Sunday, June 29, 2014

Irish Eyes Are Smiling


For the last 8 months we have been based in cities, Vienna, Athens, Rome etc..  We have filled most of our time in beautiful buildings and monuments, museums filled with treasures of creativity, talent and the genius of humankind. Time for a break. Time to lose ourselves in Mother Nature, Earth's resident artist.
The Emerald Isle, Ireland, wow, it is really very green. Green in a rich fabric sort of way.  The sky and clouds do seem closer to you and the rugged unspoiled shoreline is testament to the power of nature.  It is in the mystical walks through valley and glen, near seaside cliffs and running streams that we will renew ourselves, recharge the battery, drink some Guinness.

The weather has been extremely kind to us for our first 21 days. The locals are honestly surprised how nice it has been. Other than a few scattered and brief showers, it has been either clear or with clouds and sun and in the high 60's to low to mid 70's ( 15-20 Celsius). I have now tempted the weather Gods to laugh at us.

We landed in Dublin - so we will save the Dublin post as we leave Ireland.  We are staying in a town named Lauragh on the Beara Peninsula.  There is not an address on the house where we are staying -  the directions to get there...  "After you get off the main road turn left at the "pub that was" (Healy Pass) go up the hill on your left about 1 km from the sign Creveen Lodge, you'll see a lovely yellow house"...

"The Pub that Was"

The Lovely Yellow House on the Hill
We would like to thank our friend Maureen Shea who's grandfather owned this home and left Ireland to seek his fortune in America.

Stunning Sunset from our front yard overlooking Kenmare Bay.  The sun sets after 10PM
 or 22:00 (for our European friends), which gives us plenty of light to enjoy long hikes (right!!!)

Traffic in the neighborhood

A friendly game of Gaelic Football in the neighborhood.  A bit like American football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, rugby - it's fast and exciting.

The smallest pub in Ireland where the Leprechauns hang out

Richard looking for the Leprechauns...
Not really, this is a Gleninchaquin Heritage Site, it is a typical cabin of 19th century Kerry found on a steep hillside.  In the early 1800's almost 100 people lived in the area.  Today the population of this area is 2.  The potato famine of 1845 devastated the valley.

A big part of Irish history was 1845-1849  -  The Potato Blight and its effect
Over one hundred stone circles are known in the area where we are staying.  

On June 21st (Summer Solstice) we spent the day looking for as many of the Stone Circles that we could find.  (A spiritual treasure hunt!)

The period from about 2000 BC - 500 BC is known as the Bronze Age, during this period -  stone circles and related monuments were constructed.  The circles consist of an uneven number of spaced upright stones which vary in number from 5 stones to 19 stones.   Often, the upright stones decrease in height from the north-east to the south-west.  On the north-eastern side an entrance is formed, usually these are the 2 tallest stones in the circle.  Sometimes, the entrance is emphasized by having these stones also called portal stones set at right angles to the circle.  These monuments were orientated to events in the solar and lunar cycles indicating the rising and setting positions of the sun at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, Summer Solstice, and times in between.  Fascinating!!!!!

Can't leave Ireland without an Irish Wool Sweater...

....No one really makes Irish Stew like an Irish Mum, but we are told a young lamb makes the best stew.  (Sorry!!!!)

The history of Ireland makes you even more impressed with the spirit of its people. First, my ancestors (the Vikings) come in and pillage your village, take your women and rule over you, (On a side note I am beginning to think it was the influence of Irish women in Scandinavian countries that softened the Vikings and gave Norwegians something to smile about). After the Irish take back their lands, (with much civil fighting as well) the English take them over and they suffer under British rule. The potato blight and famine either kills or forces half your population to leave or die. Then you have to mount another fight to get your freedom from British control (with your country split in two). It has been rough going here the last 6-7 years with the Financial boom (called the Celtic Tiger) and then the bust of the financial crisis, but the spirit of the Irish will always remain. Bend but not break, they have endured for centuries and will survive again.

The Vikings return!

It is hard to choose from so many beautiful places we have visited here and photos we have taken, but here are a few others that took our breath away.

The Kerry Cliffs
Coffee break at Waterville, Ring of Kerry

Killarney National Park

Off to the West Coast of Ireland with the Sisters!.......

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Under the Tuscan Sun


The hardest part of living in Tuscany is WHERE DO YOU START??
When you have done a little research on the towns and villages of Tuscany it becomes overwhelming in deciding which to visit. Each has its own unique food, wine, historical elements and charm that figure into the mind numbing choices. Then you whittle down by distance, bus and train availability, or automotive feasibility (not to mention the economic considerations of Rental cars and fuel) and you realize even a Local hasn't visited the majority of these Italian treasures.
We will just have to return,  I believe we could spend March-May in Italy for the next 10 years and still have places to visit. Italy has 49 UNESCO World Heritage sites, no other country comes close.

Siena's most beautiful Duomo, maybe the nicest in Italy.

The Baptistery in Siena, the Font sculpted byDonatello 

Views of Voltarra, San Ginminagna ( stunning village of towers) and the obligatory Gelato,
These guys won the World Championship.

A wonderful day Under The Tuscan Sun for me was June 2, 2014.  It just happened to be a national holiday in Italy know as Republic Day or Festa della Rebubblica in Italian.  (It celebrates the day when Italians voted to abolish the monarchy in 1946 so their country could become a republic).

Florence was going to be crowded and busy - so what a great day for us to be invited to hang out in the country with our new friends Harpert and Elena:

The first stop is lunch in the country outside of Poggibonsi - Castellina in Chianti.  Elena's mother prepared a wonderful lunch of Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach with butter and fresh sage from her yard, and of course topped with parmesan!!  2nd course was rolled chicken with mortadella and olives, a tomato salad (I helped with), and for dessert, gelato and biscotti with Vin Santo.  

Un pasto meravigilioso!  Vi ringrazio tanto!

Our next stop is a visit down the road to Elena and Harperts friends - Allesandro and Otello.   They own Tenuta Villa Rosa, a winery in Castellina in Chianti.
This was definitely a treat for us.....

We are introduced to Allesandro, as you can tell he and Elena are very close friends!
We are captivated by Otello, as he introduces us to the winery.  
(I think Harpert was looking for the Black Rooster)
We get our own private tasting and you can tell Otello is a very proud Papa of his Chianti Classico 2010 vintage!

 Rich gets the first taste...

Thanks for the tour Otello!  We need more than a tasting now, bring that wine outside....
....More tasting to Allesandro and Otello means a meal with your wine - and not just one wine! - The Chianti Classico Riserva  was just a start. and the ending was Grappa - Molto Buono!  
The Tuscan sun was warm today, so sitting outside with a wonderful meal including fresh fry bread, home-made spicy sausages, BBQ chicken and lettuce fresh from the garden was perfect. 
This day of Tuscan wine and new friends is something we will always remember.

Evviva! to Otello and Alessandro - Grazie!!  
Also, Happy Birthday to Otello, we had a wonderful evening singing birthday songs to Otello!
...and that is the story of Under the Tuscan Sun

Thank you Elena and Harpert for helping make our stay in Tuscany a memorable one!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Inferno for Dummies

The cast:
Richard as Dr. Robert Langdon

Renata as Dr. Sienna Brooks

Due to lack of actors all other characters in the book have been left out

Wanda as Dan Brown 

(For those of you who read the book - Sorry, but play along, you know deep down this book wasn't The DaVinci Code - hence...)

The story is set in Florence and Venice Italy

Robert is trying to figure out what he is doing in Florence and Sienna found out her colleague at the hospital just got shot and the assassin is somewhere behind them - better get moving!

The two of them need to get to the Old City but the bridges are closed and the police are looking for them or could it be the assassin they are trying to find?  It's all a blur...

....They run into Boboli Gardens.  Hopefully, they can manage their way through 11 acres of this outdoor museum and into the heart of Florence without being seen...

The maze of trees should give them some protection  - oh no!  The police are right behind them and it sounds like they have drones looking for them.

Robert and Sienna both pretend they are statues and the Polizia pass by.  That was a narrow escape.

Robert is still trying to figure out why they are being chased by an assassin and the police.  He finds a cylinder in his pocket that he thinks may be what the assassin wants from him.

They continue toward Pitti Palace.

This Renaissance palace was bought by the Medici family from Luca Pitti in 1549.  This art gallery is full of treasures - too bad there is no time to wander through it.....

...and this bathtub!! Robert shakes his head wondering why the heck would an old bathtub be put in these beautiful gardens....

Wake up Robert!  Who cares about the tub.....there are more search teams with drones looking for them. They scurry into a great hiding place - in the dark Grotto of Buontalenti off of the Pitti Palace...

As the Polizia continue to search for Robert and Sienna, they remain hidden in the grotto and move deeper into the 3rd chamber where they stay hidden until the Polizia have passed by.

Robert remembers there is a way into the city through the "Vasari Corridor" - there is a secret door that he hopes he can open.  He finds the small door hidden to the left of the grotto, after a couple of pushes they find themselves in the empty Corridor....

......empty of people, but the Corridor is full of paintings that few people are able to see.

Of course Robert forgets he is being chased and puts on his professor cap and points out to Sienna  the great works of art lining the walls.  
The corridor is not open to the public (except for a price!)  -Look behind you it's a Reubens' selfie!

"Really Dr. Langdon, I think we need to go.............."

They pass the church of Santa Felicita that Vasari had to build the Corridor around

The Arno River can be seen from the Vasari Corridor as Robert and Sienna hurry across

Robert and Sienna are able to cross the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from above unbeknownst to the assassin and police looking for them below.

They still need to find their way into Palazzo Vecchio where there should be a clue as to why the police are chasing them.

 Robert and Sienna find their way through the corridor from the Uffizi Palace into the Palazio Vechhio, once inside they hope to get lost in the crowds...
....Robert and Sienna come out of the hidden secret door in the PalazzoVecchio  unnoticed...

Inside the Palazzo Vecchio,  Robert forgets his imminent danger, as he stands in awe in the Salone dei Cinquecento.  (The Room of 500).  The large frescoes are battles and victories by Florence over Pisa and Sienna, not to mention the ceiling panels depicting the life of the Medicis, a Michelangelo statue, and on and on - such an imposing room.... 

The magnificent room was enlarged by Giorgio Vasari so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could hold court.

Robert is trying to get Sienna's attention....

Robert found Dante's death mask thinking there might be a clue that makes sense of  the craziness

The clue has to be behind the mask....while no one was looking he pulled the mask from the case in search of a clue.  Oh no - the police are on to them!  Robert hides the mask in his shirt and...

.....he and Sienna are able to escape again by climbing the walls of the palace...where will this lead?

They stay hidden in the top of the tower. The Dante mask holds no clue and Robert and Sienna have no clue as to what to do next...

There has to be a clue in this somewhere - if not the mask, is it hidden in Michelino's fresco?  Or does Robert need to find a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy to figure things out...

The book is way too long - so we will skip forward and head to Venice where Robert and Sienna find help.

Robert and Sienna took a fast train to Venice got there in less than 2 hours and jump on a Vaporetto and head to St Mark's square.

Somehow the Poliza find out Robert and Sienna are in Venice and are out in force looking for both of them.  Sienna came up with disguises....

.....A hat for Robert will make him look like George Clooney (or Merle Haggard) and a backpack, hair long, and drawing pad will make Sienna look like a very young art student......

....OK, that works... Paparazzi think Robert is George Clooney...

...and the real George Clooney has to be happy  he got away from the paparazzi...

Back to the story.....

The best way to get in to St. Mark's Cathedral is through the side door,... "come on Robert, while the polizia are busy staring at George Cloony's new finance, we should be able to get into the church without notice."

The stunning interior with beautiful mosaic colors of gold and bronze and the Byzantine architecture makes St. Mark's one of the most visited sites in Venice.  The Basilica was crowded with people and once Robert  figured Venice was not the city they should be in...

...Sienna hurries off and leaves Robert alone in the Cathedral ....

... Sienna jumps on a Vaporatto and disappears down the canals....

When Robert finds Sienna missing - he put two and two together and felt betrayed by her.
He knows where she is heading and he will beat her there, he may look old, but he can still run.  He jumps on a speed boat....

 .... leaves Venice behind him and heads to the airport.  
He knows now what the cylinder is, where he must go and what he must do next....

Are you wondering what happens next???

.....Well, get the book, because if Dan Brown ever reads this I am in trouble!