Sunday, December 28, 2014

Australia & New Zealand - Take Two

Aspen, Colorado

Yes, this is a new entry.  Yes, I know I was in Australia and New Zealand about this same time last year.  And yes.  I'm going back.

Last summer, my dear friend, Gail, said to me, "Julie, we should go on a trip somewhere."  To which I responded.  "That would be great!  Where do you want to go?"  

Gail said, "We have a trip to Australia and New Zealand coming up in December.  You want to go."  

"I was just there in February, (same breath) OK! I'm in.  Let's go." 

So that's why I find myself on my way back down under.  Although the trip is similar, cruising New Zealand on a ship will be quite different in a couple of ways.  One, we will be playing golf at each stop along the way in New Zealand.  And two, I'm traveling with some wonderful friends from San Antonio, Gail and Bruce, along with a group of their friends from the Vintage Club in Palm Springs.  AND, I have a different friend along this year.  I'll miss Stevie, but my friend, Jess has joined me for this trip.  I'm so excited about making new friends and going back to two beautiful countries for round two.

Our trip started off a little shaky.  We were scheduled to leave Aspen yesterday, the 27th on a United Airlines flight at 7:00 a.m., getting us to Los Angeles around 8:30 a.m., allowing plenty of time to stop by my house, check on a few things and get back to LAX for our international connection at 5:15 p.m.  I was very optimistic when I awoke to sunny skies.  Aspen is often not the most dependable airport for departures, and even though the skies were crystal clear, the sun was shining brightly and there were NO winds, our flight was delayed.  Not a huge deal, because check in for our international flight was hours away, 3:15, so as long as the flight got off the ground by noon, we would still be good to go.  The airport was filling with people.  Every seat in the terminal was full.  It was standing room only ... and not much of that!   Flight after flight popped up on the marquee "CANCELLED."  Tempers were flaring.  But I was standing patiently waiting for our incoming aircraft to arrive.  More people crowded into the already packed terminal.  Offers of $1000.00 were being announced to travelers willing to give up their seats and travel at a later time, due to over selling.  Despite the fact that we were closing in on our "drop dead" time to make our international connection, I still stood by even tempered and composed, occasionally checking my watch to see if we were still in the ball park to make it.  Then it happened.  Out of nowhere ...  flight number 5173 to Los Angeles CANCELLED.   All other flights to Los Angeles that day were booked and we didn't have a prayer of getting out of Aspen on the 27th!  Needless to say, my serene, unruffled attitude changed slightly.  But I quickly phoned American Express and got our international flight changed and went back to the house to a wonderful "gift" of an extra day in Aspen with Jacqueline and Jefferson.  

So today, it is snowing.  I dropped Jacqueline at the airport for her 7:00 a.m. flight.  Already the marquee showed flight delays.  I suspect we would not have gotten out of Aspen today either, but "cool, calm and collected, Julie" has no fear.  Because today ... I am flying on Scruffy's plane to Los Angeles.  Public transportation failed me and cost us one day of our Australian vacation.  Today  would likely be another disaster.  FlexJet is a much more civilized way to travel.  We should arrive in Los Angeles in time to go by the house for a while.  Then tonight, we'll board our Air New Zealand flight to Auckland and then on to Sydney.  A day late, but who cares.  We loose a day going there and I was so confused last year, that I didn't know what day it was for the first week.  As long as I'm there to see the fireworks over they Sydney Opera House, well, that'll be just fine.

... Later the same day

We've arrived at LAX only to be told that our Air New Zealand Flight has been cancelled.  Here we go again.  Public Transportation at it's best.  However, they put us on a Qantas flight non-stop to Sydney, so that's a good thing.  We'll arrive much earlier and not have a 5 hour layover in Auckland.  So it seems this one worked in my favor.  I'll keep you posted as events unfurl.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cortona, Italy - Wrap Up

Having been home from Italy for a week, I've had time to unpack my bags, catch my breath, work through the jet lag of waking up every morning at 4:00 a.m. and finally to reflect on this fabulous trip.    

Stevie, you did not miss a trick.  As we say in the car business ... you checked ALL the boxes.  I don't think we could have worked another activity into the itinerary.  We wouldn't have wanted to.  Everything was perfect.  From the museums, basilicas, wineries, painting and cooking classes, everything was so well planned and could not have been more fun.  Not only did you plan a fabulous trip, but you invited wonderful people!  It was such fun spending time with you, Mary Ann, Jean Marie and Jan.  We are now Lucy sisters forever!!  

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  

Where will our next adventure lead us??

All 1254 photos from our trip could not be included in this blog, but these certainly deserve honorable mention and hopefully, they'll bring a smile to our faces.  

 Stevie Relaxing Poolside at Villa Santa Maria

David.  Need I say more?

Stefanel.  Stevie's new store.  Cross between Stephanie and Chanel.

Just too cute!!  

Jean-Marie Buying Gloves at Ponte Vecchio

Another "Selfie Stick" photo.

Mary Ann distributes Toilet Paper to everyone.

The church within a church in Assisi.

Love you, Jannie!!


Now you see the lobster.  When lunch comes ... no lobster. 

Toasting with potatoes.  SO GOOD!

Thank you for the scarves, Jean-Marie.

Had to buy something to use the facilities.

Chef Mary Ann

Chef Stevie

Chef Jean-Marie

Chef Jan

Chef (Ha!) Julie

YAY!  Cook time is over.  Kitchen "selfie"

Lucy Stevie and Lucy Julie

The Lucys bundled up for the cool weather


Grape Wagon Ride

Stomping Grapes

Yup!  We really used our FEET.  This is bound to be a good vintage!

Lucy Mary Ann and Lucy Jan

Lucy Jean-Marie and Lucy Stevie

Lucy Stevie Wants More Wine.

Lucy Jan

Lucy Mary Ann

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cortona, Italy, October 24 and 25, 2014 - Friday and Saturday

Paintin' and Tastin'

It's our last day in Tuscany and we've got a nice quiet day scheduled at the villa.  Sort of.  Carlo arrived at the house at promptly 9:00 for painting class.  Carlo is a local artist who restores fresco paintings in the churches of Cortona.  He was our chef, Lucia's, best man in her wedding.  Small world here in Cortona.

Our Art Teacher, Carlo, explains the Fresco Process
We're painting fresco today.  Carlo brought all the supplies and we painted our own fresco just as Michael Angelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Except we weren't lying on our backs painting a huge fresco.  However, it did give us a deeper understanding of how difficult Michael Angelo's job was.  Here are our paintings.  
Jean Marie Fresco.  BRAVO!

Mary Ann's Fresco.  Bravo!

Julie's Fresco.  Nice Try.  Don't give up your day job!!

Stevie's Fresco.  Bravo!!

Jan's Fresco.  Bravo!

The Olives are washed

Then ground and sent to the spinner

Our guide, Mario.  Everybody here is either Lucia or Mario
After a full day of painting, we toured an olive mill.  Quite interesting.  We sampled "new" olive oil ... made the previous day, as well as fresh olive oil ... right of the press.  They had very different flavors.  The day old olive oil tasted like the olive oil that we use - only better!  The fresh oil had an almost nutty flavor. 
Bread toasting on an open fire for sampling Olive Oil
The condiments to go with the oils were garlic pods, salt, pepper and tiny red peppers.  The bread for the tasting was grilled in an open fire.  Then we rubbed the garlic pod and red pepper across the toast, added oil, salt and pepper and then enjoyed the flavors.  Yum!

Olive Oil Tasting Room
We got the impression the olive mill hasn't done many tours because the whole family came out to see us.  They were taking as many photos of us as we were of them.  

Our Sommelier checking the oil
We had a special treat, a visit from the olive sommelier who explained the entire process of milling olives.  He clearly loved his work and described the olive oil just as a wine expert would.  He also said the olive oil was good to use on our skin as an oil.  Good bye Yves Saint Laurent at $250.00 for about 4 ounces!  Hello olive oil at $15.00 per liter.  

Lucia's Special Surprise for us.
We returned to Villa Santa Maria to delicious smells coming from the kitchen.  Lucia and Francesco were working on our last meal of  risotto, Rabbit Fritters, and Lava Cake.  

Lucia's Famous "Penis Pops"
Then Lucia surprised us with a bouquet of "Penis Lollipops."  I guess you'd have to know the history of the week to really appreciate the gesture.  Sure made us laugh out loud!!  And it was the perfect ending to the week with the chef at Villa Santa Maria.  

Villa Santa Maria waiting for our driver, Stefano

It is 3:30 a.m. and Stefano has arrived at the villa to take us to the airport.  We are leaving Tuscany today.  We shall miss this area for many reasons.  It's a beautiful area, the people are friendly and accommodating.   But perhaps the most important was the time we had together making such wonderful memories.  
Last view from Villa Santa Maria

Don't know how ... but Stefano got it all in.  
We are now at the airport in Paris.  The flight has been delayed due to technical issues.  Hope they get us up and running soon.

I'll have one more entry after I return to California

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cortona, Italy, October 23, 2014 - Thursday

Stompin and shopin!

Well ... we got up ...

And THEN, we all came downstairs dressed as Lucille Ball of the "I Love Lucy Show" prepared for our grape stomping at the Palazzo Vecchio Vineyard.  

Five Lucy's.  Ready to stomp some grapes.
It was a chilly day with temperatures in the high 40's, so we loaded up in scarves, coats, ponchos, basically anything we could find to keep warm.  

Our driver today, Mario, spoke NO English.  We miss Stefano!!  While leaving the villa, we tried to get him to stop in the driveway for a photo of some old dried grapes still clinging to a grape vine.  I thought it would be a nice juxtaposition photo ... old dried up grapes along side 5 beautiful Lucy's.  We were all shouting for him to stop.  He didn't get it.  Finally, he stopped 1/2 way up the hill, we crawled out of the car and trekked back down the driveway to the grapevine for this amazing photo.  

The Lucy's find a grape vine.
Then we dragged our happy asses back up the hill to put the car back on, I mean crawl into the tiny VW van.  The two tallest of the group, Jean-Marie and I jumped into the very back seat.  It was very cozy to say the least. And we were off to Montepulciano. 

We really had no idea what to expect at the vineyard, so we approached with a mild case of trepidation.  And then ...

Milco and Simone

We were greeted by two musicians, Milco, playing the accordion and Simone, playing a guitar.  The mood changed instantly and the fun began.   Milco and Simone serenaded us with Italian folk songs as we followed them around the villa to the "grape processing area," where buckets of grapes and a wooden wine cask awaited.  The music continued as we took turns in the cask stomping the grapes.  

Lucy Stevie

Lucy Mary Ann

Lucy Jan

Lucy Jean-Marie

All Five Lucy's
Now, if anyone asks me if I have stomped grapes ... I can say, "Why YES!  I have.  In Montalpiciano, Italy.  And I can definitely recommend it!"  What fun.  I was quite surprised at the temperature of the grapes.  They were cold.  Can't find a cold glass of wine here, but the grapes were certainly cold.  
Stomped Grapes Ready for this Year's Vintage
We stomped the heck out of those grapes.  Then the proprietor, Maria Louisa Sbernadori, had a tractor with a wagon filled with grapes waiting.  
"Grape Ride"  More Grapes to Stomp.  
We hopped into the wagon for a "grape ride" (likened to a hay ride in the USA) and rode around the vineyard with our musicians following along, singing songs and laughing with us. 

The Grape Ride Parade
The views of rolling hills embellished with grapevines and olive trees covered the Tuscan Countryside.  Combined with the music, squishy grapes, grape wagon ride, our Lucy costumes and all the laughing and giggling, made for a non-forgettable experience.  

Hot Water to Clean Our Feet After The Stomp.  Priceless!
After we got out of the grape wagon, we found five chairs, five buckets of HOT water, towels and our shoes sitting beside each chair.  Hot water has never felt so glorious!  We soaked all the grape skins and juice from our feet, put on our shoes and were escorted to delightful little tasting room. 
Palazzo Vecchio
The Villa has an interesting history.  Originally built as an  orphanage run by Monks, it later became an agricultural school and is now a vineyard.  So
 incredibly warm and cozy, the tasting room was decorated with items found on the property when the Sbernadori family bought the estate.   
The Palazzo Vecchio Tasting Room
Plows, tools, an old stove, bottles, wine making equipment and furniture were around the room, with more current "country farm villa" accessories throughout.  A stunning candle 
chandelier wrapped with grape vines hung over the long table set with five beautiful place settings waiting for us.  In the center of the table was a centerpiece made of a long strip of iron with iron pegs which held empty, upside down bottles of wine.   Way cool.  I have a friend in Basalt who can probably make one for me.  

Frederica served us a very tasty lunch.  One of the better ones we've had since we've been here.  Started with "Panzanella," a dish very similar to "Pappa."  But this had no tomatoes, rather bread with fresh herbs from the garden.  Delicious!  It is similar to our Thanksgiving stuffing.  
Roasted Pear Dessert
We had a cheese plate next, then meat balls with a red sauce and mashed potatoes followed by a beautiful and tasty dessert of roasted pears, sprinkled with sugar, cloves and cinnamon cooked in a red wine reduction sauce.  Fruit group!!  Now folks ... all of this good food is NOT going to motivate me to cook again, but it may get me to supervise a meal or two.  Any body feel like cooking???  Oh, I forgot to mention that Milco and Simone entertained during lunch with more Italian songs.  

Palazzo Vecchio Coffee Room where we met the artist, Marcus,who designed the wine label.
After lunch, we shed our Lucy costumes, went to the coffee room and started ordering some wines.  I don't even drink red wine, but it's so good here.  I've ordered another two cases.  It should arrive in California in about three weeks.  We are going to have a wine and cheese tasting. Still looking for someone to cook.

Lucy Wigs Get Tossed!

It was difficult to leave the warmth and charm of Palazzo Vecchio.  The people there made us feel so welcome that we felt like dear friends by the end of the day.  This will definitely go down as one of the highlights of this trip.  Stevie, you really out did yourself on this one.  Everyone thought you'd lost your mind (except for me, of course!  You know I love an opportunity to dress up and act like a crazy American!!)  
We left and drove to Montepulciano for a little
shopping fix.  Montepulciano was another typical ancient walled city.  They are starting to look the same now.  But Montepulciano was quite nice.  Very hilly.  Lots of stone on the streets, walls and homes, lots of tile roofs but the one thing missing was grass.  There are no yards in these walled cities.  What would Scruffy do?  

Mary Ann, Jan and Jean-Marie shopped, while Stevie and I found a cheese shop and a bar.  
Pecorino Cheese is stored in Ash.  I'm bringing some home.
The bartender had no cold chardonnay and couldn't grasp the concept of putting ice in the glass of wine.  I finally had to reach across the bar, grab the glasses and show him what to do.  (No, I didn't grab him by the scruff of the neck.  I've mellowed in my old age!)  He totally thinks Americans are nuts!!  

We're back at the villa now.  Lucia and Francesca are in the kitchen cooking.  They're trying to build a fire, since it's really cold outside.    We need a boy scout   The sunset was magnificent.  The day was even better.   We're sitting around talking about the Lucy Day.  Here are a few more fun pics that deserve honorable mention.  More tomorrow.

Mary Ann and Jan squish grapes!!

Jan in Montepulciano 

Yes, they were REAL grapes!

The Five Lucy's Arrive at Palazzo Vecchio Vineyard.  

Yup.  REAL grapes

Heard it through the Grape Vine

Lucy Mary Ann

Lucy Jan

Lucy Jean Marie

Lucy Stevie

Lucy Julie