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...