Reading and Travel

Libri (Books)

  • A Tuscan Childhood/Kinta Beevor
  • A House in Sicily/Daphne Phelps
  • Notes From An Italian Garden/Joan Marble
  • A Thousand Days in Venice/Marlena de Blasi
  • A Thousand Days in Tuscany/Marlena de Blasi
  • The Lady in the Palazzo/Marlena de Blasi
  • The Passion of Artemisia/Susan Vreeland
  • Artemisia/Anna Banti
  • The Rosetti Letter/Christi Phillips
  • The Guido Brunetti mysteries/Donna Leon
  • Courage Beyond Words – biography of Michel Thomas/Christopher Robbins
  • If you want to learn Italian, or about the language: La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language/Dianne Halesand check out her website:
  • Michel Thomas CDs

Mallonee’s travel notes: Firenze (Florence) Through the Years (2016 is the 50th anniversary of the flood)

I’ll be adding notes on my favorite ways to drift through days. My travel dates are always March, April or May. Hotel Mario’s is where I perch in Florence. The 3 young brothers (owners) make this the best. The magic words are Leonardo, Federico, and Edoardo. It is reasonably priced, 2 blocks from the train station, and a straight shot to the Duomo area. I have stayed in several other hotels through the years which I can recommend, in case Hotel Mario’s can’t take you. Food has become my main goal, along with just being there. I have attended 3 week-long cooking schools in Tuscany, all of which were great fun, informative, and with unbelievable numbers of recipes and plates of food.

Every year I buy shoes, not necessarily expensive, that have become the mark of that year. I am a light traveler going over (not always true coming home). As a result, my pictures from year-to-year often have the same outfits, so the shoes are the designator.

The first trip I made in 2004 (the year of the red tennis shoes) was a journey by myself ( I was nervous!) to the first cooking school in a small village and to Florence, then L.C. joined me and I took him to see what I knew: Pienza, Montefollonico, Montepulciano. We stayed in Lucca very last-minute when I learned that my reserved spot in Montefollonico was overbooked, and a couple at breakfast said ‘hey, we loved Lucca, go here.’ The night before L.C.’s arrival I called the hotel they recommended and there we went. Loved it, and drove to Villa Reale for one of my best garden visits ever. I had no idea this trip was the beginning of my Italy addiction and of friendships and places that would become my annual retreat.

The next year, 2005 (the year of the lime green reptilian long-pointed pump) I returned on my own again to Florence, off to another wonderful cooking school near Lucca, then back to Florence for a few days.

I did not go in 2006, we took another trip instead (a lovely visit to Kauai) and I had severe Italy withdrawal. Never again, I hope. That is the year of the flip-flops.

2007 (the year of the blue tennis shoes and the soft pink loafers)  I went for a month. The first 2 weeks L.C. went with me and we visited Cinque Terre, stayed in Manarola. It was a beautiful sight, what a shame to think that Vernazza was wiped out with flooding recently. I know those crafty Italians will rebound and rebuild (as of spring 2012, all villages are back in operation but still rebuilding). After 5Terre, we returned to Florence to regroup and do laundry, then head to Pienza and Montefollonico and environs. We had several adventures driving around: we added Montalcino, Montechiello, Todi in Umbria, Radicofani, some of the hot baths, Lake Bolsena. The day L.C. flew home, a girlfriend (Sara) flew in for her first visit. She has since joined me in Italy 6 years! We went to a cooking school in Le Marche, which is my favorite of the three. A gorgeous mountainous region, very rural, would love to return. Then we visited Lucca and back to Florence.

2008 ( no shoes???) was a trip with my friend, Sara, and her daughter and another friend. Florence, Pienza, Montefollonico, Venice. Tons of fun and good food and memories. We began our ‘tradition’ of spending our last afternoon at Villa San Michele in Fiesole having drinks in the garden, looking out at Florence.

2009 (the year of the blue suede moccasin loafer) was my test to work from Florence and to pretend I lived there, if only for a few days. Sara and I had an apartment in Florence for 10 days, I telecommuted each day while she explored the streets of Florence on her own. Then off to dinner each evening and walking the piazze, listening to the performers. Every morning before work I went to the bakery 2 doors down, chatted in my basic Italian, then later took a lunch break and walked to Piazza della Repubblica for a quick sandwich at I Fratellini. I had my little routine going, certain locals I could say buongiorno to each day, as if I belonged there.

After the 10 days of work, we got a car and took off for 10 days in our stomping grounds: Pienza and Montefollonico. Now, these 2 villages are only a few miles apart, but we have places we like to stay at each, local restaurants we crave, have developed some friendships at each, so we go to both. We take drives and see new things, but we can’t come up with a reason to deviate from this.

2010 (the year of the brown suede boots) was the year of the volcanic ash cloud. Our trip was canceled the day before departure, so I scrambled and managed to put it back together for departure one week later, slightly scrambled, also. It was a lazy trip. I do the planning, so if the itinerary sounds boring, blame me. Florence for 2 days, then Pienza and Montefollonico, then back to Florence for several days. A day trip to 5Terre. Lots of time at cafes sipping and observing, time to see things I have not seen yet in Florence, believe it or not.

2011 (the year of the black ankle boots) More friends joined us, a married couple I have known for 30+ years, we had a great time together. Same general itinerary, but some very neat, new experiences. We spent Palm Sunday in Montefollonico at the village churches with the benediction at one, holding armfuls of olive branches, then a procession up the street to the larger church for mass. Then the fava bean festival in Pienza that afternoon was a treat. An invitation by our Montefollonico landlady, who has her pottery studio in a chapel, to visit a friend’s home one afternoon was THE highlight. Rick Steves, eat your heart out. Her friend has many animals (chickens were my main attraction, along with a large dog and a gander that are in love with each other), gardens, olive trees, speaks no English. I came home with a bottle of her olive oil, one of my greatest treasures. Liquid gold. Neato, neato, neato. Then back to our buddies at Hotel Mario’s in Florence.

2012 (the year of the gray soft-leather tennis shoe and espadrilles) Just returned, here is a quick update. Traveled with the same friends as last year and had a blast and absolutely perfect weather except a bit of rain on Easter. This time we spent a week in Montefollonico, then Florence for Easter ( a first for me!), where we witnessed the ‘explosion of the cart’ at the Duomo. Look for it on uTube,  you will be grinning from ear to ear. It is SO typically Italian, such a celebration, and a real Catholic surprise to me. I can say that, being married to a Catholic and attending the Catholic church for years. Other highlights: I finally obtained tickets to the Vasari Corridor, been trying for 3 years, and it was worth the expense and effort. We used Context Travel and were impressed with the guide. We learned of a free organ concert at Pitti Palace one day at noon, a real treat in a beautiful small chapel. Another lovely Palm Sunday in Montefollonico and another day with our landlady/friend and her friend in the garden, being served tea alongside a peacock, goose and her beloved dog, overlooking the Montepulciano hillside. A private wine-tasting in a cellar in Montefollonico. Buckets of wonderful food. New spot in Florence for us: enoteca Le Volpi e l’Uva (altrarno near Chiesa di Santa Felicita’). Voted best meal this year by our highly-trained palates: La Porta in Montichiello.

2013 No Italy trip, boo hoo. I shall survive, though, and we WILL be going in 2014. To be continued…..

2014 This was to be a trip with my husband (who had not been since 2007) and our dear friends the married couple. Tragically, the wife of the couple passed away quickly early March. The remaining three of us decided last-minute to continue with our plan and off we went 3 weeks later to our treasured spots. It was a much-needed time of rest and toasting to all of our good times together. One day she sent us a beautiful double rainbow in Montefollonico. All of our friends in Italy were so loving and caring and aware of our loss. It is their loss, too.

2015 No trip due to Mallonee’s mother’s health. She passed away 08Dec, 2015, age 91. She loved to sing and dance, had a zest for life and the ability to laugh and smile no matter the course. She was elegant to the end, and we so admire her. She is with us forever. A trip is in the works for 2016!

2016 (the year of the bright green loafers and black zipper ankle boots): We (LC, Mallonee, and Ron our married-couple friend) have recently returned from 3 weeks of relaxing and eating at our favorite spots in Florence, Montefollonico, Pienza and surrounds, and Venice. We had our first truffle hunt outside Montefollonico, visited Castiglione d’Orcia (memorable meal), Arezzo, and Venice/Murano. Every morning in Montefollonico we gather at Bar Sport for cappuccino, fresh blood-orange juice and pastries to decide that day’s agenda (if there is one). Lots of fun with all of our friends in Italy. New treasures are gifts of olive oil from two friends from their own private olive orchards, plus homemade pasta from our friend with the lovely garden and animals.  A fun pizza night with friends at Al Botteghino outside Montefollonico. Back in Florence, Osteria Pepo has moved way up our list. We had 3 great meals there, with a Last Supper of melone e prosciutto (cantaloupe like we have never seen before!), fiori di zucco fritti, and taglione con lemone e mente. Big Wow. This year was Sostanza visit #23. Cichetti in Venice for the first time, Mallonee loved it, the guys not so much.  Mallonee also loves spritzes….she seems to have one in hand in most pics. To top it off, we had great weather.

2017 (the year of baby booties!) The three of us spent 2 weeks in Montefollonico (the longest yet, and loved every minute) and 1 week in and out of Florence. The highlights: (1) two friends had baby boys, one in October and one in January. We had many special moments with them. (2) Falconry has been on Mallonee’s list for a few years, and we finally made it happen. What a wonderful experience; we had hours in a field with a falconer and his two falcons. Next year we have plans to go hunting with him and the falcons. (3) We were invited to our friends’ homes for dinner/apertivo for the first time. Treasured memories. This year was the best ever, and I will probably say that every year. It gets better and better….. we had an afternoon again with our friend with the garden, now she has bees (“ape” ), we met some new locals, Mallonee had her first Ape ride (a 3-wheeler truck like a Cushman) and we finally made a contact to consider purchasing one to bring back to Spicewood. We visited Chianti, Bolsena/Lake Bolsena and the war cemetery outside of Bolsena, and Lake Trasimeno.

Since 2004, I have looked up and found a young Romanian girl every year that was a waitress one night when the cooking school went out for dinner at a local restaurant. When I took L.C. back for dinner she was our waitress 2 nights in a row. We exchanged post cards that year. When I returned the next year, she had left and was working in Pienza. I found her there. The next year she had moved to another place in Pienza, I found her. Now she is married and living in Pienza and has a 6-year old son and had her 2nd boy in January 2017. Every year I plan the trip with her in mind, making sure we get to visit and have dinners together.

Pienza: I love the Friday market. We have stayed several times at La Chiocciola, 3 nice rooms with private baths above a restaurant just outside the wall. VERY reasonable. OK, now you have one of my secrets. Their food is quite good, and they have a flower-filled patio for dining, too.
We hang out at local restaurants Dal Falco (Hi to Silvana!) and La Buca di Enea (Hi to Antonio!), and often a meal at Latte di Luna.

Thursday is a big market in Montepulciano.

Montefollonico: always have a dinner at La Botte Piena. Get a reservation for a table upstairs if possible. Where I first heard Renato Zero.

Florence: La Sostanza is my favorite ristorante, I’ve been there 23 times, but who is counting. Get pollo al burro and the tortino di carciofi (like an artichoke omelette) and the house cake for dessert, don’t share the cake with anyone. Also a plate of field berries. check it out:
Unfortunately, all of the guide books now mention Sostanza, but the food and service has not changed. You can watch them cook in the itty-bitty cucina. Sadly, the owner was killed on his motorcycle in 2016 in Florence, but the ristorante will live on.

Much good food in Firenze, not necessarily expensive: Osteria Pepo, Trattoria Za Za, Mario’s, Le Volpi e l’Uva, Sostanza…………….
Every year some music catches my ear in a restaurant or a shop, and off I go to the music store near Lorenzo market or by the Duomo. My favorites:

  • Renato Zero
  • Riccardo Cocciante
  • Eros Ramazzotti
  • Gotan Project (not Italian, but I 1st heard in Firenze)
  • Mario Biondi
  • Sergio Cammariere
  • Tiziano Ferro

For you knitters:

there is a big yarn shop behind the Duomo on Via F. Portinari (Campolmi Roberto Filati)

there is a yarn shop where you stand in line to get tickets for the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo church, on your left, not noticeable. You step down into it. (Mirko Filati)