Gelato and Castles and Ragu, Oh my??
This morning at breakfast I had soft-boiled eggs with yolks the color of brilliant orange. A striking color in the morning. Due cappuccino, two warm and luscious coffees, make a perfect quiet breakfast. We have been staying at the Frederico II, a hotel owned by The Pieralisi Corporation in Jesi. Its name comes from the local pride that Frederick II, The Holy Roman Emperor, was born here in 1194. I would highly recommend this hotel to travelers to this area.
Yesterday our hosts at Chiudo olive mill told us they are opening a bed and breakfast near their mill. It will be in the Marche region about 15 miles from Jesi and Ancona. If it is anything like their mill operation, it will be lovely. I am continually impressed with the care that the Italians take with their property and surroundings. I will post the name in August when they open. I hope we will return to stay there next year when Elisabeth graduates.
Traveling to Urbino on Sunday a.m. After the past few days really all we want to do is rest with cappuccino then wine with lunch. But we are going to the castle in Urbino for a 3-hour tour then taking the train back to Milan. Denis has been a gentleman touring us around, laughing at our jokes and taking each olive oil question very seriously with great respect for the subject. Food, wine, and oil are revered here. There is much celebration and pride in their products.
Mark and I were discussing the quality of Verdicchio wine from the area around Jesi, the Marcea region. The grape is the specialty of the area having been grown here for centuries. The grape does particularly well in this valley as the terroir seems to match its needs.
All of the varietal wines, especially the Verdicchio de Castello di Jesi, have been excellent and much different from other Verdicchio wines we have tried. It has a crisp mineral taste, with a slightly greenish yellow color. Crisp and clean and perfect with the fresh sea food from the Adriatic.
Also produced here is a special wine that is flavored with preserved cherries added with a little sugar after fermentation of the wine .This wine has an interesting taste and I recommend it as a dessert or late afternoon wine. Very unique and loved in this area. It would be fun to try to make a little but the proportions are very important to the final product – not too sweet – letting the wine take the lead role in the flavor complexity. Each growing area also thinks their wine is very special and truly Italians have been perfecting this for thousands of years.
So off to Urbino and another day of exploration. I am looking for red poppy seeds to plant at the Olive Farm.
Last evening at the Jesi spring celebration, the Paolio, we saw the history of Jesi parade before us in costumes and pageantry. It was the celebration of the founding of Jesi, and the Saint….. We returned from seeing another mill and a huge lunch to an espresso to fortify us for watching the celebration. The city council adorned with ribbons and sashes presided, while local performers dressed in Renaissance attire beat drums and marched in procession from the main square, piazza, through the main streets. At every piazza were special demonstrations and local food stands. There was a demonstration of falconry, drumming, sword fighting (real and wooden). We watched the sun set from one of the towers and enjoyed porchetta, roasted pig sandwiches. Porchetta is a very treasured and ancient dish that is very slowly roasted pig with lots of seasoning, such as rosemary, thyme, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, cumin, bay leaves, and garlic. This is not a subtle dish but wild flavors exude through the meat. Even Katie, our mostly vegetarian, said it was tasty. We finished the evening eating gelato while walking the cobbled streets of the old castle. I still can’t believe that we are so fortunate to enjoy and be part of this celebration. Federico II was born on Dec 26 1194 in Jesi and the central square is dedicated to his birth.
The castle of Frederico II, Duke of Urbino, is a most amazing palace. Urbino was a city state loyal to the Vatican. Urbino is very old city now protected by a declaration of historical world places. In the palace are paintings by Raffael, numerous wood carvings by …. and frescos surrounding the many rooms and suites of state. Federico had several rooms for his apartment as did his wife, the Duchess. They all adjoined and had easy access to the rooms used for events of state. If you cannot be here in person, it is worth going on line and seeing the art work. The architectural drawings displayed here are from the time of the beginning of the school of the art of perspective. The wooden doors, filled with inlay of the most unimaginable craft, are astonishing. Each doorway and each ceiling bore the seals signs and crests of the ruling families. Astonishing detail and craftsmanship! So much work for ego and pleasure. We could have easily spent 3 days investigating the city and palace. So much to see and so little time – with promises to come back, only hoping that maybe someday we can return. Now off to the nearest train station at Pesaro to catch the train to Milan. First we stop briefly at a shop for some piadini, small sandwiches much like quesadillas. The Italian trains so far have been on time and efficient. The fast train to Milano (178 km/hour) was so clean and delightful. The country side is very green and has an enormous amount of agriculture. Everywhere there is wheat or rice growing, stands of trees perfectly planted. The people here have a great respect for caring for their land. Everyone has their own little gardens, even on balconies.
Bra, Italy where Elisabeth studies for her Master’s
We arrived in Milan, checked into our hotel and had a lovely dinner under a huge tent in a secret courtyard. So many doors lead to interior courtyards that are perfectly cared for with statues, trees, plants and fountains. Peeking into doo ways leads to lovely views of real life in Italy. Then back to the hotel for a last Negroni and bed. Campari, gin, sweet vermouth and perhaps sparkling water and orange slices, very refreshing, Elisabeth’s favorite.
We hired a van to drive us to Bra as we had 8 heavy suitcases. Elisabeth will be living here for a year for school. This allowed us to rest, not hassle with lots of bags on the train, and watch the scenery. Mark, Katie and Elisabeth slept as jet lag and all the activity finally demands some rest. I just watched the trees, rivers, castles, bell towers and amazing agriculture.
Arriving in Bra at 11 am allowed us to get Elisabeth settled into her apartment, meet people from her school, and for us to go to our hotel just down the street. This is a winery and hotel. The owners have converted an old leather factory into a lovely hotel, albergo, with exquisite modern Italian decorations and their own winery on the first floor. Ascheri vineyards and cellars winery have been producing wine since 1880. So the years from the early 19th century to about 1960 are characterized by innovation in their vineyards. They produce wines from The La Morra vineyard, including Barolo, Barbera, Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba from the Serra Lunga de Alba region. The wines are fantastic and each guest is given a bottle. In the rooms they have placed small telescopes in the walls to see the sights of Bra. I am able to see the church bells, the monastery and the trees separating Bra from the next village. What an unexpected pleasure to have your own spy spots.
We went out for pizza and salad for a late lunch and then a good nap. I am sitting in my room enjoying the huge open window, the doves, and the tops of green trees filled with the sing song of birds. We can look over the rooftops to see the daily work of washing and hanging the daily laundry. The smells from the restaurant below are amazing. I can smell yeast from baking bread. Mark and Elisabeth are doing errands, Katie is resting and I am now sitting in the hotel lobby where it is very quiet. There are only 28 rooms here and the staff is delightful and courteous. I am trying to learn some Italian phrases to communicate courteously. But even then most Italians speak to you in English. I can order in any restaurant, get gellato, and ask for the bathroom so I am good.
Speaking of gellato. My quest is to have a different kind every day but there are so many choices and far too little time to enjoy all. So far I have had crema, chocolatae, fiore de crema, pistachio, strawberry (fragola) and lemon. My favorite is the one I have in my hand while walking down the street in the evening. The colors are beautiful and the tastes are lovely. The displays are works of art. I am hopeful to try some more tonight.
Tomorrow we will do some shopping for Elisabeth and say good bye until her August break when she comes home for 3 weeks. Our plan tomorrow is to drive to Lake Como. We will then be on our own without Elisabeth as a translator. She is so excited and a little anxious about starting school. She has such an edge speaking Italian so fluently, I am sure that it will make life so much easier for her.
Elisabeth arranged for a tasting and tour of the wines that are special to the area. We met at the Slow Food Wine Bank at the school that is the repository for the historical preservation of the wines of Italy. It is underground and houses in perpetuity the great wines forever. Some amount is for sale to support the program and 25 bottles will be kept forever as a treasury. There are ancient cisterns preserved in the cellars (pictures coming). A true treasure. We then tasted 5 of the wines from the immediate area, a Barolo, a barbesco, dulcetto de alba. We were all impressed and moved by the sheer quality and skill of the wine makers. The guide explained each wine and the region, valley, soil, and sun exposure that contributed to the wines’ quality. This was the best explanation I have ever had, probably because I could actually see the hills and valleys where the wine was grown.
We ate an al fresco lunch near the school at a lovely hotel. We had anti pasta including fresh mozzarella, steak tartar, prima course of lovely handmade pastas of fava beans, pesto, and olive oil. The pastas are so tender that they melt in your mouth with the flavors of the herbs local to the area. The use of fresh ingredients is so natural to this country, truly eating local and seasonal. It is something that many Americans do not respect, because of our incredible system of supply and transportation.
After lunch we rearranged our bags, took some wine to Elisabeth’s apartment (we could not leave her without wine) repacked again and drove her to the police station to register as an American with an extended stay. In the European countries, if you are to stay longer than a months, you must show proof of visa, citizenship, student acceptance ( in Elisabeth’s case), and bank statements that you have financial resources to live. Maybe the USA should consider this concept. We said our good bye quickly and drove off to Como. We texted Elisabeth many good byes and good luck. At 6 pm she said that all her documents were accepted and she went home to sleep for 12 hours to catch up from the time change and our hectic traveling and to prepare for school.
Traveling to Como we elected to drive rather than take the train and it was an easy 3 hours. With Mark driving and Katie navigating we drove through farmland after farmland growing corn, rice, and sunflowers. Beautiful church spires, small towns, and old farmhouses. I would love to dig in and restore some of the treasures, but you would have to completely destroy and rebuild each one to new foundation codes. We received texts from friends re the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna hoping we were far away, and we did not even know about it. So I guess the new foundation codes are important.
We arrived in Como at 7 p.m. and found our sweet small hotel. Parking was a bit of a challenge but the hotel helped. A nap and out to dinner at a pizza restaurant right on the waterfront. Then gelato. This time cherry(ceragnolo), chocolate, coffee, and stracciatella. Then back to the hotel via the waterfront past many great homes, beautiful gardens, and lovely people walking dogs and laughter.
Wednesday, May 30
Como is at 2300 feet above sea level and Katie went running again. She is in great shape and will be running her third half marathon in San Diego. We took the ferry from Como to Bellagio. Stunning views, calm water, cool breezes. A tour guide was on board and we could hear his presentations, including pointing out the homes of George Clooney and Richard Branson, which were absolutely breathtaking. Each house on the lake has a boathouse built into the foundation. Most houses are of the classic Italian style with a wonderful variety of colors: cream, pea green, coral, pink, purple shutters, browns and reds of every tone. No limit to imagination and use of color. You can see the influence of Swiss architecture creep in, especially as you head north on the lake. We did not have time to go all the way to Switzerland but even in Bellagio you can see snow on the mountain tops.
The area of Bellagio is a very small, about three streets wide as it climbs the steep slope. The length of the town is the embarcadero which runs about 700 feet – all lined with shops. It has a large public park that preserves the old ruins and the plants of the area. The town is now and has always been for tourists seeking an extraordinary retreat. At the very tip, on the jutting point of land is an elegant hotel, Villa Serrabellino. We had a light lunch by the pool overlooking the lake while formally attired waiters moved quickly and silently among the guests. The food was quite good but the ambience and view simply dominated the experience. Katie had a taglitella with an earthy rich duck ragu. Ann had pasta e’fagole( pasta and beans), her personal favorite. We also had a cold tomato soup that again had a depth of flavor that was perfect.
The parallel narrow lanes are stacked up the slope connected by stone stairways, which are quite a hike. Small shops and gates to private courtyards line the stairs while each street is a long line of tiny elegant shops. The streets are narrow but the small cars still wind slowly though quite often. Be sure you step well to the side. The tall buildings block most of the sun but it is still intense and the patches of sunlight can be rather warm, especially at this altitude. We took the fast boat back to Como. Literally lifted out of the water and floated fast back to the dock. We then walked to the Duomo and sat and watched the sunset while enjoying Negronis. This is a drink of Campari, gin, sweet vermouth and orange slices. Quite lovely. The duomo is spectacular, with carving, statues, and stained glass windows. We met a couple who had a similar camera and amazingly they are from Napa! We agreed to have them come to the Olive Mill when we both recover from our respective jet lag.
Today is Thursday the 31, and we go to Venice. Leaving Como is hard but going to Venice will be wonderful. You must remember that there are no cars allowed in Venice so you must carry your bags to your hotel.