About Me

3 months ...................................... adventure - explore - challenge

Monday, 30 April 2012

Food, glorious food

It's become a bit of a Holden-Fell tradition these days to partake in a cookery course wherever our travels should take us. We've done Moroccan, Thai and Vietnamese, now for a bit of Italian cuisine. To be precise, 'My Rome Food Tour' was a food tour rather than a cooking class, but highly recommended on Tripadvisor, so not to be missed.

Monday morning after a SMALL breakfast, we leisurely meandered to the Testaccio district, South West of the heart of Rome. We found the local market and wine shop as instructed by our pre-tour pack and watched the locals go by whilst sipping a coffee. No cappuccino after 11am in Italy it's the law!! It's suggested you shouldn't drink milk on a full stomach, hence not with a meal anytime after breakfast. As our fellow foodies joined us,  Kenny our tour guide for the next few hours appeared. 

After some quick introductions, we headed to the Testaccio covered market to meet some local celebrities and try some of their products. We sampled local cheeses such as buffalo mozzarella,  various cured meats and 4 varieties of tomatoes from a possible 50. Rather than choose a type of tomato, Carmelo will ask you what you're cooking and TELL you which types you need!

Cured meat in E Volpetti
Sampling tiramisu at Barberini
Kenny then took us to a slightly more upmarket shop E Volpetti, selling high-end cheeses, meats, chocolates etc. You can pick up a small bottle of 100 years old balsamic vinegar for a modest 1500 Euros. Unfortunately our holiday budget didn't allow us such purchases! Next visit on the tour was the Barberini patisserie where we sampled a cornetto (sweet croissant) and a tiramisu in a white chocolate cup, both would go well with a coffee.

As a breather from the food, we were shown around a local non-catholic cemetery for foreigners. This is the resting place of English poet John Keats, who when diagnosed with tuberculosis was told to seek Mediteranian climates to cure his illness. Alas, it didn't work and he died in 1821 in Italy.

Lunchtime brought us to a mountain, literally. Monte Testaccio is a mountain made of old un-recyclable terracotta pots from those they shipped in to Rome via the river. The broken clay was piled on top of each other year after year. One day a man decided to open a restaurant directly underneath it. People didn't think he would complete such as challenge and so when opening it, he called it Al Velavevodetto, which means "I told you so". For lunch we had three types of pasta washed down with a drop of wine.

After lunch Kenny took us to the old local slaughter house, Roma's old football stadium and to more food. This time we sampled a suppli which consists of rissoto rice in a breadcrumb ball. Italian post-pub fast food. Finally we finished at Giolitti, an ice cream parlour, where we had a lesson on the difference between gelato and ice cream (gelato less air, more natural colours, much nicer). We then tucked into some delicious gelato to round off an amazing food / history tour of Rome and the Testaccio area.

After a quick shower and change, we headed out for dinner full of optimism as we now had a guide to good recommended restaurants courtesy of our food tour. Unfortunately our first choice was not yet open, our second choice was fully booked, so we did what most sensible people do, went to a bar to drink beer. We did however have more luck at our third choice, a quaint bustling local pizzeria. After the last few night's issues, we kept it simple and all went for a pizza and were not dissappointed, phew!!!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Happy Birthday Sir, but we've no chicken! How about an audience with the Pope instead?

Sunday we arose to a birthday!! Happy Birthday Michael aka Sonja's dad. After a hearty breakfast and pressie/card opening session we headed off to the Vatican City. Pre-trip research told us that the Vatican museum was free on the last Sunday of the month. "What luck!!" one would say, "Sonja's meticulous planning" I'd reply!

Vatican guard
A 30 minute stroll (where Michael's famous red cap went missing!) through the quaint Roman backstreets brought us to the magnificent Vatican City or Vatican State City as it's also known. Did you know that it is the smallest independent state in the world by both area (110 acres) and population (just over 800), established in 1929. It is, of course, ruled by the Pope.
View of the front of St.Peter's Basilica

With an average of 20,000 visitors per day, we were expecting havoc. Fortunately our early arrival found a fairly short, orderly queue (only half an hour). To where it went was a mystery but we joined it none-the-less. "It goes to the Basilica" I heard someone mutter. Perfect! Whilst queuing we were entertained by a big screen TV showing pre-recorded footage of the Pope conducting a service inside St.Peter's. Or so we thought......once in the church (via the airport style x-ray machines) we were stunned to find out that the images viewed outside were live and the Pope was in fact conducting the service in front of us. I say "service", the Pope was actually inducting new Cardinals with a number of fascinating rituals. As we jostled past the 'chatty' tourists we finally laid eyes on the Pope albeit from some distance away. I tried to get closer and a security guard said "Mass?" to me. "Yes it certainly is busy" I replied. Wrong answer, as "Yes" would have got me much closer and with a seat too! Besides the surreal view of the Pope, all around us were stunning decorations, carved marble and painted ceilings. To try and describe it's beauty would do it no justice. It was simply breathtaking.

Center stage, the Pope!!!
Inside the magnificent Basilica
We left the Basilica to find the tourists had multiplied on a massive scale, and also realised that a visit to the Vatican Museum was not worth it due to time restrictions (last entry at 12 on Sundays). Personally this was not a big issue apart from the fact that the Sistine Chapel is part of that tour, the official residence of the Pope. Famous for it's painted ceilings by artists including Michelangelo, it would be the only sight of Rome I regret not seeing. Great excuse to return one day though!!!

To escape the crowds, we headed off for something a little more tranquil,  Villa Borghese gardens. Wondering through the landscaped gardens we felt a million miles away from the hustle or Rome. Our relaxation only threatened by passing bikes, roller-bladers and Segways. Having already walked most of Rome, we decided to hire a four-person bike only to be denied as no we had no identification on us. Tip of the day, always have some type of photo ID with you!! Fortunately an inline skating display amused us for the rest of the afternoon with a YouTube famous 74 year old man doing the splits under limbo poles whilst on roller blades!!!!

Our birthday evening consisted of strolling around the Rome streets, a beer in the Piazza Navona and then stumbling across a lovely looking family-run Italian restaurant. I appreciate that Italians enjoy leisurely meals over wine and conversation, but 45 minutes to get even some wine was too much.Yes, despite appearances, our meal was again under par. Receiving under cooked meat and Michael being informed that, yet again, there was no chicken just as the other dishes were being served was all too much. The advice has to be, get as far away from the tourist area as possible when looking for restaurants. Fortunately an ice cream and delightful post-dinner meander saved the evening.

So, not a great birthday meal Michael, but hey, we got you an audience with the Pope, what more do you want????

The birthday boy and Anita share birthday bubbly

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Farticus, Cyclo Collapsicus and Parenticus at the Colosseum

Did you know that that world renowned place, the Colosseum,  is a actually called the Flavian Amphitheatre?  No, neither did we until we embarked on a great guided tour not only cutting out the hour long queue but also gleaning a wealth of bloodthirsty knowledge about this aging and depleted monster of a building.  This entertainment arena was not just used for watching gladiators but beheading and a whole list of entertaining fights starting with small animals and women and then escalating to larger animals such as lions, men and then finally gladiators took the finale.  Unfortunately almost all of the decorative details and marble cladding of this building were "recycled" by Roman builders after it stopped being used and many statues, columns and marble have ended up in the Vatican City.  In fact, I think most of the derelict looking buildings in Rome have lost their glory to the benefit of this Catholic epicentre.
Inside the Flavian ampitheatre
Great view from Palatine Hill
Still, we were left in no doubt about it's original greatness!  Our tour continued around Palatine Hill, the first settlement for Rome's city, at around 10th century BC, but by this time with the scorching sun and hungry tummies our brains and bodies were starting to flag.  We made a quick dash through the Forum and grabbed a porchetta foccacia (a herby, roasted pig sandwich) as we embarked on another LONG walk back to our apartment for a chance to rest before going out in the evening.

Tired after the tour
As we headed out into the balmy warm evening, we found the Trevi Fountain which is set in a little square and filled with people listening to the water tumble over the rocks and the dramatic statue of Neptune and his horses.  At night the fountain is really beautiful with lights illuminating the turquoise waters and highlighting the white marble.  Quite a spectacle!
Onwards, we pushed past the many street stalls displaying handbags, art and much souvenir tat towards the Pantheon.  It's huge columns were lit up dramatically and we peeked though the keyhole of it's giant door, knowing we would come back another day to look inside.  As we headed back towards the Piazza Navona for our aperitivi (pre-dinner drink) we had to restrain Dad from the ice creams and promise him one after dinner.  There is literally a Gelatari in every street!
Pantheon columns
Massive door
Trevi Fountain at night

We had already sussed out a restaurant that promised Mum a delicious artichoke meal with a great bunch of artichokes displayed out front and Dad the "chicken alla romana" he so fancied for a good price.  Perhaps we should have taken the omen of a dodgy restaurant when they gave the four of us a table,  in front of another couple and the unusual drain smell as we sat down.  Dad was slightly put out when they told him they didn't have the chicken on the menu but things went from bad to worse as they informed him that they didn't have his spaghetti bolognese as they were serving the rest of us our meal.  The icing on the cake was when they served  Mum her main course of over micro-waved, chewed up and blackened artichoke on a bed of nothing. We will not be recommending this restaurant on Tripadvisor any time soon!!!!!!!

Oh, I do like a gelati!
The gelati on the way home made up for the lack of chicken a tiny bit.

Friday, 27 April 2012

When in Rome...... get on a bus.

 So we headed to Rome (and to meet my parents) by train, a comfortable two and a half hour journey.  On arrival we found our apartment which was brilliantly positioned between the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain and was central to the city so we could walk to most of the main sites. After dumping our bags off we headed out to get our bearings.  It was a far cry from the peace and tranquility of Cortona; the streets were heaving with tourists, it was warm, noisy and the air was full of fumes but the buzz of being in one of the worlds most ancient and historical cities was amazing.  We cannot actually say we saw the Spanish Steps as there were so many people lining every level, admiring the other tourists and snapping away, but we enjoyed looking at the potted azaeleas cascading down the middle.  Slowly, we made our getaway through all the crowds, only to be hit with more at the Piazza del Popolo.
Great view from the top deck
The double decker open-top tour bus that then pootled around the corner looked like a godsend - to see the city without being jostled along.  With the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces we whizzed past so many fantastic piazzas, churches, domes and shuttered buildings amazed at all the relics left by the varying ages of the Roman empire.
Icon of Rome
Skyline littered with domes.

 Whilst the Colosseum was a marvel of architecture and stature and St Peters Basilica at the Vatican was an iconic image, it was the Il Vittoriano that unexpectedly took our breath away.  Nicknamed "the wedding cake" it is an enormous layered white marble monument built as a tribute to the first King of a united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.  Littered with huge statues and many steps to the top, we were sure it offered great views of Rome.
Also know as the typewriter...

12m statue can seat 22 men.

When we hopped off the bus we put our map reading skills to the test to direct us on the path back to our apartment.   We stopped to enjoy a lovely meal and then discovered Piazza Navona!!!!!!  This amazing square (more like an oblong actually) was edged with busy restaurants with a gorgeous fountain in the middle.  Artists had set up their galleries, street entertainers amused the crowds and musicians filled the evening air with a sensation of being on holiday.  We stopped for a nightcap to soak up the atmosphere at the end of a long and tiring day.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Births, deaths and baby oil.

This morning as we drew back the curtains to say hello to a new day, we were surprised to find a dead kid on the barbeque roof outside of our bedroom (baby goat for those not in the know).  Overnight and this morning three of the goats had had kids.  A total of four live ones and a "not so alive" one as it was now sitting on the roof of the barbeque out of harms way.  Apparently the silly goat had forgotten she'd given birth already when the second one popped out and so it was left alone to perish.

 As if this wasn't bad enough I spent a large proportion of the day sitting in the goat barn watching another goat in labour.  By teatime the goat had still not produced so Margaret made the decision to "go in" to get it out.  Armed with a bowl of hot water, some baby oil, clean rags and a handbook with useful pictures, we wrestled the goat into position.  My job was to hold the goat by the horns to keep it still. Margaret then had a very tough and bloody job of trying to find the head and legs in order to pull it out.  It took quite a while as the baby goat was not in a good position and the cervix was not dilated.  The goat's cries of pain were really heart-wrenching but not as sad as seeing this tiny, wet body being yanked out, heart still beating in it's chest, and watching it stop very quickly.

Margaret and Thomas with one of the kids.
Despite it being a bit macabre, the little body was thrown into the kitchen fire when the mother eventually realised it was not going to get up.   So sad but that is life on a farm and you have to be practical.

There are a few more goats due to give birth so lets hope they run a bit smoother than today.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

It's more expensive in Zizzi's!!!!!!

After drinking many a fine bottle of Montepulciano at Zizzi's in Hampton Court with Jacqui and Alex, we decided it was time to head to the town of Montepulciano to find some more of this fine wine.  A gorgeous drive through undulating hills smothered in freshly budding vines led us to yet another beautiful and historic town, filled with wine cellars, great views and steep climbs.  With a glass of the local rosso and a plate of garlicy bruschetta we sat in the sunny main square taking in the Italian charm.  Bliss!  Unfortunately there were so many cellars and wine shops selling such an array of different Montepulciano wines that it rather confused us and we ended up going home empty handed.  Luckily we found a 1.5lt bottle at the local supermarket for only 2.50 euros (£2.25) - BARGAIN!!!

As we tried to head home up past Cortona we found that all the roads were blocked.  Curious to find out why, we pulled over and discovered a sports car road race.  Eddie would have loved the roar of engines as these brightly coloured speedsters rocketed around the sharp bends and up the hills.  Imagine Monaco Grand Prix only with a little more hill and a little less people.  Eventually the road was cleared and in the square of Cortona we found a prize of shiny Ferrari's.   We were about to put down a deposit on one until our faith in Ferrari's was literally doused as we spotted a lone, blue race car with it's engine in flames.  We'll probably stick with the reliable Ford Focus for the time being.


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Home Alone with a Whore's Pasta!!!

At last all of the visiting friends and relatives have departed Cortona Cashmere Farm and whilst Rob and I have enjoyed joining in with our additional Italian family members and savouring many new and authentic Italian dishes, we are looking forward to having a quieter house.

Our wish went one step further as Margaret and Maurizzio headed off to Milan yesterday, leaving us HOME ALONE with the kids (well, only Thomas actually as Elliott stayed at a friends house).  What a responsibility - but Rob and I did rather well getting Thomas up in time and sending him on his way to school in his golf cart, looking after the chickens, goats, the cat and the dog and doing a bit of cleaning and washing.

Ever the domestic goddess, I have cooked up two batches of ice cream to use up the masses of fruit we have here.  The kiwis have made a rather delicious tangy kiwi ice cream and the apples have made a smooth apple and cinnamon yoghurt ice cream.  YUM.  Up for the challenge of competing with the Italians, I knocked up a puttanesca sauce for lunch, learning that this spicy tomato, caper, olive and anchovy sauce is also the name for prostitute's pasta (named thus as that's what they need after a good banging!!!!!!!).  Not content to leave it there, I have attempted a cauliflower and chick pea curry, which is ready to be eaten when Margaret gets in very soon.  I'm not sure curries are my speciality so I may stick to Italian in future.
My saucy sauce!
more than a mouthful....

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Buon Compleanno Sonja and buon giorno Assisi !!!!

Can't believe a whole week has past since our last blog. How time flies!!!

Wood anyone?
Gardening work continued this week through a mixture of weather conditions. From heavy rainfall requiring Maurizzio and me to re-dig gutters in the road (note to self; get a raincoat that actually works) to beautiful sunshine, resulting in a lovely burn stripe across my upper buttocks! The highlight of the gardening this week has to be our sprucing up of the allotment ready for some new veggies. Closely second, comes my first go on a chain-saw and Sonja's fine wood cutting with the jigsaw.

Our 'almost' complete allotment

Friday the 13th saw Sonja turn 33. Buon Compleanno!!!! We spent the afternoon driving around Lake Trasimeno and despite the poor weather, managed to get out and wondering around a few of the sights. It was worth returning to when the better weather makes an appearance. Margaret made Sonja an amazing pavlova for a birthday treat which lasted about 10 seconds on the plate!!!

The Birthday girl!!!

We headed off to the market in Cortona on Saturday morning despite futher rain. After 40 minutes of searching for a parking space, we meandered through cobbled streets searching for a bargain. Nothing suitable found although we did spot a table cloth that closely resembled one owned by Sonja's parents! In the evening, we joined Margaret and family for a trip into Cammucia to a lovely Pizzeria, where I couldn't resist a Calzone to compare against the versions back home. It didn't dissapoint!!!!!

After a lazy Sunday morning and a few prods from Margaret, we headed off to the city of Assisi expecting to see another 'city on a hill'. What a hidden gem! We couldn't believe how beautiful it is. We loved it so much that it is currently ranking as our favorite Italian city thus far.  It had all the quaint old buildings, churches and narrow lanes similar to Sienna and Cortona, but Assisi had something else about it. Ultra clean, flowers on every corner, a tranquility you'd expect from a city called the City of Peace, cute houses you'd buy any day of the week, and simply spectacular views of the Italian countryside. A solid climb to the top of the castle provided 360 degree views as far as the eye could see, designed to protect the city from every angle. If you're ever in Tuscany, Assisi a must!!!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Goat, Mr Fellini?

The past few days have been spent gardening at the farm , eating gorgeous food, learning a few Italian words, running up hills, helping Elliot (9yrs) with his Photoshop project and generally relaxing.

Yesterday (Saturday) however, we headed off to Sienna for the day. The walled, gothic city has historically been in competition / conflict with Florence, with both cities invading the other in an attempt to gain dominance as the leading trade city. The cobbled and very hilly streets snake off in all directions making us check the map at every turn. Our first stop was the magnificent Cathedral. The Duomo, whilst not as large as the one in Florence, was even more decorative both outside and in. Not an inch of wall or ceiling was was left untouched by beautiful, fine decoration. We then headed to the Bapstistry and Crypt followed by a stomp up the tower to get an amazing view of the city and  beautiful Tuscan countryside.

There is an ongoing debate as to which city is the best, Florence or Sienna. Our vote goes to Florence because although Sienna had consistently historic style and  a great feel, we felt Florence had more to offer and had a few more stunning pieces of architecture.

We then drove to Cortona for our evening meal, booked under the name Roberto Fellinni. It was lucky we booked, as the restaurant, Trattoria Toscana, was so busy it was turning people away! It was a very quaint restaurant where we enjoyed an antipasta and pasta primi washed down with a drop of house red!!!

Today, Easter Sunday has been such a lovely day! Despite it snowing (yes snowing) we've spent the day with our Italian family's family and friends. Wine, roasted goat!!!!, bubbly, risotto, games, laughter,  oh and a few bits of chocolate (thanks to the lovely Lisa!!!!).

Safe to say, Sonja and I are feeling very at home here!!!! :-)

Ciao x

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Photos that didn't make the cut!

8 hours of driving turns you crazy!
Which beer is mine?
I can't find the tower.
Who are you lookin at?
A 110kg tuna.  WOW that's a lot of sushi.
A whole shop dedicated to gloves.  That's Italian style for you.
Which one is the letter box?
What massive knockers the Italians have.
Sonja found the Easter bunny.  It's big brother was on the roof of the petrol stations.
Do you think these bottles are large enough?
Who told all the lies?
Aaaaah :-)
Vespa city
I always knew Rob had a soft spot for men.
...and dogs.