Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 14 October 2015

Final Destination – Shanghai

Margaret River & Beyond

Shanghai is the third largest city in China; 24 million people live in this busy metropolis. Considered the most modern city in China it has had western influences for centuries. The Bund area along the river was the area for foreign merchants and bankers, particularly the British. It is still a prominent financial district however over the past 20 years the other side of the river has seen all the new high rise developments.

The view from the river at night is absolutely amazing; lights highlight the skyscrapers with many of them constantly changing colour and themes.

Our only day of rain was our last day in Shanghai so unfortunately photo opportunities were limited.

We had the opportunity to ride the Maglev, Shanghai’s magnetic levitation train that travels at top speed of 431 km/hr which it reaches in only a couple of minutes. I think it is the fastest in…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 13 October 2015

Hangzhou

Margaret River & Beyond

Hangzhou is in southern China and is very popular with wealthy Chinese. Given the mild climate and beautiful scenery in this area many of them have luxury homes and apartments around the West Lake. Hangzhou also attracts about 20 million visitors per year to see its sights – mostly Chinese but it is also on the international tourist trail. With a population of 8 million the city freeway system is just as impressive as the larger cities.

We strolled along the lake side promenades and also took a cruise in a traditional boat to enjoy the views from the lake.

Another highlight of our trip was to attend ‘Impression West Lake’ – a theatrical production staged on the lake. The director produced the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics so the standard was right up there. With the stage set 2 inches below the water level it gave…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 12 October 2015

Suzhou

Margaret River & Beyond

Suzhou – known as the ‘Venice of the East’ – is built on a series of man made canals that link to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is also a man made river that flows from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River. The oldest parts of the canal date back to the 5th century and were finally completed during the Sui dynasty (581–618 AD). The length of the Grand Canal is 1,776 km and it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After a canal cruise we walked through the local market for a look at the produce on sale. Not sure about the meat and seafood (no refrigeration) but the fruit and vegetables looked OK. The crowded street, sights and smells were memorable.

We then visited the Master of the Nets Garden which was first constructed in…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 11 October 2015

Longji and Guilin

Margaret River & Beyond

We flew into Guilin and travelled north to the mountainous rice fields in the Longji region. The drive up the mountain was remarkably dangerous in a bus travelling around hairpin bends and very narrow roads at high speed – we were amazed it would go so fast uphill.

From the bus drop off point near the top we then had to hike the rest of the way up the mountain to our hotel in Ping An – very puffed by the time we arrived but the views made it all worth while. The little village sits at an elevation of about 800 mtrs. The mountains are covered in rice fields for as far as the eye can see; it has been grown in the region for centuries. At the moment the fields are still green and the rice heads are filling out. Although a little humid up in the mountains…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 10 October 2015

Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors

Margaret River & Beyond

Travelling south to Xi’an via bullet train we passed many very large cities and large areas of food production. With China having approximately 1.4 billion people to feed, farming of every sort is huge and crops of fruit and vegetables are grown on every spare peice of land in the countryside.

The cities are developing at a huge rate; with many people being moved off the land into city apartments as their small farms are being bought up by large corporations. Having said that, we saw hundreds of high rise developments that are unfinished. Given that China still has a restricted child policy it seems unimaginable that these developements will be filled for years to come.

Xi’an was the first capital of the united China (before Peking) and the largest city in the world at that time and the start of the Silk Road. Today it has a population of…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 9 October 2015

Beijing and the Great Wall of China

Margaret River & Beyond

We have recently returned from a 13 day tour of China which we thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately due to China’s ban on external social media, we were unable to use Facebook, Google or WordPress which I use to publish this blog. We were however able to use our email so could keep in touch with family.

We flew into Beijing at night and were amazed at how huge this city is – current population is nearly 24 million and growing. This photo is just a small part of the city.

The weather was perfect. Clear skies and about 28 deg. C. There had been a thunderstorm the previous night and as a result the smog cleared for a couple of days.

Our first tour stop was to Tiananmen Square and as the tourist season has started we were two of the expected 70,000 (yes that is right) visitors for the day…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 11 May 2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 5

Margaret River & Beyond

Everywhere you travel in Italy there are cyclists on the road – it is a very popular sport.

This years Giro d’Italia, Italy’s national cycling road race, will be travelling through Ponte a Serraglio in Bagni di Lucca, the village we lived in during our stay in Italy. The cyclists will be racing directly past Villa Isabella and then turning right at the piazza and over the little bridge past our friend Debra’s balcony. Keep you eye out for her – she will be waving the Australian flag to say hello to us.

The stage starts in La Spezia over on the coast and finishes in Abetone – a ski resort in the Apennine Mountains, about 40 km from Ponte a Serraglio.

Giro d’Italia is to Italians what Tour de France is to the French and the spectators are just as passionate.

The tour is being televised on Foxtel Eurosport…

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 23 April 2014

Guest Blog

I was recently invited to submit a guest post on the Retirement and Good Living site highlighting our extended holiday in France and Italy.

If you would like to have a look here is the link.

http://retirementandgoodliving.com/retirement-is-great/

Autumn has arrived in Margaret River and we have had some rain so the paddocks are looking quite green already. The temperature has started to drop down to the low 20 deg C during the day and overnight getting down to about 10 deg C.

There is so much to do and see in this beautiful area I am looking forward to showing you it in upcoming blogs on the Margaret River & Beyond site. Click here if you would like to go to this site and enter your email address to follow.

Enjoy!

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 23 November 2013

Milan – what a great last day

Although it was a little gloomy and the temperature hoovered around 6 deg for most of the day – it didn’t rain for our last day in Italy. Milan, the city of world fashion, was lovely to see.

We were absolutely amazed at how large the Duomo is. It is the third largest cathedral in the world with a capacity to seat 40,000 people. Construction began in 1386 and took five centuries to complete. No wonder as it is huge.

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In the piazza outside the Duomo we were lucky to see this medieval festival with period costumes, flag throwing and accompanying music. It was very impressive.

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The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is a beautiful building and houses many of the high end shops.

We had lunch in the La Rinascente shopping centre. Pizza and salad…pretty much italian.

Here is the perfect girls chocolate gift – shoes and handbags made of chocolate.

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The Castello Sforzesco was built in 1368 as a fortress and today it is a museum and culture centre hosting art exhibitions and various other displays.

We walked Via Dante, Vittorio Emanuele II and Monte Napoleone which are home to all the lovely fashion labels. But rather than show you the winter fashions on display, here are their lovely Christmas displays instead.

Arrivederci…..

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 22 November 2013

Addio ai nostri nuovi amici – Farewell to our new friends

Over the past 6 months we have been very lucky to have met such lovely, warm and generous friends who have all been wonderful to us. It has been worth the trip just to meet you all.

Firstly Debra. Your kindness and generosity in helping us get our permisso di soggiorno organised as well as all those trips to Lucca to the Questura is greatly appreciated. I honestly don’t think we would have managed without you. Thankyou.

We have absolutely loved spending time with you here, up at Vergemoli and on our many outings together. We were lucky enough to meet Jim when he was here in March and are already looking forward to seeing you again soon. My tears flowed all the way to Lucca after our farewell this morning …. but I know we will say in touch.

Our wonderful friend Cherry has fed and watered us on many occasions up at their gorgeous house (I never did get used to walking up that hill). Thank you for your friendship – we have really enjoyed spending time with you and Aldo and of course Ethan when he was here. We will never forget the wonderful meals we shared and that gluttonous evening when we went out for dinner.

Carla & Agostino are at Il Monaco every morning for coffee and a pastry (Sunday is the exception – Agostino has two). It has been so lovely to meet you both and we are grateful for your kindness. Jim enjoyed a walking day with Agostino and we have had several lovely meals up a Vico Pancellorum together. We will meet again soon.

Maria & Raphael have spent many years living in Australia and we have loved hearing all your travel stories and sharing your great knowledge of Italy. We had a wonderful lunch at your house and we have very much enjoyed sharing a morning coffee with you both. See you on our next trip.

Wendy and her little puppy Margo are always out and about walking. It was wonderful meeting you Wendy and thank you for the lovely dinner on the tower – such a great location. Good luck with the move back to the UK and know everything will fall in to place over the coming months.

Libby & Bernie have a house in Lucca and often come out to Ponte a Serraglio for a coffee in the morning to catch up with everyone. Great to meet you both – thanks for dinner and your farewell party. We look forward to catching up with you both in the new year in Sydney.

Rosi & Adriano spend the summer here and Rosi has a horse riding business in Lucca. They are regularly at morning coffee and we have really enjoyed our time with them.

It was so great to meet you Paul & Karen when you were here on holidays. We really enjoyed your company and sharing a bottle or two with you both. We are coming to Sydney in Feb/Mar – stock up guys!

Gary & Pauline were here for a couple of weeks and we loved our time together. Dinner up at Circolo on a lovely summer’s night – what more could you want!

The Perth Girls, Judi, Jan, Geri & June, who were here for a week. Lovely to meet you all and hopefully we will catch up on our return to WA.

Paul is another morning coffee friend and he was around for a couple of months over summer and is coming back soon with his wife. We look forward to seeing you in Perth soon and will tell you all the news from the village then.

Chris and his dog Luna are also regular coffee goers. Once he has his morning coffee Chris heads off to Castelnuovo to continue work on his restoration project.

And finally Moe (Maureen) from Glasgow. Moe is an artist and is here for about 6 weeks. Great to have spent some time with you over the past couple of weeks and thank you for the painting – we love it.

And here they are – our new friends from Ponte a Serraglio.

Debra at the entrance to their house up at Vergemoli

Debra at the entrance to their house up at Vergemoli

Gary & Pauline with us having dinner at Circolo dei Forestieri

Gary & Pauline with us having dinner at Circolo dei Forestieri

Karen, myself, Debra & Cherry up at Cherry's for lunch

Karen, myself, Debra & Cherry up at Cherry’s for lunch

Aldo

Aldo

Wendy at an art festival evening

Wendy at an art festival evening

Cherry with Adriano at one of the art festival evenings

Cherry with Adriano at one of the art festival evenings

Agostino & Carla outside their studio

Agostino & Carla outside their studio

Dinner on Wendy's tower

Dinner on Wendy’s tower

Margo

Margo

Cherry and Jim up at San Cassiano

Cherry and Jim up at San Cassiano

Paul, Cherry, Jim, Audrey,  Romy & Karen having a BBQ up at Cherry & Ethan's

Paul, Cherry, Jim, Audrey, Romy & Karen having a BBQ up at Cherry & Ethan’s

Karen with lovely blue accessory after a swim

Karen with lovely blue accessory after a swim

Paul on clean-up duty

Paul on clean-up duty

Cherry & myself enjoying lunch in Chianti

Cherry & myself enjoying lunch in Chianti

Agostino explaining the intricacies of his sundial to Jim

Agostino explaining the intricacies of his sundial to Jim

Rafael & Maria outside their house

Rafael & Maria outside their house

Myself, Rosi & Cherry at coffee

Myself, Rosi & Cherry at coffee

Adriano, Ethan & Jim at coffee

Adriano, Ethan & Jim at coffee

Jim & Agostino after their walking day

Jim & Agostino after their walking day

Cherry & Jim at the river

Cherry & Jim at the river

Sandra (Debra's sister), Jim & Debra in Pitigliano

Sandra (Debra’s sister), Jim & Debra in Pitigliano

Cherry's farewell dinner

Cherry’s farewell dinner

Jim, Carla, Agostino, Debra and myself at morning coffee

Jim, Carla, Agostino, Debra and myself at morning coffee

Aldo

Aldo

A day out with the Perth Girls - Judi, Geri, Jim Sandra, Debra, Jan & June

A day out with the Perth Girls – Judi, Geri, Jim Sandra, Debra, Jan & June

Us with Moe

Us with Moe

Debra kindly invited us to dinner last night and cooked us this amazing meal. Wendy shared a bottle of 1966 Pomerol Bordeaux which she had been saving and it was surprisingly still good even though the cork had started to deteriorate. Thanks Deb.

Wendy, Moe & Debra

Wendy, Moe & Debra


Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 21 November 2013

A white winter farewell

What an amazing last day. We woke to a very cold morning and quite heavy rain. The village looked gloomy.

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As we heading off for coffee it suddenly cleared for a short time and the village looked absolutely lovely in the chilly morning air.

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These three lovely ladies go for coffee every morning and always say hello to us and I finally have their photo. We haven’t really been able to have a conversation and have enjoyed greeting them each day.

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But the highlight of the day was a call from Debra saying it had been snowing up at Montefegatesi (842 metres) and would be like to drive up and see. Her car has snow tyres on and so she offered to drive. Leaving here the temp was only 6 deg and on arrival up at Montefegatesi it was down to 0 deg. Pretty chilly so it was out with the beenies and brollies and this is the fabulous scene that awaited us.

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Thanks Deb. The perfect end to a perfect holiday.

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 21 November 2013

Handsome Italian men

As promised, here is a look at some handsome Italian men – something to please everyone I hope. A couple are my photos and the rest are Debra’s….she has been here for a lot longer than me.

The younger men are very handsome and dapper.

This first lovely fellow is Bardhi.

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Meet Paolo.

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And this is Luis.

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Here are some more.

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The older are more rugged or sophisticated.

This first fellow was happy for pose for the moustache photo.

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These two like to dress up.

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This gorgeous guy is perfect….he irons.

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And my two favourites.

Firstly our handsome friend Rafael.

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And whilst not strictly Italian, here is our great friend Agostino modelling Debra’s sunglasses.

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But not to disappoint the blokes…here are a couple of lovely looking chics for you.

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Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 19 November 2013

The local food is excellent – Part 3

A final look at local restaurants all of which have been of a very good standard. No disappointments.

Del Sonna up at La Villa is very popular and sometimes has a permit to close the street and use it for dining. The traffic through the village is diverted onto a side street making a pedestrian area for about 150 metres. Meals are always good here.

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We regularly go over to the coast to Forte dei Marmi and on this occasion we lunched at Il Fortino. The seafood was excellent especially my ‘seafood soup’.

Da Bruno here in Ponte a Serraglio has truffles as their speciality. The meals are very nice but unfortunately no photos.

Vico Pancellorum has a lovely restaurant called La Bucca di Baldabo which is 18km away. It has become a bit of a favourite and is where we are having our farewell dinner.

Osteria Il Buon Gustaio up at La Villa is very well appointed and well worth a lunch. The €10 ‘Pranzo’ was a hit.

Il Biribisso up in Granaiola does a great BBQ night. Meats are cooked in the outdoor grill and all reports are that it is very good. We dined up there over the summer but I forgot the camera so no photos. I do remember the desserts were fabulous.

This lovely osteria is Al Barchetto on a small fishing lake up near Gallicano where we had a great ‘Pranzo’ for €10 each. Very nice setting and a great place for lunch or dinner.

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 18 November 2013

From our Italian cucina

We have been trying some lovely italian recipes at home in our kitchen and thought you might like to see some of them. They are all delicious and well worth a try.

Borlotti Beans with Pasta (Fagioli Borlotti con Pasta)

Borlotti beans are popular here when in season. Their colouring is so lovely; it is such a shame that they don’t look that great when they are cooked. Thanks for the recipe Debra.

500 gm fresh borlotti beans (or tinned or dried beans)
1 carrot, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can tomatoes
250 gm small pasta tubes

Peel and cook the fresh beans in boiling water until just tender.

Saute the onion, carrot, celery in a little olive oil for a few minutes, season with salt and pepper. Add stock, tomatoes, beans and pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente.

Serve with grated parmesan and bread.

As an alternative, you can add extra liquid and serve as a hearty soup which is also very good.

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Tomato Sauce for Pasta Dishes (Salsa di Pomodoro per la Pasta)

With so many beautiful ripe fresh tomatoes available here making your own tomato sauce is easy. These beauties came from Cherry’s garden. You will need:

1 kg ripe tomatoes diced – a variety is best including cherry tomatoes
1 glove of garlic, crushed or finely diced
8 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch of fresh basil, chopped

In a saucepan heat 4 tablespoons olive oil then add tomatoes and garlic and simmer, stirring frequently, until well cooked until sauce has thickened and the flavour has intensified. Add the basil and remaining oil and simmer for a further 2-3 mintues.

Serve with freshly cooked pasta topped with parmigiano.

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Eggplant Bake (Melanzanna Forno)

Whether baked or grilled eggplant is a great accompaniment to any main. We had it with a salad for lunch. Yum! The eggplant is also from Cherry’s garden and the tomato sauce is the recipe above.

3 medium eggplants
1 tablespoon sea salt
3 large eggs, whisked
1 teaspoon salt
plain flour, for coating eggplant
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
freshly ground pepper
½ cup vegetable oil, or as needed
½ cup olive oil, or as needed
Home made tomato sauce
2 cups Parmigiano, grated
Mozzarella cut into slices 1/3-inch thick
12 fresh basil leaves
Lemon for baking

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Trim and peel eggplants in strips, leaving about half the peel intact. Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices,drain thoroughly and pat dry. Use flat containers for whisked eggs and salt, the flour and breadcrumbs. Dip the eggplant slices in flour, shaking off the excess, then the egg and coat in the breadcrumbs.

Pour half of the oils into a pan and heat over med-high heat until it sizzles when crumbs are added. Fry the eggplant slices in batches, turning once, until well browned on both sides, about 6 minutes. Add more oil as necessary. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Heat the tomato sauce to simmering in a small saucepan. Ladle enough sauce into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with grated cheese and top with a layer of fried eggplant, tear a few leaves of basil. Continue layering in this order ending with a top layer of cheese. Top with mozzarella. Cover the baking dish loosely with aluminium foil and poke several holes in the foil with the tip of a knife. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the top layer of cheese is golden in spots, about 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

Serve with the juice of a baked lemon for additional flavour.

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Pasta with Pistachio Sauce and Prawns
(Paccheri con Crema di Pistacchi e Gamberi)

This is a very quick and easy pasta to prepare. Unfortunately our little blender did not have the strength to whizz everything into a smooth paste, nevertheless it did taste great.

500 gm mezze maniche pasta
300 gm pistachios
100 gm almonds
1 cup Extra virgin olive oil
400 gm prawn tails
Parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup warm vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Purée the pistachios, garlic, parsley, olive oil and the warm vegetable stock.

Sauté the prawns in a little oil, add the cooked pasta and the sauce, mix and serve with freshly ground black pepper.

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Fig & Gorgonzola Salad (Fico & Gorganzola Insalata)

Figs in season are a delight for the taste buds. These lovely figs were given to us by Agostino & Carla from their garden up on the hill.

This one is very simple. All you need is figs, gorganzola and lettuce leaves arranged on a plate. I used a thick balsamic glaze as the dressing and it was delicious.

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Quince Paste (Mele Cotogne Colla)

In October Cherry & Ethan’s quince tree was ladened with quinces so Debra and I decided to make quince paste. What a long process it turned out to be but the results were fantastic.

2 kg quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod, split
2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount will be determined during cooking

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender (30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince. Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that’s how much sugar you will need. So if you have 4 cups of purée, you’ll need 4 cups of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-low. Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink colour. Take care as it becomes a molten, bubbling, spitting mixture.

Preheat oven to a low 125°F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about an hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in plastic wrap in the fridge.

To serve, cut into squares or wedges and present with a good blue cheese.

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Fennel & Parmesan Bake (Finocchio & Parmesan Forno)

Fennel is a very popular vegetable here and this is how we like it the most. Just as a baked vege is also delicious.

2 medium bulbs fennel, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano

Heat the oven to 200°C.

Cut each fennel bulb in half through its core; cut the halves into 2 or 3 wedges each. Snuggle the wedges, cut side up, in a baking dish. Pour the stock into the dish. Drizzle the oil over the wedges and season them with salt and pepper.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle the wedges with the Parmigiano.

Continue baking uncovered until the fennel is tender and the cheese is browned, another 30 to 45 minutes.

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We have found dining out to be relatively inexpensive here and have tried a variety of restaurants and dishes. We will continue to experiment on our return – especially making our own pasta.

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 17 November 2013

Our final Sunday Drive

Our trip today was to explore Passo delle Radici the highest pass of the Apennines between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna at 1529 metres above sea level. On the way up we passed through chestnut and birch forests. The chestnut trees are only just holding on to their yellowing leaves but the birch trees are almost bare.

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At the peak the views were lovely even on an overcast day with low cloud hanging in the valley. The temperature was only 8 deg but fortunately there was no wind so it wasn’t too bad.

On the return trip we stopped at the little village of San Pellegrino in Alpe which sits just below the peak of the Apennines and overlooks the Serchio Valley. It has a couple of restaurants, the church which dates back to 1110 and houses a twelfth century marble urn that holds the remains of Saints San Pellegrino and Bianco, and several snow ploughs were parked in the street ready for the ski season and to keep the pass open.

The views from the village were a bit clearer.

On the way back down the mountain there were small plots of land that had been cleared for farming.

Back down and it was off to lunch at ‘al Laghetto Ristorante‘ near Fabbriche di Vallico. Sunday lunch is a popular meal for Italians to eat out and today was no exception. We started with the very best bruschetta ever, followed by tortelloni which is a large pasta filled with spinach and ricotta and topped with a ragu and bechamel. Our main course was a mixed grill of chicken, sausage, steak and excellent pork ribs served with grilled vege and whole roast potatoes. A type of fruit cake was served for dessert. Needless to say we have rolled home and will not be having any dinner tonight.

The ristorante is on the Turrite Cava stream which feeds in to the Serchio River. They are still cleaning up after the big storm we had a few weeks ago – landslides on either side of the building and the branches and debris from the flooding. Fortunately the little bridge only suffered minor damage.

So glad we did this drive today. Would love to see it after a snowfall….

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 16 November 2013

Meet Luciano Volpi

On Friday we visited Lago di Pentecosi which is a small lake used for hydro electricity to the north of Castelnuovo in the Garfagnana. It is a very pretty drive up along the Serchio River passing through quite a few villages. The lake is 321 metres above sea level and has a population of about 250 people.

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Arriving at the lake we went for a walk along the path…only to come to a dead end. It would have been lovely to be able to walk all the way around but nevertheless it was very nice and so quite and peaceful. The lake has an abundance of blue heron plus many other water birds and the area has now been made a UNSECO site of natural interest.

On returning to the car park we were greeted by Luciano Volpi and his 4 yr old grandson Nicholi who was out to feed the ducks and geese.

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Luciano had heard us talking and recognised our accent as Australian so came over and introduced himself. He is now retired but worked for Dunlop Tyres in many locations across Italy, Switzerland and Australia – Hobart for 1 year and Melbourne for 2 years. It has been 26 years since he worked in Australia but he has returned three times on holidays to visit friends. He also has friends in Perth and said many families from the area had relocated to Perth over the years. Luciano was born in the village and built his own home here. It is the pale pink one on the right.

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He went on to say that he and two mates had built this community area on the banks of the lake. A few years ago the village hosted a long table dinner for 1,200 guests from all over Italy. Tables were set along the park and across the car park. That would have been amazing to see.

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He was very friendly and wants to continue speaking English so that he doesn’t forget the language. Luciano did have an odd request – on our return to Perth he would like us to send him a postcard – which of course we will do!

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 15 November 2013

Some of natures best

The beautiful autumn here in Italy is in full colour at the moment. It is just georgeous!

This white magnolia has amazing seed pods.

I just love this shrub – I think it is a Phytolacca Americana. It has bright pink stems and the flowers/seeds range from green to pinkish/purple. It is growing in our back laneway.

Yellow flowers are a favourite.

I don’t think any of these are edible.

Bees have been busy all year.

These lovely little flowers were so sweet.

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 14 November 2013

Volterra – an Etruscan village

Anyone who owns a navigation device will understand the experience we had today. Setting our course for Volterra we headed off without incident, with Debra and Maureen, until the bridge over the Arno river was closed for repairs. Usually our planned trip would take about 2 hours, but the confusion of a closed road extended our trip by half and hour at least – although we were not complaining as we saw some magnificent farming countryside along the way.

The hill top village of Volterra dates back to Etruscan times, over 3,000 years ago. Amazing! It is 531 metres high and even on a overcast and hazy day the views were great.

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The village has many lovely buildings.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was rebuilt around 1120. It was enlarged in the 13th century after an earthquake. This notable wood Deposition dates back to 1228 and there are paintings and fresco’s from the 14th century.

The history of the Roman Theatre, which was excavated in the 1950’s is from the 1st century BC.

The trees in the park are changing colour.

But as usual, the most important part of the day was lunch. We dined at Ristorante Del Duca. The food and wine were very nice. We shared two starters – Wild boar ham with spicy Tuscan cheese fondue and a Fois gras Terrine with figs and orange caramel. The mains were Fillet steak with a Chianti port sauce and almonds served with roasted vegetables; Roasted suckling pig with grilled white beans and Leg of rabbit in Vernaccia sauce with Taggiasche olives and capers. The lovely little coffee cups served espresso.

And here he is – picture perfect!

This will probably be our last sightseeing day away from the area. We leave here on 22nd November and will arrive back into Perth on 25th. The past 8 1/2 months have been such an amazing adventure!

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 13 November 2013

Florence has many hidden secrets!

It doesn’t matter how many times you go to Florence you always experience or find something new. On this trip with Debra we discovered Cafe Giacosa, the museum of Palazzo Davanzati, the 400 year pharmacy Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and the central food market of San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale.

Arriving by bus from Lucca to Florence at morning tea time we walked the short distance to fashion designer Roberto Cavalli’s lovely Cafe Giacosa at Via della Spada. It was really nice and surprisingly the prices are very reasonable if you sit inside and order at the counter yourself. Should you however wish to sit outside and be waited on the price is considerably more expensive. Inside is lovely.

The museum of Palazzo Davanzati is in Via Porta Rossa. The Palace was built by the Davizzi family around the mid-14th century. A complete restoration has taken place and it is now open to the public. The painted walls are amazing and the museum also has an wonderful collection of handmade laces from the 16th century onwards and this alone is well worth the €2 entry fee. If you are visiting make sure you open the drawers in the cabinets to see the full display of lace.

Unfortunately they now don’t allow photographs to be taken but when Debra first visited they did so if you are interested in seeing her photos click here.

Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is at Via della Scala. In 1221 Dominican friars established the pharmacy using medicinal herbs grown in the monastic gardens to make medications, balms and pomades for the monks’ infirmary. When news of the quality of the products they produced at the pharmacy reached the outside world, it was decided to open to the public and in 1612 the Old Apothecary was used for the sale and display of products. And it continues today.

The San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale is a fabulous market right in the centre of Florence in Via Ariento. It sells everything from tripe to truffles. The experience of wandering through these large markets is great. As you can see it is very vibrant and the produce looks so mouthwatering (except the tripe and pigs ears that is!) We had lunch of sausage and beans at Nerbone who have been operating in the markets since 1872.

There were hams and small goods of every variety.

Fresh meat and poultry – here is the tripe,pig ears and trotters.

The seafood looked good.

There were many dried goods including pasta, nuts and fruits.

Fresh fruit and veges and olives.

No self respecting market would be without fresh truffles or puccini when they are in season.

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Cheese…now there is our downfall.

As is the bread and sweets.

And what is a visit to Florence without a quick stroll past the Duomo and over the Ponte Vecchio.

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We look forward to returning to Florence again in the future to discover more of its secrets.

Posted by: Kerry & Jim | 11 November 2013

The seasons first dusting of snow

We joined Debra on a trip to Vergemoli today for lunch and a quick check on their house up there. Arriving in Vergemoli we noticed just a very light fall of snow on the mountains in the distance.

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Casa Debbio looked great as usual and Debra, Maureen and Jim are about to enjoy lunch on the terrace. It was a little windy and very cold up in the mountains, probably only 10 deg or so. Vergemoli is 620 metres high – the views are amazing.

On the way home we were excited to see the first snowfall for the season on the Apuan Alps. Such a lovely sight and the cloud formations added to the beauty.

And to top it all off we had a lovely sunset here as well.

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