Cortona, Day 5 (?)

This is the first vacation I’ve ever taken where it feels as if time is standing still.  I can hardly believe it’s only Wednesday!  We have 2 more days in this town and I’m looking forward to every sunny, wine sipping, food eating moment of it!

Yesterday was rather lazy – sort of.  A few of us rallied very early to go attend a mass with “singing nuns that sound like angels”.  Only we weren’t sure of the exact church (remember there are 22?) and the one we did see, had all of 6 pews.  No hiding in the back of that mass.  Once the priest started the mass, we decided we would rather let them be than enter or sit outside and wait for more singing.  So we went for coffee instead.  How appropriate.

We had lunch at the house, and a lazy stroll through town.  More reading, a quick nap, and Oh The Bells!  I’m not one to nap in the first place, being woken by church bells for 10 minutes straight made me a little punchy.  At least it wasn’t grumpy.  We decided to eat in town.  Upon our late return, most of the house went to sleep.  Four of us stayed up drinking more wine and playing Uno – which I am still pretty good at to my surprise.  Sometimes it’s luck in how the cards fall, sometimes the strategy pays off.  It was a lot of fun, I don’t often get a chance to play a card game (or board game for that matter) and really enjoyed the company.

Today we woke up early again to head out on a wine and cheese tour in Montepulciano. The town was absolutely gorgeous.  We started at a winery with good wine, I was more impressed with their olive oil (which Norman bought 2 cans of) with bread and salt.  The two cheeses were also very nice and the accompanying jellies. Our guide knew a lot about the town, where she has lived for 20 years.  Lots about the history of noble families, local religious figures and how commoners may have lived.  Including a real live Renaissance entry way with a boiling pot of oil, but not today.

The last winery was a small, family owned place that mostly serves restaurants and local shops. It was the best of the day, and even though the cost to ship it home was very high, the per bottle still worked out to be cheaper than what we would get in the US.  So yay – what a fun thing to bring home!

We all pretty much fell asleep or into a trance on the ride back, barely made it up the hill and are now in various states of sleep, reading or general laziness.  Norman is cooking tonight.  But now it’s time to go into town to get something from the bakery for dessert.  It is, after all, our 9th wedding anniversary today.  What a fabulous way to celebrate!


Cortona, Day 3 – sleepy time….

The bells rang out about 8 this morning, I could have sworn I heard singing – which would not be that far-fetched given a church right behind us has a daily, 8am mass with singing nuns.  Ah, the recovered Catholic in me isn’t sure what to think.

After a yummy breakfast prepared by Norman, and a quick jaunt downtown for a cappuccino.  We all rallied to climb to the top of the mountain (we are already pretty high up) to see the Santa Margherita church – housing a mummified nun in a glass case for all to come and pay respects.  Being in a catholic church was surreal for me.  The second I walked through the door the incense hit me and I was transported back to my own years of worship.  We did not attend a classic or old-American style Catholic church, ours was pretty modern, no confessionals, contemporary crucifixes and interpreted host.  Regardless, the confessionals, the offerings it was pulling on me.  When I actually stood at the altar to admire the beauty of the church…I could not help but feel like I was committing a great sin being at the altar.  I wandered to the back of the church and saw the holy water.  I actually contemplated genuflection and perhaps confess my sins (it’s been at least 24 years, that would be a frickin’ lot of Hail Mary’s).  The nun watching over the church started pointing at people in the sanctuary, directly pointing, hiss and indicate we needed to line up.  My first thought was a tour – but I wasn’t part of that group over there….  She continued to hiss in my direction so I went over.  We were all lead out the back of the church into the sun.  Oh….so a service was about to begin and we were not welcome.  Got it….  Very, very, very weird feelings.

We then walked up to the Fortress Girifalco, stunningly beautiful.  To think that armies used to live there and watch out over the valley for invaders.  That I’m in a country that has more history in this one little town than all of the United States.  Someone remarked about what it would take a build a fort like that, with all the stone, at the very top of the mountain.  Slave labor.  Ugh!

We had a local chef in to make us a fabulous and delicious meal this evening.  We started with some fried veggies and a white wine.  There is nothing as good as battered and fried food – yet this was exceptional!  There was eggplant, zucchini, zucchini blossoms – but the best were the sage leafs.  Which were HUGE!  Then on to antipasti, bread, homemade pasta (that we each rolled out) in a simple olive oil, basil and fresh tomato sauce.  Incredibly rich – I have never tasted pasta so rich before.  I didn’t finish my plate!  The carnivores then had roasted chicken.  I was not tempted in the least even though taunts of “it tastes just like bacon” came out from just about everyone!  Dessert was a freshly made tiramisu – we all agreed that a proper tiramisu (as Chef Ivan agreed) should not contain any alcohol.  Of course,  much wine was consumed as well.

Now I’m gearing down for the evening – as we are planning to attend mass tomorrow to hear the nuns sing.  I’m hoping for a better internal response to sitting through a mass.  I think I shall be very quiet to hear what my head, heart and soul have to say about that.


Day Two, Cortona – Evening

What a great day, totally relaxing, totally free and indulgent, very full with good friends, great conversation, excellent food and bountiful amounts of wine! Very much looking forward to the rest of the week, and wondering if and when we could come back here, with focus on learning Italian before that occurs.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

p.s. – Pictures to come will tell quite a tale of 7 housemates and the stories that ensue…

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Cortona, Day 2 – Early Morning

Norman and I just got back from the Piazza where we each had a cappuccino and fabulous pastries.  I believe it was when I took the second bite of my croissant and sip of capp that I decided, Norman will be running on his own this week.  I’m going to indulge and enjoy (note to self – I am rather exercise obsessed, perhaps something to discuss with my therapist upon return).  I was actually surprised how many store fronts were open at 8am on a Sunday.  A different culture for sure.  Suppose I don’t have to worry about the grocery opening today so we can get some food for the house.


I woke this morning to chirping birds and church bells.  So unless there is some kind of super sonic ear plugs in town, those bells will be waking me at 7 each morning.  Not that I mind, having spent a few days in London I’m not jet lagged.  That was a good choice!  My poor housemates.  Here is the view I will look out on each morning…

Bedroom Cortona

View from my bed in Italy

Casa San Marco – Cortona, Italy

OMG this place is out of my dreams!  I love the rustic house, the eclectic decor, it has been a great start in our trip to Italy.  With the easy passage through customs in Rome to our 2-hour transit via car to Cortona – Enzo our driver was spectacular in a very Italian fashion.  Who would have thought that lanes in the road would be “suggestions”.  Ending in a very harrowing trip up a mountain on the very edge, so frightful for me that I had to close my eyes, breathe deep and trust the process (something I have come to practice on a nearly daily basis).  The house is spectacular – I could spend a lifetime here – although I know my fabulous husband probably would need a floor to himself to go more modern or mid-twentieth century – I am in total awe and appreciation for the antique furniture and homey feel of the place.  Each bedroom was more amazing and fun than the first.  Ours has a great door to the veranda looking out over the town.  I very much look forward to the coming days and adventures.

When I packed and planned for this trip, I included enough work out gear to get me through 2 weeks.  I am now very happy I spent so much time in the hotel gym in London.  I’m extremely tempted to spend my days in wine, food and relaxation.  One week won’t make much of a difference.   I’ll survive.

More pictures to be shared in the coming days, for a quick glance into our initial time as friends sharing laughs and wine, check out Norman’s site (also blogging our vacation) and enjoy!  We broke open the uber-magnum of wine.  I think between the 7 of us, it may be near polished off by the end of tomorrow.  I look forward to exploring the town more tomorrow.

This is a well deserved, much-needed, and exciting vacation ahead!

Winding down…

In the last 52 hours I’ve….

  • Walked past Buckingham Palace, down St James’ Park, Big Ben, Scotland Yard and Parliament, back to the hotel for the evening.


  • Walked to Harrods, got goods in the arcade and Padding Books for the kid
  • Then walked to the Victoria & Albert, spent time in a whole floor of silver, jewelry and other artifacts…left there and walked
  • To Piccadilly, which I found so very tourist that we only went to Hamley’s to get a Paddington Bear to go with the books (for the kid)…and walked back to…
  • Our Hotel.  Then met up with some co-workers for a drink.  Then slept.  Hard!
  • Today we took a long quiet morning, cabbed it to our lunch at River Café – fun to see the neighborhoods via taxi…
  • Afterwards we walked to the tube, and scooted over to the Tate Modern, toured that whole thing.  Walked…..
  • Down Thames walkway, past the London Eye (more tourist craziness), across Westminster Bridge, past Westminster, down around neighborhoods and back to our hotel


That was just over 2 days and guess-timating 15 miles?  At least Norman thinks so.  My tight calves and aching feet seem to agree.

It’s been a great time in London.  A good first visit.  I often forget what a “real” city is like after living in Seattle for so long (no offense Seattle, I love my home neighborhood!)  I am looking forward to a more relaxed week in Italy with friends, food, wine, bread, wine, food, maybe some exercise, more wine….

Here’s Happy Jen at the River Café for lunch today, don’t I look relaxed?


London–Day One

We are finally here!  That 6 hour lay over in Phoenix made the trip feel extra long.  I will rub it in one more time that the perks of Business Class tickets made it oh-so enjoyable.  Particularly with the seat reclining flat.  Regardless of me crunching up my Kindle like a piece of paper when reclining my seat.  What a crappy mistake that was…(just a mistake)

I won’t even complain about the hour it took to get through the border because there was only ONE agent working on a Wednesday afternoon.  It was also an entertaining trip in from Heathrow, trying to read street maps and going in circles.  Just to find we were closer than we thought.

We took a walk past Buckingham Place, St Johns Park, Scotland Yard, Big Ben – you know, all the favorites.  It was good to be outside in the fresh air and walking after all that time in airports.  Then we had a fantastic meal at Wagamama that someone recommended.  The flavors were just perfect – I ate nearly the whole plate!  Now we are back in our hotel room with a glass of wine and the TV going.  Trying to figure out how we are getting to the villa Saturday night since the last train out of Rome is 6pm, and we arrive at 5:50pm.  ugh!

On the up-side, tomorrow if breakfast, Tate Modern, probably some other good stuff, Norman is working for a few hours, then dinner out! 

I do miss my kiddo terribly!  She seems to be doing well though, keeping busy with Girl Scouts and her Science Expo project (such a proud mom moment, her first Science Expo!)

Good night London, thanks for having us.