Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where in the World is Megan this Time?

I'll let you know when I get back late next week.  Buon weekend!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Double Whammy Lesson in “Pazienza”

“Pazienza” = 1) patience or 2) never mind 

Truly one of the most overused words literally and figuratively in the Italian language. 

Example of Term "Pazienza #1"
Yesterday I needed to mail a small package to the states. I didn’t go to my usual guy here up on the hill (stupida!), but down in San Terenzo as I was walking Lucy. I arrived at 11:28AM. I left at 12:27PM. The details in between go something like this: line for 15 minutes, get box and fill it up, have to wait for little old lady to finish her mailing (which is usually, and in this case, a given 10 minutes), I give the box to the post office woman, she tells me to fill out another form, fill out form and wait again for the next person to arrive. Give form to the lady. Now it’s time for the daily mail pick-up. She says to me, “Paziena Signoria” ("Have patience Lady"). Wait 15 minutes. P.O. lady takes my form, realizes she’s given me the wrong one. Gives me new form, I fill that out and wait for the next person to finish. This person actually has the nerve to say to me, “Signoria, c’e una coda” (Lady, there’s a line). I ignored her and her ridiculous notion that I should go back to the end of the line - where was her patience? I give the form to the P.O. lady, she fills out some more paper work and finally takes the package. Everyone sighs in relief as I walk out the door. "Buona giornata to you all of you too." Grrrhhh...

Example of the Term "Pazienza #2"
Then I ran into my landlord (which is always exasperating). The patio table had broken in a storm and they had taken to it have it fixed back in December. I asked her if we could have the table back as spring had arrived and we’d be needing it. “L'abbiamo buttare via." (We threw it away), she responded. Why??? She went on to tell me it was beyond repair (which it was not) and that one of the chairs was broken too (which had was not when we last saw them). Ok, nothing I could do here, so “pazienza” - I just let it go. I then asked her if they could replace the awning above our front door which is disgusting from years of not being taken care of (long before we arrived) and had ripped in hail storm and they had said many times they were going to replace it. She answered “Ma costa lo sai?” (but it costs money you know). Yes, it does. And we’ve spent more than we should to make the place homey. Heaven forbid these people should spend a dime on improving their investment. So, that afternoon I just happen to be driving by their home and I kid you not, there is the tale and chairs in their patio. I have no choice but to forget about it, “pazienza”. BIG Grrrhhhh...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunday in Giro

Last Sunday was one of the better Sundays I can remember in a long time. It was too beautiful a day to waste on household chores we’d been putting off.

Lui, Lulu and I headed down to San Terenzo for a walk and caffè. The boardwalk was filled with people dressed in their Sunday best (a tradition I do find quite sweet). Lots of strollers, other dogs and even sunbathers attempting their first dip into the sea (a little early for my blood!). 

After an hour of soaking up sun over a latte macchiato, it was lunch time. We could have just returned home and make something there, but my excuse was “but it’s so nice out” and Lui fell for it. Then I said 2 magic words, “Osteria Redarca”. Lui gave me that look I knew meant OK! After dropping off Lucy (and calling to make sure there was space!) we headed up into the hills of the Montemarcello park, into my favorite area La Rocchetta. In the middle of this densely forested area, there stands a charming pink house that has been converted into one of the best restaurants in the Gulf of Poets. The next two hours went something like this:

A bottle of Hauner Inzolia from the island of Salina off Sicily 
(died and went to wine heaven right there!)

5 warm seafood anitpasti consisting of tempura (no joke), sauteed cannolichi with chopped nuts, 
large shrimp baked in a lardo blanket, steamed shrimp in a salt bed 
and octopus “pot pie” (no joke again!)

For our pastas, Lui had hand made sea bass ravioli in a light shrimp, vegetable and white wine sauce. I had the spaghetti allo scoglio with a spicy tomato sauce and more frutti di mare than I’d ever seen in such a dish.

For dessert, flourless chocolate cake - delish.

Needless to say, it was all heavenly with great family-like service. Redarca is not cheap but absolutely merits in price. We had a spectacular meal.

Afterward, we drove up to The Mother (which most you of had some knowledge of by now!) and gazed longingly at the homes that are not ours and the drop-dead views they come with. Magari...

A delightful day!

Osteria Redarca
Rocchetta Loc. Redarca, Lerici (SP)
Tel: 0187 966 140
30-50 Euros, wine excluded
Closed Wednesdays

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Mother

I'm obsessed.  I've referred to it before in a blog about a year ago and I am haunted by her.  
Vi presento "The Mother".

Two years ago, when my B&B dream was still alive and well, a client of mine came over to look at some properties with the interest to fund my possible high-end B&B/rental.  Finding the Mother was a bit of a fluke.  We'd hire the services of an architect (a family friend) to go with us to the various properties to assess their real value. That was an eye-opener in itself. And if the architect is working for you, you will find out that most places are valued at about 1/2 to 2/3 of what the asking price is. After a few houses not meriting anywhere even their value, our architect said, "Look, I know of something special, let me make a call".  Ten minutes later we were on our way up and up into the hills above Lerici known as La Rocchetta.  

We were warmly greeted by a lovely older woman dressed impeccably and she invited us in to her property.  (I will now refer to her as "La Signora" from here.) Her meticulously groomed grounds were impressive enough, but the view and then her two houses were jaw-dropping, so much so that I forgot to take photos, no kidding.  She led us to a gate which brought us out onto the old Roman cobblestone road that makes its way from Lerici over La Rocchetta and down to Via Aurelia (all this through dense forest with incredible peaks at the sea to one side and the Apuane Alps to the other).  We crossed the road and she opened another gate.  And there she was. The Mother.

House #1 is traditional Ligurian fashion, hues of rose with green shutters.  

House #2 is very "Italiana", all of stone with green shutters and built into the terraced ground.  

But it really isn't about the houses (and actually inside they're nothing special).  Its about the land with its terrace olive trees glistening in the sun, and with paragon views of the Gulf of Poets, Portovenere, Palmaria & Tino Islands and then on to Corsica and Capraia Island.  My first thought was "when I go to heaven, I hope it looks like this."  Pictures don't do it justice (especially mine).  Even the little website created for the place (of which I am still not sure why it was made, but I'm getting ahead of myself) doesn't truly express its AWESOMENESS.

A little background on La Signora and it's all "hear-say".  The rumor goes, she was the nanny of the Visconti family from Milano, but eventually fell in love with and married the Count Visconti. When he died he left her these 4 houses on 2 properties on the hill.  She says she was born in Switzerland but then lived in Iran or Iraq (I think), and then fled to Canada and became a citizen there.  Needless to say, it's all quite blurry and according to anyone who knows La Signora, they say she's crazy. Our architect says she's "eccentric" which is OK by me.  Personally, I found her delightful.

So what happened next?  Basically nothing, and that might be why I have been so fixated on this place for so long. My clients LOVED the property, but La Signora never even mentioned a price. Our architect said he was unsure as well but that she might say "10 million one day and 2 million the next." That's Euros we're talking.  My clients were interested but needed to run the numbers to see what was feasible.  Without a price, it was all hypothetical. My clients returned to the states with the hopes of hearing form La Signora with a price.  But months went by and no word on The Mother.  Eventually, my clients moved on and although still had interest in the place, were no longer "actively pursuing it". I can't blame them. But there I was, stuck between my childhood dream and absolutely no idea what to do next. And I'm still there.

Saturday morning I decided to take Lucy on a hike to The Mother.  I hadn't been up there since that last blog post.  She was everything I remembered and built her up to be, and still 100% abandoned.  If I were to make a bet, no one has lived there since my first visit 2 years ago.  Why make a web site and why invite people to look at your property if you have no intention of selling it?  And why let it still there doing nothing for anyone?

So here is my latest "plan" (mind you there have been lots of plans and I have not acted out on even one of them yet). I've written a letter to La Signoria, reminding her of who I am am, who Luigi is (she took a real liking to him, strange huh?) and then spilled out my entire childhood dream to her.  Should the woman be eccentric as described, she may find my letter and intentions admirable and interesting. She may decide to meet with us and discuss the possibilities.  She might also call the carabinieri on me.  Who knows?!

What do you think?  Should I go for it or should I just leave it be as I already have a nice, fairly comfortable job doing something I love.  I'm looking for opinions and suggestions before making a move. 
Sgrombi (Part Two)

A couple of posts ago, Diana at Baur B&B posted about "Sgrombi", otherwise known as Mackerel. She explained their two-flipper packed positive punch: nutritional value and oh-so delicious! This weekend, Lui and I also enjoyed some tasty mackerel and thought I'd share my recipe as well:

Pre-heat oven at 190 degrees celsius (375 F)
  • 2 mackerel (cleaned and gutted - or you can do it yourself if you're up to it)
  • sprigs of rosemary
  • 1-2 lemons
  • glass of white wine (big enough for both the fish and a couple of sips in between)
  • olive oil
  • salt
Place fish in on a cookie sheet or baking pan (I use "carta al forno" under them which is very similar to wax paper).  Make 2-3 cuts on both sides of the fish. Place a sprig of rosemary and 1-2 wedges of lemons inside the cadaver along with a little salt. Pour some olive oil and white wine over the top of the 2 fish. Bake for 20-22 minutes.

Super simple and they come out looking almost gourmet! Then Lui had the challenge of de-boning them (because mackerel have a whole lot of tiny bones!). He did a very good job and we enjoy a super healthy, uber-delicious meal.

Buon appetito!

Friday, March 20, 2009

La Primavera - Part One

Tomorrow marks the official first day of spring, but it's already been in the air all week.

The men re-loading the boats back in to the harbor.

A lone sunbather dares bare all in a secluded, beautiful cove (the tiny dot on the sand).

Another man soaking up some rays from the boardwalk.

The sky so piercing clean blue above the bell tower.

And Lucy tired but happy after a long gallup in the sand.

Spring is here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Bolzano (or “Bozen” in German) located in the Alto-Adige (or “Sud Tirol”) region is often described as the “Gateway to the Dolomites”. It is located in the basin of a deep valley surrounded one 3 sides by craggily snow capped mountains (those of the Alps to the west and of the Dolomites to the north and east). And while over 70% of its inhabitants are Italian, the Austrian/German influence is very apparent: the architecture, the food, even the accent. The buildings and streets are colorful and impeccably clean. It also has the highest per captia income of any other city in Italy - and it shows. Everyone is dressed so nicely, shopping bags abundant, fancy cars.  There was little to no sign of a “crisis” here.

Our one-day visit was a sunny, spring-like day, one of the first this year, so it seemed as if everyone in town had come out from winter hibernation. The cafes in Piazza Walther (WalterPlatz) were packed with espresso drinking locals and tourists alike all with their faces held up to the warm sun. The cobblestone streets were alive with the local outdoor market (one of the best I have ever been to!) and sophisticated looking shops. And then heading further into the little back neighborhoods we found an endless number of “vinotekas” where natives were sprawled out into the streets with either a Tirolese beer or Venexiano (otherwise known as a spritz with aperol, my personal favorite) in hand. I was duly impressed.

The gastronomic delights of this region include Tyrolean specialities include knödel dumplings, Schlutzkrapfen (little pasta sacks filled with spinach), venison goulash, sauerkraut, Trout and freshly baked breads unline anywhere else in Italy - plus and fabulous desserts such as strudel, kaiserschmarren (scrambled pancake with raisins), and even the world famous Sacher Torta - mamma mia!
Speck (smoked raw pork) is the meat of choice and Lui enjoyed it to the fullest on his “Tirolese” pizza (speck, onions, mozzarella). And the beer. Hefeweisen just like you get in Munich!
The sites to see are not abundant, but I think part of the charm of this good size town is just walking the streets and people watching in the piazzas. Regardless, here are few “must see’s”:
  • Chiesa dei Domenicani built in 1270
  • Francescani church for its gorgeous frescoes
  • Il Duomo, a dramatic and almost scary looking Gothic church
  • Castel Roncolo
But the #1 attraction in Bolzano is “Ötzi”, the 3300 year-old well-preserved natural mummy that was found in 1991 in Ötztal Alps between Austria and Italy. He can be viewed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. The museum is dedicated to the mummification of people and animals, and although macabre in some ways, it is also amazing, even humbling, what scientists have been able to figure out about people and animals due to their “well preserverd nature”. They even know what Ötzi’s last meal was! (No photos are allow inside the museum.)

If you are skiing in the Dolomites or making your way from Italy to Austria (and vice versa), plan to spend at least a half day in this lovely “small city” that seems to combine the best of two worlds.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Settimana Bianca

Our walk into town

Just like in CA, Italy’s has its “ski week”, otherwise known as “Settimana Bianca” (white week). This is the first time in my 5+ years of living here, that we finally decided to “do as the Italian do” and we headed up to the Dolomites for a bit of snow! 

I was a little reluctant as I’d had it up to my ears with winter weather. The idea of going somewhere cold was not exactly what I had in mind after more than 4 months of what felt like never ending rain. I was ready for the Maldives, Mauritius or any other package deal to somewhere warm that you find in the windows of the thousands of cheap travel agencies here in Italy. 

But I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised and really glad we went.

Our destination was Ortisei, a charming slope side resort just 45 minutes from Bolzano (saving that for another blog). It had all the characteristics of an Austrian village, rather than Italian - from the colorful, cupcake-like buildings, to the food (Weiner Schniztel & Kraut anyone?), and if I may, to the organization and impeccable service. We stayed a wonderful family owned “zimmer” called Hotel Digon. Our package was “half-board”, therefore including breakfast and dinner. Again, I was hesitant, never having done that before. But the food was delicious and abundant - and Mamma Digon did it all!

Heavenly desserts & grappa a-flowin'

There must have been 5 or 6 different ski areas. I only ended up skiing one day (because I wanted to “spa” instead and boy did I!) but it was beautiful. Well manicured slopes, a perfectly sunny, warm day and great company. 

Our 4 days there helped me “recharge” for a very busy season ahead. We returned to gorgeous, spring-like weather and not a drop of rain in the forecast. I’m ready to get going!

Uh, they ran out of American flags. And I was the only American.
Didn't think I was that big a fan of Grappa!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where in the World is Megan?

I'll let you know when I return next week!

Friday, March 06, 2009

C'è Speranza...

Today at Le Bocche, Portovenere

It feels like we're in the home stretch of a very, very long winter.
More to come...

Monday, March 02, 2009


My Village

Today is my 100th blog post.  I was hoping to do something kind of fun & interesting for the occasion, but my time has been so limited lately (which always effects my creative juices!).  So instead, it's just going to be a simple one, to my fellow bloggers.

I really, really enjoy blogging. Maybe even more, I enjoy reading other people's blogs.  I think this concept is so fascinating: you find a common ground (in my case Italy) with a group of strangers, yet overtime and many blogs, they become like good friends without even meeting face to face.  I've learned so much from so many people's different experiences here in Italy.  And let me tell you, some of you are just incredible writers.  I'm often inspired!

I look forward to posting my next 100 blogs - and I hope they are just as fun & interesting for you all as it is for me to read yours.

Buona settimana...