Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Orvieto in Umbria

It's always a traumatic moment when trying to achieve an "out of comfort zone moment". Today there were three in the first half of the day.
The first "OCZM" was purchasing a Italian SIM card for our iPhone. After navigating the language barrier and having the Sim card fitted, we found that our iPhones were locked to OPTUS in Australia. The end result was that we now have a Samsung phone.

The second "OCZM" was picking up the lease car. I was actually quite excited with the prospect of sitting my posterior in the driver's seat of a brand new Citroen C4 1.6l five speed diesel. The base model 2014 C4 has great features including retracting mirrors, auto lights and wipers, bluetooth, and connection to iPod plus the crowning glory of GPS.
Why was this a OCZM? Well, because when I opened the door to get in, there was no steering wheel. I looked across at the passenger side and there it was - OMG!!!!
That's right - they drive on the other side.

The third OCZM was getting fuel as they only give you a token amount to get to a service station. Sooner than later is always a good rule with filling up in unfamiliar territory. So we decided we would go to the first filling station. This I found not far from entering the A1 Freeway that takes you all the way from sud (south) to Nord (north) of Italy. This down in the tooth service station even had someone actually filling up the car for you. I found out why - it only took cash and the "bloke" wouldn't fill up the car unless you gave him a tip. I said to Sue, "I think there is some sort of a error, we'll just move on and fill up elsewhere". That's not exactly what I said but I guess you get my drift. We left Mr Dodgy with a perplexed look on his face.

So off we went up the A1 to our next night stay at Orvieto in Umbria. As you drive up the A1, you notice that either side is littered with hilltop villages. Orvieto is one of them.

We had a spare night before arriving at Gaiole and Orvieto was half way. We stayed at the base of the ancient city of Orvieto and although you could take a Funiculare to the city, we decided to drive the 4 kms to the top.

We only spent a couple of hours in the historic part of Orvieto before rushing back to the metered car park with the intention of returning tomorrow for a more sedate look and lunch.

Late afternoon scenes of Orvieto

Last night's dinner was at a family restaurant walking distance just down the hill from the hotel. Just as well because parking is very limited in the narrow streets. No wonder European cars are designed with retractable side mirrors. The restaurant had a menu with locals in mind rather than tourists and this is the way we like it. The large screen TV was showing "Deal or no Deal" or something like it. It had the slick, slightly overweight host with the cute model like girls - eh! That's Italian TV.

The menu was simple good wholesome food, mine being grilled lamb and Sue had the scaloppini al limone with desert being Tiramisu which Sue said was the best that she has ever had. Our host poured us a complimentary glass of desert wine to accompany it. Superb.

Morning view from our hotel room balcony.
The Hotel owner bakes her own cakes for those who have breakfast in her dining room.
The dining room had this amazing lace curtain with the name of the hotel.
And so we say goodbye to this cheerful hotel on our way to Gaiole for our first one week stay.

Monday, September 29, 2014

We are now in Italy - Fiumicino actually.

After two years of saving and planning, we are now here in Italy. The flight is a form of torture in Sue's mind and I would probably agree to some extent. Economy class on a plane for the duration 31 hours from our front door to the hotel door in Fiumicino is not the most pleasant experience. It reminds me of those livestock trucks taking sheep or cattle to slaughter. Having said that, Singapore Airlines make the trip as pleasant as possible with great smiling service all the way.

Rather than going into Rome (we've been before) we decided on staying at Fiumicino which is only 15 minutes from the airport. After flying from Australia, an overnight stay here is highly recommended. We stayed at Domus Lina, a well appointed guest hotel with host Enrico being most helpful - always cheerful and happy to chat and offer advice.

Fiumicino is on the outlet of the Tiber river and is known as a fishing village. We were here in 2006 to visit the ruins of Ostia Antica, an ancient port for Rome. The ruins are said to rival those of Pompeii. Not having seen Pompeii, I can't confirm this but Ostia Antica amazed us. Check it out via this link, http://www.ostia-antica.org

An early photo in the foyer of our hotel - Fiumicino.

The trip from Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci was hassle free with Roberto our driver holding a sign up with our names on it. He took our gear and loaded it on the Lancia people mover. As we drove off to the hotel, he started crooning "That's Amore" and when he unloaded my bike bag, he broke into Queen's song, "I want to ride my bicycle".

Looking down the Tiber River towards the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Have to say the hotel we are staying at for the first night is a delight and our host Enrico has already been most helpful with a recommendation for dinner tonight that takes in the local seafood produce. More on that later as I'm writing this after our initial stroll to explore our surroundings.

From our balcony window is a small fish market. Sue wishes we had a kitchen instead of an hotel room.
Such is her passion for the culinary arts.
Looking across from our other balcony.

All along the Tiber in Fiumicino are the fishing nets from the boats that bring in the local produce.
It doesn't take long for the local scamster to pick out the tourists.

Still very much jet lagged and out of time-sync, we found ourselves enjoying a beer and sharing a procuitto and cheese panini at 11.30 am at a small cafe overlooking the Tiber River. The cost was a mere 8.50 euro or approx AUD$10 for the two of us. It's was a sunny 25 degrees when we took shade under the coolness of a peppercorn tree to watching the passing locals. People were riding their bikes, walking dogs and generally enjoying a family Sunday.

The restaurant recommended by our host, Enrico.
We retired to our hotel room around 2ish with Sue taking a nap (for 5 hours) and me a little later. Both of us had one of those deep sleeps that you need after a long haul flight. We were both looking forward to experiencing our first evening meal in Italy and we were not disappointed. This is where I let Sue take over because she is so much better describing food and flavours much better than moi.

Ooh, Leon being Leon, had pasta with porcini fungi. Tis the season for  porcini in Italy. It was very rich and he loved it.  This place started life as a fishing village and the fishing boats still leave at 4am and bring their catch back here. I had fritto misto, although that wasn't quite what they called it.  Tiny little calamari, fresh very sweet prawns and baby fish still on the bone. Incredibly fresh and delicious. Yummy salads also with extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic bottles put on the table for us to dress the salad ourselves.
As you enter the restaurant, you pass by the fountain but above you is a mass of vines with grapes of rosso and bianco.
Semi freddo with almond praline. They had taken the caramel to very dark so its bitterness offset the sweetness of the ice cream. It was sensational.

Espresso, limoncello. Whats not to like?
Where we sat, across from us was their fine dining areas but no one was there. Maybe Italians just enjoy the casual style of eating. We do!
Just one last photo of Fiumicino of yesterday.
Sue and I are sitting on the balcony of our hotel on a balmy 24 degree night after dinner, listening to the constant chatter of people walking by - the occasional cry from a baby being nursed by it's mother  contrasts with the street talk of teenagers. We also hear the clatter of diesel powered small cars that are so unfamiliar in the streets of "Melbourne - Our Home by the Bay". It's time to go to bed to meet the challenges of another day in a country where we are the strangers trying to be understood,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Need a New Blog Title

It seems that "MELBOURNE - OUR HOME on the BAY" may not fit that well with our 10 weeks in Italy and France. I may need to find another heading, any ideas?

We leave on Saturday for Rome with our first full week in Gaiole, Chianti with my cycling buddies for the annual retro event, L'Eroica. Its a one day event on old bikes in the rolling hills on both sealed and unsealed roads - the Strada Bianca or white gravel roads. Our bikes must be pre-1987 which is not a problem as my early days of racing were on these and I still have mine from the 80s. A few of the crew are already, enjoying the life in Italy, Austria and Malta before we meet up soon in Gaiole.
Steel and wool is the theme of L'Eroica in Chianti - no carbon fibre or lycra here.
I won't go much more into our 10 weeks away - I will be saving it for the Blog.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

From Spring to Autumn

Here in Melbourne, Our Home by the Bay, we are organising the house with weeding, mowing lawns, tidying up generally for our ten weeks in Italy and France. All of a sudden, spring crept up without warning. Workdays lately have been long and I tend to leave early and get home around 7ish so I don't really look about outside much. With the impending holiday, a bit of yard maintenance was required this weekend.

It's the first time that I discovered all the new growth and colour - but it wasn't until late Sunday afternoon that I took my iPhone out of my pocket to take these photos before we lost too much light.

We leave for Rome next Saturday for Europe's autumn and previously we have loved that time but this trip takes us into winter with our last week - the first week of December in Paris. It will be a new experience.

This trip is centred around a Retro Bike Event in Chianti, Italy for the first week. We then spend some time after in the lakes district before wandering across to the Loire to experience some time living in the region.
Sue not that long ago toyed with the idea of living in France for 3 months. We discussed this over the dinner table with friends in the Loire in 2012. It was at their very kind invitation that they suggested that we house sit while they take a holiday themselves. Its an experience that we are so grateful to accept. Six more sleeps before we fly out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Just Another Tuesday Night Dinner

The title is mine, not Sue's.
She often says that she doesn't have a creative flair
but when it comes to cooking,
we all agree, 
her creative passion of food
amazes this family.

Our older son, Andrew, lived in England for two years and came back to Australia last Christmas to  live with Mum and Dad while he fininshed off his PhD. He brought with him many things, but one that met with a mixed reception was a can of haggis from Scotland. Of couse I am happy to try to it, I told him. I then proceeded to place it at the back of the pantry out of sight (out of mind)
But....we are going away soon and our son's memory is better than ours. Sigh.
He ate haggis at a very posh restaurant in Leeds and wanted to reproduce the recipe. It was presented with seared scallops with an orange and whiskey sauce. We couldnt find anything like it from Ms Google and an email to  the restaurant went unanswered. (How rude!)
So I made an executive decision. Pan seared scallops, haggis, crispy bacon and a pea puree plus a bit of orange to squeeze over. I thought that maybe we would like all but the haggis.
But, you know....the haggis was great. I know....how odd!

It was an entree sized dish so I made quick spinach and feta pastry things with sweet chilli dipping sauce to have after. Probably not the best match if you were making a total menu to all blend.
But hey, we were just making dinner! All good.
So now we've tasted haggis, and while I didn't hate it, it wasn't anything I would choose to have again.
Sorry Scotland.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Buildings long gone

Well the weekend is over and with only two weeks before we fly out to Italy, I still have much work to complete with both home and place of employment. I'm still painting inside the house and cleaning up outside.
I've been a little distracted with the Blog due to all of this but there'll be lots to come once we leave Melbourne for Italy and France. With 10 weeks I'm sure we'll find something everyday to post.
I think we may just be "Living the Life" and taking in what life has to offer. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here's some historic photos of our hometown, Mentone. All of these photos have something in common. The buildings no longer exist.
Mentone Baths
Mentone Theatre
Mentone Skating Rink
Mentone Fire Brigade
Mentone Bakery
Mentone Station signal box
Mentone Gas Company