Thursday, September 30, 2010

Funky Friday Foto

Earlier this month (16/9) I posted some pics of my "Voluptuous Water Lady" statue on our beach front.
Every night on my way home from work I pass this huge shopping complex and have always been intrigued by a group of statues at the entrance of which I can not explain the meaning. It's usually too busy in peak hour traffic to stop but last night at 9.00 pm I was able to park on the footpath. I rushed back with my little pocket Canon and quickly snapped these few pics.

Make of it, What you will...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lake Trasimeno - Umbria

Our son Andrew whom had stayed with us in Rome and then a few days in Tuscany would leave for Moscow mid-week so we decided to take a drive to Chiusi to book train tickets to Florence and then on to Lake Trasimeno in Umbria. Chiusi is close to the borders of Tuscany and Umbria.

Chiusi to our eye was pretty much a modern town however back in 7th and 6th centuries BC it was a powerful Etruscan empire. I wish we had known more as we would not have treated it as just another town. We did have an interesting experience there but that will be explained in a week or two.

I’d read about Lake Trasimeno and the battle of Hannibal with the Romans beforehand and I was intrigued enough to want to visit the area. In our travels, the DK Eyewitness Travel books have been our guides and reliable travel companions. This is an excerpt from our own very ragged copy.

The Battle of Lake Trasimeno
“In 217 BC the Romans suffered one their worst ever military defeats on the shores of Lake Trasimeno. The Carthaginian general, Hannibal lured the Romans into a masterful ambush.”
The Romans suffered 16,000 losses to Hannibal’s 1500.

Sue talks to her brother in Australia
 "John, I'm really here - Where Hannibal defeated the Romans on the shores of Lake Trasimeno in Umbria."
We arrived about midday and Sue rang her brother in Australia to explained where we were. Imagine overlooking this huge lake where more than 2200 years ago, this great battle was fought.

Rocca del Leone (The Lion Fortress) completed in 1247
Andrew enjoys the surroundings of the ruins.

We were fortunate to have the place, almost to ourselves.
 Not far away on a small peninsula jutting into the lake is a medieval fortress at Castiglione del Lago. Although in ruins, the fortress was beautifully kept. I believe concerts are held within the walls during the warmer months. We lingered for an hour or so before returning to our home base of Monticchiello.

Sue enjoyed the Kitchen of Barbara’s lovely villa and almost each night we would enjoy a home cooked meal, washed down with the local Tuscan wines. This particular meal that night started with a porcini bruschetta with lots of garlic and a little Vino Santo. Sue had bought the porcini mushrooms from a roadside seller on our way back through Chiusi. That night’s meal was a casual affair with the previous night’s leftovers with a Tuscan bean mix.
The real life experience though was after dinner when we went for a walk in the village and discovered a small bar. I’m sure it was only known to the local old men of the village as there was no women which at first made Sue a little uneasy. She wrote in the diary
After dinner, Leon discovered a tiny bar, just a lighted doorway – He asked for permission to come in and we were greeted by eight or more old guys playing cards. No English spoken here, bit of a shock for a “Momma” like me.

There on the TV was the Italian version of “Deal or No Deal”. Coffee all round and the odd shot of Limoncello and we had discovered several new friends. I found myself in an animated discussion with one of the elderly gentlemen who ran an Agristuromo on the strada to Pienza. Meanwhile a woman had one 125,000 euro on deal or no deal and we all clapped and laughed with another round of Limoncello.

Sure, the great monuments and scenes are why you travel but the magic moments are ones like these.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When the Siren Sounded

Footy Final - Well not Really, yet!
On the last Saturday in September, the Grand Final of Aussie Rules Footy is held - well most years!!!!!
When the siren sounded to mark the end of the 2010 AFL Premiership final, 100,000 spectators in the hallowed stands of the MCG stood looking at each other with a look of bewilderment on their faces. Both teams, Collingwood and Saint Kilda had kicked the same amount of points. Yes, it was a draw.

Saint Kilda's jersey

Collingwood's jersey
 Unlike Soccer or other forms of team sport, the rules say they have to come back next weekend. It's happened three times in the history of the game.
I'm not big on the game myself but we were invited to join a group of good friends to watch the final. I thoroughly enjoyed what was a thrilling match and obviously a cliff hanger that resulted without a result.
Who's place next weekend?

Everyone pitched in for the spread of food which was enjoyed by all.
 See a report here.
PS: sorry about the commercial beforehand.

Just a little trivia for you from Wikipedia.
The Premiership Cup is silver (With the exception of 1996 – when a gold cup was awarded instead of the usual silver one in the AFL/VFL's 100th season) and manufactured by Cash's International at their metalworks in Frankston, Victoria. The cup was first introduced in 1959 by the VFL, and before this, the reward was a pennant known by supporters simply as "The Flag".

During the 80s and 90s I worked for the company that made the AFL Cup.
I can actually lay claim for this unique decision of the gold plated cup as it was me that suggested to the AFL manager at the time. He asked how we could make the 100 year celebration of Australian Rules Football Premiership Cup special. As I looked across his desk, I said, "we could plate it gold." And we did!
Yeah, I know, but we all have our 15 minutes of fame, so said Andy Warhol and that was mine.

Birds in the Trees on a Sunday Arvo.
I now know winter is over. Today I spent all day in the garden doing a "spring clean". It gave me a chance to become re-acquainted with my surroundings. There are times when I really enjoy getting my hands into the earth and pulling out the weeds and unwanted growth from the garden beds. Our soil is so productive that I can almost feel my fingernails growing with the soil under them.

The pink and white is back

As is the purple

And what is this - yellow and white, yes spring is back - how good is that?

To reward myself after a day's work in the garden, I sat in the back yard with a glass of wine and music from the out door speakers when I thought, I wonder if the birds are hungry.
I have a bird feeder hanging from the Jacaranda tree and I decided to celebrate spring by filling it with some bird food.
The wine went down very well in the spring sunshine as I watched the birds feed.

What a great way to end a weekend.
Hope yours was enjoyable as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010


From the National Library of Australia
 The above poster shows OPPY on his Malvern Star at a guest appearance in our local suburb Mentone. Oppy was called the Mile a Minute cyclist after chasing behind a large pacing motor bike on the old Motordrome (no longer exists) and did in fact achieve this record.

Between WWI and WWII Hubert Opperman was the flavour of cycling in Australia.  Oppy was an endurance cyclist and held many long distance records including from one end of Australia to the other. This was in the days when many of the roads were unsealed, especially across the Nullabor.
Oppy took off to France to ride some of the early classics and the Tour de France. His name is still mentioned by those who can remember in Europe.

I remember seeing him riding in his latter years, purely for pleasure, along Beach Road where I live. He and his wife lived by the beach in St Kilda before moving to a retirement home.
Being a devoted cyclist, his last pedal strokes were taken on his exercise bike at home at a ripe old age.

Oppy after winning the 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris

Some links to Oppy's life and his obituary which showed up in the NY Times

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monticchiello and Pienza

The fortress walls of medieval Monticchiello
The village since 1777 comes under the municipality of Pienza which can be seen on a clear day from the walls of Monticchiello. Prior to 1777 it was under the republic of Siena and an important strategic medieval fortress with its strong walls and rising keep. I was able to ride a mountain bike around the outside of the village and could find no way in other than the one main gate. All this was formed in 1200. In 1559 at the fall of the Sienese Republic, Monticchiello came under control of the Merdici.

Except for residents, cars are not allowed within the fortress walls.

The fortress walls are amazingly well preserved - Well worth a walk around the outside to experience their strength.

Nothing much has changed for centuries in the narrow laneways of Monticchiello. 

The residents of the village have limited space for gardens.

Sculpture within and on the walls of Monticchiello

Pienza is only 10 kms away and was one of our first villages we visited as we required the usual necessities for a week in Barbara’s beautiful villa. Monticchiello has no shops, but a fabulous restaurant, but more about that later.
We were to visit Pienza many times during our stay and we became as much at home here as our little village across the valley.

Andrew takes a picture of Pienza, we just had to stop to admire the view.

The day started casually with an 8.30 am get-up. We decided to drive over to Pienza for some shopping. What a great entrance to this fabulous hill top village. Travelling along the winding valley road bordered by tall cypress trees, you the drive upwards and along the outskirts of the old town while looking up towards the imposing bell tower rising above the Cathedral.

As you swing around the road and the western side of the town walls you are confronted by the more modern and commercial part of town with its super market and car parks. This is where you leave your car and walk to the steps rising up to the gateway entering old Pienza.

Pienza has several Piazzas but the most imposing is Piazza Pius II. This where we were entertained by a musician playing, what he called, “the Stick” which is played almost like a piano, but is held like a guitar.
(It can be viewed on youtube if you type in Chapman stick)

Andrew our son is a musician himself and was most interested. We spent some time listening to his playing and both then entered into some discussion about the instrument.

Pienza was originally known as Corsignano. A noble family, the Piccolomini lived here and their son, born in 1405 would eventually become Pope. Pope Pius II returned in 1459 and was dismayed at the state of his birth home and commissioned the building of the “perfect town”. A bit like Cardinal Richelieu in France I guess.
Monticchiello, the Val d’Orcia and Pienza are part of the World Heritage of UNESCO listings.

Dinner at La Porta.
I’ll let Sue explain as the memory of that dinner has never left her.
Well not exactly right Leon.  Don't think I'll ever forget the entree...the rest of the dinner was delicious, but that entree......mmm
Starters: (I'm going from the diary here)
Andrew had eggplant parmiagana. He was a vegetarian in those days and somewhat of an expert in epplant parmiagana and he pronounced it "sensational".
Leon had homemade pasta with a duck ragu which he said was subtle and mellow
And me........I took a chance on something that sounded a little odd but interesting. A mound of mashed potato with lots of fresh truffle shavings and a sheeps' cheese sauce.  I don't think I said a word while I ate it in case they asked for a taste. Well that might not be true, I never stay quiet for long. My first experience of truffle and certainly the most memorable. I have tasted them since, but never with the same impact.  Truly fabulous.
Andrew had gnocci pesto, not enough garlic he said but very good.
Leon had a beef braise..the man is predictable..excellent
I had rabbit with mushrooms. Very good. I'm a big rabbit fan. Both farmed and wild.  Many people in Australia won't eat rabbit, especially those of the older generation who consider it "poor" food. During the Great Depression, it was the main meat type that people had access to. Rabbits were running wild in almost plague proportions as it was before the introduced diseases that controlled them later. A man called a rabbito, would go through the streets of the inner suburbs calling that he had rabbits to sell. He had been out shooting the night before I guess. It helped a lot of people, but left a legacy of not wanting to eat it when times improved.
Dessert was panna cotta with wild berries all around. Delicious.
When we left, Leon and I made another booking for Friday, the night before we were to leave. Andrew was leaving for Russia the day before, so we knew we would need cheering up.
As we left, the delightful owners gave us a bottle of local white wine to take away as an aperitif for the next day.
We have met some truly wonderful people.

The following day we decided we would drive to Chiusi to buy train tickets for a visit to Florence later in the week. I particularly wanted to see Lake Trasimeno on the borders of Tuscany and Umbria where Hannibal drove the Roman soldiers into the Lake but more about that next week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It all started from a Filum night

Friday Night & the Filum Thing

I saw this when I was 14, didn't like the Beatles all that much (a bit of a Stones fan really) but the girlfriend at the time loved the Beatles - didn't they all???

Click on the link for a 10 minute clip.

Getting together with our cycling friends, we enjoyed an hilarious "Filum night". That's what our hosts, Perce (his nick name) and Miss Glenda (hers) call it, yes Filum. It comes from the Aussie accent for Film, but you guessed that already, didn't you?
They put on a regular Filum night every month or so and this one was the Beatles, Hard Day's Night. I was probably 14 when this came out and I still remember it well', having seen it several times now. A few of the people dressed up for it but had their decades mixed up. Dressed as hippies, they confused the 60s with the 70s. Poor young things.

Bob and Jenny had the era right, that's what we wore, thin ties and suits.
And the ladies really enjoyed themselves but openly admitted they had never seen the Filum before.

Saturday Night
Yes, you guessed it - cooking time.
Flicking through her Delicious magazines, Sue asked, "What will we have for dinner?" "Hmmmm", I said, "What about a pork thing".

It all starts with Sue flicking through cooking books and magazines.
My job is chopping stuff up - oh, yes and cleaning up the mess afterwards. Sue what are these herbs?
 Garlic, sage and rosemary.
Porcini mushrooms being reconstituted.
Lots of porcini mushrooms (about 15gms) and the water is used later in the dish.
The pork scotch fillet is browned all over in butter.
Whats this Sue?
 A cartouche of damp baking paper is placed over the pan to help keep it moist, but still allow the sauce to reduce. The sauce has about 600ml of red wine and 250ml of the mushroom water. The pork was seasoned well with salt and pepper before browning.
Yum.  Yep, yum and resting
The end result.
Took about 80 minutes all together. Very rich, and complemented well with creamy, soft polenta.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Funky Friday Foto

I have no idea what the concept behind this reclining lady is - All I know is that she is there every morning that I'm riding on Beach Road for our 6.00 am ride. I've always been intrigued by her voluptuous curves and flowing hair.
I'm not sure if she is swimming or sun baking, what do you think?

Any way, I digress. I'd been at my chiropractor to see if he could ease the ache in my lower back that I've had for the last month. I think he may have done the trick.
On the way home in the car, I saw my voluptuous reclining lady all lit up by the spotlights and thought I should introduce myself.
On closer inspection she is even more gorgeous than I imagined from my fleeting glimpses as we pedal furiously pass - well it is down hill.

I'm glad I stopped as she really is a nice piece of sculpture.

I hit the lady with the full flash, isn't she gorgeous?

Then I thought I might cancel out the flash and use what available light there was.

In the backgound you can see the lights of the homes further around the bay.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Monticchiello - Heaven in a Hill Top Village

Heaven on a hill top is how we describe our week in Monticchiello

Our home for a week in the autumn of 2006
It was as we had imagined – the winding road through undulating hills, the roadside bordered by cypress trees. You’ve witnessed the scene in every typical Tuscan rural poster.

We bought this poster while in Tuscany, it sits on our family room wall to remind us of "heaven on a hilltop."

The only entrance to our village

We parked the C3 outside the arched door of our villa with anticipation of what was behind the oak doors.
Our kitchen
We didn’t realize it at the time but that road, photographed and painted so many times, was the road that took us to our idyllic Monticchiello villa in the beautiful Val d’ Orcia.

The view from our bedroom window over looking the olive grove.
 Over the next few weeks on Wednesdays we’ll take you with us on what was a most memorable week for us.
Monticchiello is nestled between the larger hilltop villages of Montepulciano, Montalcino and Pienza. Siena and the towers of San Gimignano are only day trips away and some villages of Umbria are also close by. There’s so much to see and the week we were there wasn’t enough.

From the diary: Sue speaking
Saturday October 14, 2006.
Monticchiello is finally reached – Heaven in a hilltop village.
Barbara, the owner of our villa for the week seems a lovely person. I rang when we were lost, and with good humor she got us here. Very friendly and nice to our son Andrew.

The apartment is lovely, Andrew has his own bedroom and bathroom. The villa has been renovated with an eye to authenticity. The bench top, splash back and huge sink are travertine marble.

The colors amaze me. They are so soft that they look like they have been photographed through gauze. That is, except for the setting sun which is soooo orange.

An evening stroll in the village before coffee and port, and bed.

Our day finished early after the stresses, highs and lows of leaving Rome early that morning with our driver Fangio. It had been a very long day, highs being Ostica Antica (see last Wednesday’s post) and arriving at Monticchiello.

After a long day it was time to get a good night's sleep before a week of Tuscan discovery.