Via Magneta 12
La Spezia

Monday, October 13, 2008


I finally had a chance to do a little blog reading and came across a nice piece written by Cherrye in Calabria about girlfriends.  It made me smile that she has been able to find friendship and company amongst other expat gals down in the south.  But it also made me think about the fact that after 5+ years here, I can count the number of Italian girlfriends I have on less than one hand, and have very few expat girlfriends close by.  Without sounding too "whoa is me", sometimes it really stinks.

Truth is, I did choose a place to live where the locals are notorious for being "chiuso". There isn't the warmth and open arms policy of many other areas in Italy.  I spent the first 2 years up here on our hill over Lerici, just trying to be accepted.  The stares have waned but the concept of me being an outsider remains (minus a few old men who seem to get a kick out calling the California blond their friend!).  I've have met some very nice expat girls but they're not exactly close by and have lots going on in their lives, so get-togethers are few and far between.

My solution has been to drown myself in work.  Be so busy that I can't find the time to worry or think about cultivating friendships.  Che scema sono! (What an idiot I am!)  The "season" is coming to an end and there is a lot of satisfaction in what I have been able to accomplish work-wise.  But I give myself about a "D" in the making friends department.  Despite the challenge it is to make or find them, I am not making it any better by cocooning myself behind a computer or constantly taking off to meet clients in another Italian destination.

It's time to make girlfriends.  It's time to make the effort.  It's time to get off the hill and be social!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hotel Review: Fattoria Tregole, Castellina in Chianti

For those in search of the quintessential Tuscan holiday base, look now farther.  Fattoria Tregole is about as good as it gets.

The main house was originally owned by a nobile family of the Chianti region that dates back to the 17th century.  The owners have lovingly (and pain staking I imagine!) restored several abandoned stone buildings creating a charming and comfortable accommodations among the vineyards, olive of trees and panoramic vistas people dream of when they think of Tuscany. There are several "relax" areas or little pine tree covered courtyards where you can soak in the vistas, read a book or even a bottle of the fattoria's delicious Chianti.  The infinity pool is spectacular and a welcome retreat from the Tuscan heat during the warm months.  

Not to be missed homemade meals by Edith the owner are served a couple of nights a week. My last dinner there consisted of fresh funghi tart, penne with melazane, funghi and zucchini, followed by paper thin slices of pork with gravy sauce and a sublime tiramisu with chocolate shavings on top.  Fantastica!

Fattoria Tregole has 5 bed & breakfast rooms that range between 130-180 Euros per night with yummy breakfast as well as 2 fully-equipped apartments ranging 200-360 Euros which also include breakfast.  The prices here are reasonable and you will certainly be getting excellent quality for the quantity.

Located just 4km south of the walled hilltown of Castellina in Chianti, the fattoria is perfectly located for exploring the Chianto Classico region as well as Siena, San Gimignano and more.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Greetings from a Soggy South!

Our week of work and pleasure has been plagued by unseasonal rains and cool weather.  Not exactly what we were expecting in Positano and for sure not in Taormina.  Still, we're having fun work wise and in our "down time".  

One thing that has not been affected by the bad weather is the GREAT food here in Sicily.  I wish I could take a Sicilian pasticceria home with me!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My First Guest Blogger...

I am just going to re-direct you all to my girlfriend's blog up in Piemonte.  Today's post is so well written and thought provoking, I can't help but share it:

Grazie Di...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

MIA once again...

I keep disappearing. I have so many ideas, thoughts and ideas to share, but work and everyday life has become quite overwhelming. Complaining will do nothing to change it, so best not to go too far down that road.

Summer has come and gone. (It even rained today, hard, for the first time in 3 months.) The onslaught of fall clients is in full swing. Between now and the end of October, my blogs will be few and far between. But I will be back, promise...

Saying goodbye to Palmaria Island until next summer...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Is It Lovely???

My friend, Paula, gave me this wonderful piece of art made in her village of Monterosso.  I had been looking for something very "sea-like" to hang on our wall (in the ever evolving "best dump in Liguria" as we like to call it) and she knew just the thing!  

Paula's husband, Angelo, is a 10th generation anchovy fisherman who worked often with my husband's grandfather and great seafood merchant, the original Luigi Guerrera.  All of lives seems to revolve around the sea.  Her present was perfect in ever way!

Grazie my friend...

P.S. If you like what you see, you can visit FABBRICA D'ARTE MONTEROSSO in Monterosso.  Maybe they can make something special for you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Learning to Love La Spezia: Mornings

Although only live 15 minutes away by car,  La Spezia can seem very far away from our little house on the hill overlooking the village of Lerici.  The Bay of La Spezia does a very good job at hiding it.  Yet,  "just around the corner" is a small city of about 100, 000 inhabitants that is slowly but surely is having some wonderful growth spurts.  

It has long been a starting point for people heading into Le Cinque Terre, Portovenere or Lerici - but finally the Spezzini are getting through their thick (and sometimes backwards) skulls, that the city has the potential to be a real hub for visitors.  Many of the old liberty style building have or are in the process of being restored to their original splendor, the port has been cleaned up and a new resort port is being built, new and quite good restaurants have been popping up (at a fraction of the cost in any of the destinations listed above), nice stores have arrived and two very fine museums are worth visits. 

My favorite time to visit La Spezia is the morning.  The city comes alive.  There is a positive energy in the air, plus it smells good: caffe, fresh pastries, flowers, produce and fish from the open air market (yes, fish can smell good!).  The morning market is held Monday-Saturday from 7am-1pm at Piazza Cavour.  On Fridays there is also the weekly market on Via Garibaldi where you can buy all sorts of fun stuff including gorgeous, inexpensive ceramics from Vietri and any household items you could possibly need.

It's all very exciting and I am looking forward to the continual growth of this uncovering gem!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Festa della Madonna Bianca

On August 17th, my favorite village in Liguria (Portovenere of course!) celebrates its patron saint, which happens to be the Virgin Mary. It's official name is "La Festa della Madonna Bianca" or Festival of the White Madonna. One of the many urban legends behind the day goes something like this..

"A private washed up on shore with a bottle containing a crude drawing of the Virgin Mary. The priest from San Lorenzo found the pirate and brought him up to the church to sleep. The next day the pirate was gone but what remained was a gold inlaid fresco of the White Madonna..."

The true story is also hearsay, but the painting dates back to the 16th century - and it is quite lovely. So every August 17th, the town is lit with torches (in places you can't even imagine they can get!) and the villagers transport the Madonna from San Lorenzo through the tiny streets ending up at the 13th century Gothic church of San Pietro for the rest of the evening.

The town comes alive in burning torches. The bay is filled with boats and yachts. Horns blare, music is everywhere and people celebrate another wonderful day in this fairy tale like seaside village. It is a setting that photos (especially mine which did not turn out anything like I'd hoped!) do no justice. You'll just have to come see it for yourself...