Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Island Get Away

I think this will most likely be my last post about the "Italian Adventure". What an adventure it has been. We are preparing to leave in just a few days with very mixed emotions - excited to go home and see friends and family, yet sad to leave this wonderful place we have come to know and love.
As I mentioned before I did fit in one last art course, a 2 weeks on portraiture. It was a fantastic course run by Vitaly Shtanko, and incredible realist painter who also teaches at the Florence Academy of Art. His work is stunning and his class was a very interesting mix of the Russian School of Art as well as the Italian Classical approach. I have such respect for portrait painters, to be able to capture someones image so that you can truly see a piece of their soul is no easy feat, and Vitaly does it with such grace. Unfortunately my portraits still look as if the model is made of wax. I learned so much in his course but it will take me months to process it all and years to practice it to the point where I can do the style justice. I plan to start with some self portraits at home before subjugating someone to the difficult task of sitting for a portrait. (it's a lot harder than you'd think)
At the end of the course I was sincerely "workshopped out". My brain can not take in another piece of information until I have time to go home and work through all that I have learned in my own studio. I am exhausted! So I figured the kids and I all deserve a vacation from our vacation! So we headed to Elba Island for 4 days. It is a little gem, a corner of paradise hidden along the Tuscan coast. We hopped the train to the coast and then took a one hour ferryboat arriving in the harbour town of Portoferraio. This is a sleepy little village in the offseason, which is thankfully when we visited!

The town was built in 1540's by Cosimo the 1st Grand Duke of Tuscany. It was built on top of Roman ruins, the town is a medieval fortress built around a natural harbour along craggy cliffs that jut out into crystal clear turquoise water. The town is also famous as being the place of Napoleon's exile in 1814. But for us it was a place to explore beaches, rocky coves, collect stones, chase crabs, go swimming, play in tidal pools and eat ice cream and drink sun-downers over looking the sea. Every day we explored a new beach, and in the early mornings and in the evenings we would wander the narrow streets up and down hills finding great pizza spots and enjoying incredible views. We walked along the harbour watching boats come and go, pirate ships and all!
On the day we left my children had their first serious melt down with huge crocodile tears since we have been in Italy. "We don't want to go!!! We want to live here forever!" Well I felt much the same way, and it was only my adult reservations that prevented my own tears from falling that morning. What a way to end our adventure. So now we begin packing, and saying goodbye to the friends we have made here along the way. But I won't deny in the back of my mind there is a plan brewing... one the entails spending another winter away with my little adventurers, and this time I picture it on a little island in the Mediterranean, painting white cliffs and sparkling seas...

Thanks to all for following our adventures. Your comments along the way have made us feel close to home and brought us encouragement on the cold and rainy days. I hope you were entertained, and perhaps even a little inspired.
Live your dreams!

arrving at Portoferraio...such a cool town!

Beach day 1 

Hanging out on the beach day 1

Beach day 2

Rocky Pools day 3

Pirate ship just passing by.... as they do.

top of the town

pirate ship docked....we got to climb a board.. a very handsome "pirate" invited us aboard...didn't keep us captive though....too bad

beach day 4

Leaving Elba...such a cool place!

Everyone is feeling the love! what a great trip.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Experiencing Italy via your stomach!

Our time here in Italy draws to an end. I have not kept up with writing, life seems to sweep me up in a bubble on constant busy-ness. It seems my holidays are as busy as "normal life". I'm embarrassed to say that my Italian is still abysmal. I get better and better at understanding but remain incapable of stringing together more than three words. An intensive language course is what I needed but I opted to cram in more art courses instead. Over the past few weeks I have completed my third workshop here in Florence, the last one specifically on Portraits in Oils. (I will tell more on this experience later). For now let me concentrate on something outside the arts for a change.
Part of my thinking in coming to Italy for such an extended period of time was to experience the place an culture in more depth than can be achieved in one week on the tourist route. Unfortunately without the language it's very difficult to get to know a place or the people. I wish the days had 34 hours so I could make time for everything. With my lack of Italian I have embarked on other mini-adventures to explore and get to know this city and it's culture a little more. What better way to do that than through food & drink.
(as I have mentioned before this blog does not follow in chronological order)
Let me share some of my favourite cultural experiences through the world of food here - hopefully I don't make any 'food bloggers' cringe in my attempt.

The Chocolate Festival (feb 2014)
At a time when it rained incessantly and we were still adapting to our Florentine home what better way to make the kids and I fall in love with Italy then a festival of chocolate! Row upon row of stalls and tables filled with chocolate treats, sculptures, flowing fountains and every few feet someone handing you a sample of something. Throwing all dental concerns to the wind the kids and I indulged! We had so much fun, sampling, buying, and eating more chocolate then our neighbourhood kids can ingest on easter morning. You really know you have over done it when your chocolate loving kids say "mommy can we please eat just the strawberries without the chocolate sauce?" While the kids loved all the chocolate sculpted items, I can't lie my favourite was the variety of chocolates mixed with alcohol... and what tired dishevelled mom doesn't deserve a shot (or two) of chocolate liquor? The bag of little Sambuca filled chocolate balls was my absolute favourite. The perfect evening snack after the kids fell asleep. It was a sad day when I ate the last one.

Chocolate Liquor....the fact that you can eat the chocolate shooter cup afterwards makes the experience that much better!

Chocolates for the ladies....

Chocolates for the "handy man"

Chocolate mania!!
And really, what chocolate festival is complete without a procession of damsels and men in tights?

Of course if you have men in tights there should be some horn players too....

Might as well add in some "flag throwing" and call it done!
(in all seriousness, we loved this flag throwing demonstration while gorging in sweets)

The Roadside Self Serve Wine Stop
Wandering the little alleyways of Florence on my lunch breaks has led me to all sorts of culinary experiences. One of my favourites being a sandwich bar along a typical narrow street. It caught my attention because when I came upon it the little ally was blocked from people either lined up to get in or those standing around in the street eating their sandwiches and drinking wine. The store itself is nothing more than a tiny hole in the wall, stuffed with fresh bread, bottles of wine, shanks of cured meat hanging from the ceiling and 3 very handsome men behind the counter. People seem to shout out instructions, the handsome sandwich barista men whip up an incredible sandwich about 12"x12"and pass it over the counter. They are always busy, it's always crowded and I admit because of my lack of language I don't know how to ask for something specific. But they always seem to have a few pre-made sandwiches which I can point to. One of the best parts is the self-serve wine bar out on the street. this means you can pour yourself a glass of vino and enjoy while you wait to order your sandwich. Much like restaurants at home you don't pay until you have finished your meal. This means in the tiny doorway there are people lined up to order, the people trying to get out with their sandwich in hand and those trying to get back in to pay. It's chaos, but a relaxed content kind of chaos with people mingling in the street, enjoying their lunch and pigeons everywhere picking up the crumbs.

The self serve counter

House selection

Through the window

A little shop with the same "ambiance" just down the street.

Trieste and Home-made Farm Food
The last week in February we were in Venice with my mother taking in Carnival with all its colour and fanfare. After this we rented a car and headed to the countryside for some respite. We drove to Trieste along the border of Slovenia and on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Here we stayed on an agro-tourism farm just 15 minutes out of town. The Farm has more than 30 horses and it's own vineyard. It is run by a family who has been in the region for generations, they offer riding lessons, make their own wine and cure their own prosciutto. (they also run tours to nearby caves on their property) 
This was one of our favourite spots, quiet and remote and the home-made food was incredible. Fresh hot strudel with coffee waiting for us on the big long wooden table in front of the roaring fire place each morning. I loved it. Every morning we were always greeted with smiles and by 8:30 local gentlemen would begin to arrive for their morning baked sausage roles and glass (or jug) or wine. The wine made on the farm is called Teran and is a typical strong red wine from the region along the Slovenian border. They say it will turn you mouth black if you drink a lot, something to do with the heavy mineral content in the soil or something. I didn't get the entire explanation clearly, nor did I drink enough to find out. But i did enjoy the wine, and loved the fact that is comes out of a spout in the wall.
On the weekends the place was packed wall to wall with locals who come for the fantastic food, meats and wine. The morning we were preparing to leave two road construction guys pulled up in their work vehicle. Purchased some sausage roles and filled their 2 litter plastic water bottle with wine from the faucet and headed back to work on fixing the road... I laughed, and was sure to take the road in the opposite direction as the road crew. 
The Farm House

View from the horse paddy

Filling plastic water bottles with wine for "weary travellers"

We did go on a guided tour of the caves, they were not open that day, but our host was so kind, called up the guide and he happily came over, had a few glasses of wine and then took us to a world underground. 

Sadee prepares for her first spelunking experience.

Kids and I inside a massive cave deep under ground.

Cave ceiling as we head down down down.....

There are so many more stories I could write about the food and wine and adventures they lead to, but I am out of time. I would encourage anyone travelling abroad to do your best to learn the language of where you are, it makes the experience so much more fulfilling, but if you can't or don't have time then I say indulge yourself in the local customs of food and drink it certainly helps one to 'take in' a place.