Tuesday, November 27, 2012

90 Years, 90+ Memories

My sister Beverly wanted to do something special for my Mom's 90th birthday, a remarkable remarkable milestone.  Her initial thought was to create an album of photos that would essentially chronicle her life.

However, when a friend mentioned that her family created a box of envelopes, each containing a memory from her mother's life, Beverly was sold.  Over nearly two months, she came up with specific memories and corresponding envelopes that she filled with a narrative, photos, letters, and various memorabilia.  Some of the memories include trips (Benin, Kenya, Hungary, Russia), likes (chocolate, scary movies), dislikes (beards, too long trousers), incidents (wrestling with gypsies, wild squirrels), people (grandchildren, her loving husband), etc.

Needless to say, the gift box was a great hit.  We laughed and cried, relived, corrected some of the details, and most importantly added more memories.   And isn't that what birthdays should be about.
Happy 90th, Mom.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Off season

I decided to return to France via the Italian coast and considered where I might stay for a night along the way.  I have been to Nice a couple of times but I have always thought about someday staying in nearby Cannes, home of the most glamorous of all film festivals.  Images of movie stars on the beach or in trendy cafes or restaurants abound, usually with the iconic Hotel Carlton in the background.  Just out of curiosity I decided to look and see what a night at the Carlton might cost.  I was in luck!  Not only was November 1st considered the off season but the hotel's 100th anniversary promotion also offered me a classic room and breakfast at a bargain price.

My luck continued.  I arrived to find beautiful sunny weather in Cannes, just missing several wet and windy days.  And as I checked in to the hotel,  I was upgraded to a fabulous seaview room.  The view was so spectacular, I didn't want to leave the room.

But I did leave and explored the hotel,

and had a beachside lunch of calamari, and took a walk along the promenade.

And then it was back to our hotel room for sunset....

and then a good night.

After a bountiful breakfast and last walk on the beach, it was time to depart this magical place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lake Orta

At the conclusion of the Slow Food conference, I thought I could extend my stay in northwest Italy a couple of days.  I wasn't sure where to go until I happened upon an article in the NY Times about Italy's best kept secret...the small, jewel box Lake Orta in the lake district above Milan.  It was only two hours from Pollenzo and best of all there was room at the inn...the marvelously quirky Villa Crespi.

With its wonderful Islamic design and generously proportioned spaces, Villa Crespi was a luxurious, yet calming place to stay.  But the true glory of Orta San Giulio is its position on a peninsula in the lake with the hilltop Sacro Monte di San Francesco and nearby Isola San Giulio.  Wherever you went you had commanding views of the lake, and Bosco and I enjoyed both morning and afternoon
walks along of the shore of the magical place.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Tale of Two Restaurants

Whenever I travel, I often check the website Chowhound for restaurant recommendations in a particular area.  A Piedmont restaurant forum was particularly useful, and I was intrigued by the  contibutor opinions about two restaurants near La Morra.  As I was just down the road from them I decided to give both a try on two gloriously beautiful days.

The first was L'Osteria del Vignaiolo in tiny Santa Maria where I arrived without a reservation; although it was fully booked inside, I was shown to a prime table on the small sunny terrace.  They immediately brought a bowl of water for Bosco and let me peruse the menu.

The 32 euro 5-course tasting menu was tempting but my Italian was not up to deciphering so I asked the English speaking waitress to help me out.  She kindly picked out her favorites and I was couldn't have been happier with her choices: a brandade starter, stuffed saddle of rabbit, roasted quail in a parmesan, pasta with pork ragu, roast lamb shoulder, and semi freddo with chocolate sauce.




It truly was a wonderful afternoon with great food, great service, and great ambience.

I wish I could say I had a similar experience two days later and a few kilometers away at the Osteria Veglio.   When I arrived, I was told the restaurant was fully booked and that I had no reservation. I begged to differ but the woman said she takes all reservations and there was no table for me. I made her call my hotel and they confirmed that they had made a reservation for me... It was only then she actually asked my name, and indeed i had a table reserved...for two instead of one. (whether it was her fault or the hotel's fault I'm not sure.) Still, the welcome was cold, there was no attempt at accommodation, and definitely no apology. I stayed but didn't really feel like eating my pasta with porcini mushrooms. By the time I left an hour and a half later, there were still 8 empty tables.   I won't be back.

October in Piedmont

It's always risky traveling at the end of October.  While you may benefit from off-season prices and fewer fellow tourists,  there is always the problem that the weather may turn for the worse....cold, rainy, and, yes, even snowy.  I actually did have two rainy days on my trip but the rest were gloriously sunny and warm, and I could not resist driving in the hills of the Langhe region to get these views.