Bobbi’s Blog…Living My Dream…

May 27, 2009

My sweet baby raccoons are no longer with me. That saddens me more than words can say, but, I must go on and keep their memories alive in my heart. I will NEVER forget them. They brought me more joy than any human being ever has.

Since they are now gone…I want to use this site not only to remember them, but to start a blog about the upcoming trip I will make to Europe in July 2009. This trip is a dream of mine, so I want a place to detail it and recall it vividly.

Here goes my tale……

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When I was a child I was fortunate enough to live in Germany. I grew up an Air Force brat. My father was in the military long before I was born in 1959. He retired in 1969 when I was 10 years old. He served our country for 25 years. He started out in the Army Air Corp before there was a U.S. Air Force. He served 4 years in the corp before serving 20 more years in the Air Force. Daddy was an airplane mechanic. He worked on the engines of planes that flew in World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. After those wars, he continued to work on airplane engines at several Air Force bases across the U.S. We moved so many times that I can’t remember the bases names. I do know that my brother was born in Honalulu and I was born in Madison, Wisconsin. I can remember living in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Alabama.

In 1965 my father received orders to go to Ramstein Air Force Base ~ Ramstein, Germany. We were to live there for 3 years. I was barely 6 years old at the time. I remember starting 1st grade on the base. We were there until I was in 3rd grade.

Every week-end it seemed Daddy put us in the white Ford Falcon and drove us all over Europe. Not having very much money we would camp in a tent everywhere we went. I remember camping in Holland and waking up to a snow covered ground. I remember the old Coleman cook stove keeping us warm and that awful smell. I didn’t like the smell of karosene then and still don’t today.

I remember seeing the tulips blooming in Holland and the miniture city. I remember the arched bridges of Luxemborg and the castle with a million steps in Heidleburg. I remember my daddy telling me that if you’ve seen one castle….you’ve seen ‘em all! (He was right!) We went to the castle in Landstuhl a million times! I remember the beautiful views in Austria and seeing the snow capped mountains. I remember the cattle, sheep and goats on the hillsides. I can still hear the bells around their neck as they move. I remember the patchwork countryside that looked like a quilt and the beautiful wild flowers. I remember a field of red poppies… a million scarlet poppies that my mother, brother and I ran through! I remember the swiss alps and the pretty little chalets. I remember my parent’s favorite restaurant “The Waldgarten”, in Ramstein. Mamma, Daddy and my brother would eat wienersnitzel while I ate spaghetti because I… “didn’t like German food”. Daddy would play the juke box and we would listen to “The Green Green Grass of Home”. Mamma would always have tears in her eyes… I remember our house on Weisenstrabe 4. I remember the grey stucco facade and the red linolium floors in the hallway. I remember the big church clock tower we could see from our living room window and I remember Daddy taking photos of it. I remember riding my bike down the hill and all over Ramstein until it got dark! I remember Christmas in Germany….and the way the town was decorated. My mother and brother would walk to town on Christmas Eve, while I stayed home dying for Kris Kringle to get there! I remember thinking he wouldn’t be able to find me in Germany…but he did….every year! I remember going to bed every Christmas Eve we were there and asking Mamma to promise me Santa wouldn’t bring me switches!!! (I knew I hadn’t been a good girl all year!) I remember Ramstein’s parades and how they celebrated their 750th year while we lived there!

I remember EVERYTHING! I have so many vivid memories of those 3 years and I was only 7 years old. We returned to the states in April of 1968 (I think). I was 8 years old and about to turn 9 in July.

My longing to return to Germany started in my 20′s. I remember at that time my brother was going to Austria to study. He was an Opera singer and was going to spend a summer in Europe, touring and singing. I wanted to go with him…but of course, I couldn’t. (I used to ask Mamma and Daddy if we could go back to Germany to visit but it was always too expensive and they didn’t seem to have that desire). I asked my brother to bring me back a pair of gold lever back earrings that I used to see in the jewelry store windows. He did….and I was thrilled! So off to Germany and Austria he went….and I put my dream on hold thinking that it was not to be….it would never happen.

As I moved into my 30′s I still had that desire to go back to my once childhood home. But this time that desire changed to not only go to Germany, but to visit Italy. I loved Italian food so much that I felt I surely must have been an Italian in my former life! Italy was the one country we did not visit when we lived there. I do remember we were 2 miles from the Italian border and traffic was backed up that far. We waited for hours, it seemed, before my father decided to turn around and go home. I missed it! I missed Italy. But I didn’t realize what I was missing at the time…

In my 40′s and married for a few years to my childhood sweetheart, I began to read about Italy and watch movies that took place there. I became interested in Italian cooking. I would search out Italian recipes and wait for Malto Mario to come on the Food Network. I began to make home-made pasta with a pasta machine Mamma gave me for Christmas. I made fresh ravioli and fetticini. I grew my own basil and Italian flat leaf parsley in pots outside. I learned to jar our own home grown tomatoes and make a red sauce that was to die for! Pasta is my favorite dish. “Mi piache monjare la pasta!!!!” (I like to eat pasta…in Italian).

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I kept my dream alive in my heart and then one day something happened. I watched a movie. The movie was “Under The Tuscan Sun”. I fell in love with the movie…and I fell in love with the town of Cortona! I watched the movie over and over and over. I started to speak the Italian phrases I heard in the movie. I would go through the house repeating the phrase “scusi il retardo!!” over and over. It drove my husband crazy! I started to quote parts of the movie…. “signora…I think your snake has gone for the evening…..” Again….it drove my husband crazy!

The movie is about a woman, Frances Mayes, a writer who moved to Tuscany and bought a villa. She restored the house and made Italy her home. Frances Mayes is a real person…a writer of many books. I have read her book “Under The Tuscan Sun” (which is nothing like the movie at all) and Bella Tuscany. Both books just fueled my fire for wanting to visit there.

This set my desire into motion. I decided when I was 48 years old that I was going to be in Cortona on my 50th birthday come hell or high water! I started dreaming about it in my mind. Day in and day out I dreamed of Cortona and of walking past Bramasole! I started googling Bramasole and Cortona and learning everything I could about it. I decided to learn how to speak Italian! I absorbed myself in all things Tuscany. My surroundings, (painted my dining room Tuscan yellow….redecorated my living room in Tuscan colors and furniture). Bought a 3 disk CD set of basic Italian and popped it in my car’s CD player!

I would google Bramasole, the house that is the subject of both books and the movie. To my amazement I saw photos of the real house. And, I found out you could buy Olive Oil made from the olive trees at Bramasole!! That was in 2007. I immediately ordered a case of oil and was thrilled that I was going to have olive oil from Italy!! Not just Italy but Bramasole!!!! Well, the first year I was too late to order, the oil had already gone out for the 2008 season. So I signed up again for year 2009. My oil would be another year in arriving. Finally the time came for the oil, but I missed the deadline to mail my check! Another year would have to go by without my oil. 2 years of waiting for this oil! I was so disappointed. I had missed the December cut off date to mail my check….

The olives at Bramasole are picked in the fall, sent to the mill, pressed and turned into oil. This all happens by Christmas. The cases arrive in the U.S. in April of each year for delivery to those lucky ones that got their checks in on time. I thought I had missed out until…

Last week I got a pleasant surprise! I got an email from Ed Mayes, Frances Mayes’ husband. After the oil had been distributed in April, they discovered a few cases were left. Mr. Mayes wanted to know if I was still interested in getting this year’s oil.

YES, YES, YES!!! I immediately emailed him back and told him I would mail my check the very next day! He emailed back and said he would put my name at the top of the new list. *I smiled*…. small miracles DO happen and this one was mine. I wanted that oil so very very much!

So, I mailed my check and am now anxiously awaiting the arrival of my very own case of Bramasole Olive Oil!!! It should arrive any day! I can’t wait to prepare Crostini with roasted garlic butter that I make from scratch. I will then drizzle the verde oil of Bramasole all over it! I will prepare an Italian feast in it’s honor! In each bite I will taste the warm tuscan sun that bathed each olive with it’s daily light.

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Last year when the 2008 recession started, my husband and I were having a rough time financially. Extra money was hard to come by. Things were getting out of hand. I started watching the disc “The Secret” and I started believing that we could turn things around. I watched and listened to Joel Osteen. I read his books. I started “believing” we could turn things around. All the while my heart still had the dream to wake up in Cortona on my 50th birthday. But I didn’t see how this could happen. There was NO WAY! There was just NO way I could get the money for such a trip. Even if I started saving now……..no way. Then I found a scripture that told me that “God makes a way out of NO WAY”. I wrote that scripture down and put it in front of me where I could see it everyday. I started “believing” that things were already turned around. I took walks every day and thanked the Lord that all our debts were paid in full and that I was going to be in Italy on my 50th Birthday. I believed this for an entire year. Then…it started to happen… One thing led to another and we were able to pay off our bills. We were able to start saving real money. Money started to come to us from all directions. I started saving every penny anyone gave me for gifts. I saved all my Birthday money, Christmas money, found money, extra money. Before I knew it….I had enough! Our bills were paid! Our saving account had grown, and I had a stash of money saved up for my trip! God made a way out of NO way! He did this because he gives us the desires of our heart. He put the dream in my heart in the first place. If He puts a dream in your heart…HE will make it happen for you….if…YOU BELIEVE!

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Now I have purchased and paid for a round trip ticket to Frankfurt, Germany. I have reserved and paid for my rental car. I have purchased and paid for my flight from Frankfurt to Florence. It’s DONE!!!! It’s really going to happen!!!! I am going to ITALY!!!!

The first week I will be in Germany to revisit my childhood home. I will walk the streets of Ramstein and taste with excitement…this time…German food! I will take day trips to Luxemburg, Heidleburg, Trier and France. I will eat at the Waldgarten, which is still there after 41 years.

The second week I will be in Italy. I will wake up on my 50th birthday in Cortona. After breakfast on the terrace, I will walk up the steep hill town on my way to Bramasole. As I stroll past Bramasole, I will touch the shrine as so many have done before me and leave a flower in it’s vase. I will gaze upon the facade of that burnt amber house. With a smile on my face and in my heart…I will gaze upon the olive trees that produced that wonderful green oil I first tasted back home in the good old United States.

Since I was a teen-ager I have had a favorite quote that came from a poster. “Hold on to dreams….for if dreams die…..life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”

My dream is about to take flight.

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July 18, 2009 ~ Night before I leave…..

Well, I leave home for the airport in 7 hours. I need to be in bed but my nerves are kicking in. I just finished finalizing my packing. I feel like I have, as usual, over packed! I am hoping my bag will still be considered a carry-on and I won’t have to check it. Jerry and I worked forever to get all my liquids in that little quart bag! My gosh….don’t they realize a woman going to Europe for 2 weeks has alot of hair products she needs to bring! Well, I had to leave out my travel size Paul Mitchell foam, and my 2 extra travel size toothpastes! The bag is so tight that I hope they don’t make me take something out of it. I need it all!

So, now I can go to bed…..but….chances are….I won’t sleep a wink!

More later tonight…..when it will already be Sunday for me in Germany. Europe is 7 hours ahead of us.

Thanks to everyone who texted, called, and wrote on Facebook their good wishes for my trip! I appreciate it very, very much!

Good night!

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DAY 1 ~ GERMANY

I left Nashville airport at 11:36 a.m. and flew to Atlanta. During my layover I was having lunch in the food court when I befriended two older couples. The food court was packed and there was no where to sit. Since I was sitting alone, I motioned that they could sit with me. We became fast friends. Their names were Erica and Ira Bishop. They lived in Atlanta but he was from Tennessee and she was from Germany. When she found out about my trip she started telling things about Germany and even told me how to cook German food. At the end of our lunch, Erica said she would like to hear from me again and hear about my trip. So, she gave me her email address. I enjoyed meeting them and Erica gave me some good tips that I have already used today.

Our flight was an hour late departing for the flight to Frankfurt. We finally boarded and off we flew. What a LONG flight! Germans were sitting all around me. It’s true what they say…..some don’t bathe. The young couple sitting next to me were all cuddly and loving on each other. I was about to think “get a room” when I saw the young man rub her belly over and over. She was pregnant.

Everyone on this flight had their own movie screen placed in the seat in front of them. You know, like the old phones used to be in those seats. This was new to me. You could also choose your own movie to watch and watch as many as you wanted. I watched a couple and played some games.

Dinner on the flight was good. Pasta with little half bottles of wine. The wine was free! That was new to me too. So, I poured a glass of white wine and secretly toasted my trip!

I tried to sleep but couldn’t…Finally, an hour after scheduled time, we touched down in Germany. We arrived at 8:10 a.m. Everything about the travel day went so smooth, without a hitch.

I only had carry on bags, so I went immediately to Avis to pick up me car. They gave me a really cute compact Fiat 500 5 speedster!!! It can fly….but I haven’t driven over 120 kms.

Although I had an english speaking GPS, I got lost three times leaving the parking lot!!!! It was pouring down rain, cloudy and 50 degrees. I finally got out of the parking lot and jumped on the AUTOBAHN!

The autobahn…..Omg….I honestly feared for my life more than once. Looks like suicide to me. I don’t know why anyone needs to drive that fast! Some cars passed me doing 150 mph or more and made my little car shake!

Vinyards line each side of the autobahn just like the corn lines I-24 at home. It was so beautiful and I thouht of Jerry Don and our little vinyard at home! LOL.

Little “old” villages and churches with tall clock towers were dotted all over the country side. Every now and then I would see the ramains of an old castle. It was so beautiful!

I finally arrived at Ramstein and was thrilled beyond words! It was lunch time when I got there and I was starving so I went in the Restaurant and had a brat, sauerkraut and fried potatoes. The best fried potatoes I have ever eaten. After lunch I wanted to look around town but I was so very tired that I checked in and went to sleep. I woke up 4 hours later and got ready to go eat.

I ate dinner at a place called The Big Emma. Everything is huge. I ordered a 1/4 size snitzel and couldn’t even finish it. Again, I had fried potatoes and salad. It was good, but the snitzel was a little too done.

After dinner I came back to the hotel and immediately got in the bed for the night. Day 1 was very long and very exhausting but I sure was glad to be here!

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Greetings from Germany ~ Day 2

Once again I am very tired. Didn’t sleep well again last night. It’s nearly midnight here so after I finish this I am going to bed. Having internet connection problems here at hotel so can’t finish updating my blog again!! I hate that. I like to do it daily when everything is fresh in my mind.

Anyway,…I got up early this morning and had breakfast at the hotel. It was breads, pastries, variety of cold meats, cheeses and spreads. After breakfast I drove around Ramstein and took pictures of things I remembered from childhood. I also shopped. I bought a new watch because I never have known the time since I’ve been here. Now, I will.

After breakfast I headed to Landstuhl, (1 mile away) to Nanstein Castle. Wow!!! I remembered it vividly!! Although the tour was closed today, I could still walk around and take photos. Walter, I could see us standing beside that railing overlooking the city. Everything was the same. I could hear Daddy whispering in my ear….Loopy, if you’ve seen one Castle…..you’ve seen ‘em all!”

I enjoyed that so very much! As I was driving down that steep hillside back to Ramstein I was overcome by happiness. I am so glad I did this!!! I am sooo glad I made this trip happen! I posted some pics on Facebook of my day.

Soon it was time for lunch. I ate at a small cafe in Ramstein but have to say I didn’t enjoy it. I got a snitzel sandwich and I almost couldn’t eat it. Not at all like the snitzel I had last night at Fat Emma’s. So, I left there and came back to the hotel and had an order of their fried potatoes. They are to die for!!!! After that I came upstairs and got on the computer for a while. Around 2:00 ish I decided to get back in the car and drive. Here is where I went this afternoon:

This was my route: Landstuhl, Obernheim, Wesselburg, Wallhalben, Zweibrucken.

I then arrived in FRANCE! I was in Bitche, France! I must say it was a very pretty little town, but the French weren’t very friendly toward me. I forgot that I don’t speak any French at all and it was very difficult communicating with them. They acted as though they knew no English at all (which I found hard to believe). So, I got back in my car and headed back to Germany. It only took a little over an hour to get back to Germany.

On the way back I went through Breidenbach, France and Homburg, Germany.

I drove between the giant windmills today! Jerry don you would have loved that!!! I took pics. They are HUGE!!! They loom out from nowhere just like those monsters in that Tom Cruise movie “War of the Worlds”.

I returned to the hotel approximately 3.5 to 4 hours after I bagan my journey.

I had dinner tonight in my hotel because I was so tired. I had pasta with grilled shrimp. It was o.k., but ….. lol…..I’ve had better.

Well that was it! I am still having a perfect time!

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DAY 3 ~ OMG!!!

Just when I thought I had the best day……today happened. It just keeps gettin better! This morning I got up and went to breakfast. After breakfast I ran to the bank and got out my map of Germany. I thought, O.k., where should I go today? I decided to go to the wine country and noticed on the map there was a Winestrabe. (Road that travels through the entire area). So, I headed to the gas station, filled the Fiat up with gas and drove next door to Burger King! It was time for some American treats! I got a cheeseburger and it was hot and just like home. I got it plain though because the ketchup here is AWFUL! Then I drove to Landstuhl where my route started.

This was the most BEAUTIFUL and AWESOME drive I have ever taken!!! It took my breath away and unless you could see it, words can’t describe the beauty! The towns were very small but all of them were so old, neat and colorful. Oh and the road I was driving on was not bigger than an alley in Nashville. Two way traffic too! Now I know why all the cars over here are tiny compact and have no back ends. You have to back out of places no bigger than a minute. Anyway, I was in awe and took pictures that really don’t do it justice.

I went through too many burgs to name but most had a castle. As I was driving along I was singing “The hills are alive…..with the sound of music……” LOL. I was on my way to a town called Edenkoben. All of the sudden my GPS tells me to turn and takes me up a mountain, up, up, curvey, curvey….old pine trees taller than sky scrapers. I thought….gps has made a mistake….this can’t lead anywhere. The road was so small I was afraid to meet a car. I met bikers mostly and those fast motorcycles. this must be a popular motorcycle route cause there is not much car traffic. Anyway, I finally got to the top of the mountain and was dyin to pee. Right at the top of the mountain was a Restaurant and a nature park with hike and bike trails. Kinda like a LARGER version of the bike trails at LBL…and much steeper. The parking lot was packed, so I went in. Old people….everywhere, eating Soup with huge sausages in the middle! It smelled bad too. Sometimes the German food smells terrible cooking. So I went to pee and then left. I was leaving the world of English speaking germans too. (I might as well be in USA here as everywhere I go, there are only Americans. And the restaurants play american music too. This hotel is full of American guests and Ramstein AFB soldiers. Anyway….I left there and went on to my destination.

Finally, I came to my destination, Edenkoben. I got out and had an “Ice” on the sidewalk at a sidewalk Ice Cafe. (Ice Cream). Then I pulled out my map to see … where next. I looked up and saw a sign that said “Speyer” 12 Km. I thought I was so close why not. Speyer is a town with a HUGE church and clock tower in it’s city center. Daddy took us there in the 60′s.

Being back in Speyer was a little emotional for me. I remembered being there with Walt, Mamma and Daddy just like it was yesterday. I went in the church and sat for a while. Although I was thrilled to death….it made me sad. But, that was short lived! I then walked to the city center and got some tomatoe faccachia and a Coca cola light and went out and had lunch on a bench with an old German man. We tried to communicate but he didn’t know much English. He said my German was much better than his English.

It got hot here today and humid, just like it has been most of the summer at home. I was hot and getting tired and decided to go home. I was going to Heidleburg as it was only a few kilometers away but I was just too tired. So, I headed back to the Winestrabe and headed for Bad Durkheim. At Bad Durkheim I stopped and had to pee so bad I didn’t think I would make it. I saw a road sign that pointed to “toilette”. I tried to find it, and finally saw a sign that pointed down an alley. The place was gated and I was about to pee all over myself when I saw a little sign that said .5 euros! I had to dig through my purse, pulling everything out…..looking for a 5 penny. I put one in and it didn’t work. I put some other coin in and it didn’t work. But this time I was about to let my pants get soaked. Finally I just put a freaking euro in it and the door opened! I paid no telling what….3 or 4 dollars to PEE. ;-)

I got to taste the local reisling wine for free but decided I better not drink too much cause I still had to drive. I bought myself a souvinere wine glass with jewels on it, (like the one’s mamma bought as souv’s when we were there), and some post cards.

After that I headed home. I enjoyed that trip sooo much!! I was so happy today!

Soon I arrived at my hotel, cleaned up a little and went to dinner. I went across the road to a place called the Restaurant Grumbeer. that means Potatoe in german. I had a snitzel, fried potatoes and salad. It was perfectly cooked and so far it has been my best meal! The salad was like none I have ever had. On the bottom was shredded carrot. Then there were green beans, lettace, red and yellow bell peppers cut up and topped with corn kernals. It was very very good! The snitzel was cooked to perfection and hot and juicy!

Day three, Tuesday, was a long, exhausting day. But it was all well worth it! ;-) I had a ball!

Chuse!!!!

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DAY 4 ~ Trip to Idar-Oberstein (The famous church in the Rock)

I didn’t wake up today until 11:00 a.m.! Finally, much needed sleep! I am dreaming in German now. LOL.

I got up and dressed and went to a chinese restaurant for lunch. One can take just so many bratwursts and snitzels…..

After lunch I went back to the room and decided to get out the german map and plot my afternoon. I chose Idar-Oberstein. I knew Daddy took us there but I couldn’t remember the attraction there. (Bruce Willis was born there…FYI). I again drove through the lovely german country side. Town after town, castle after castle…. It took me one hour to arrive.

The gps took me to the town center which was all a modernized mall! I thought….this is what I drove here for???? Can’t be. So, I just took off down another road until things started looking “old” again and there is was in the sky in front of me. The church that was built into a rock face 200 feet above the “old” town’s center. Again, my Daddy was whispering in my ear….go this way. I had thought to myself yesterday I wish I knew where the church in the rock was….and, lo and behold….it was right there in front of me. I know my Daddy is with me on this trip and I feel like he is guiding me taking me to the key places I really did want to see.

I walked around town and shopped a bit. This town is also known for it’s gemstones. Jewelry store after jewelry store. Cafe after cafe….. I wanted to go up and tour the church, but I got there too late as it was to close at 6 p.m. and it was approaching 5.

After spending time in town I decided to go home and have dinner.

I went back to the Restaurant Grumbeer tonight. I had potatoe soup with sour cream, salad and brot. OMG, the germans really know what to do with a potatoe. I’ve never tasted soup so good, rich and creamy! I love that place.

After dinner, just as the sun was about to disappear for the day, I drove back to my hotel for the night.

Another wonderful day in Germany! I am thankful for this day, this trip and I sure am blessed. I ended my day talking to my husband. Just the perfect “tuck me in” I needed!

Good night!

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DAY 5 ~ My Last Day in Ramstein :(

Had a difficult time falling asleep again last night. There was a thunderstorm going on and I loved hearing the thunder. My hotel has no air conditioning, so the window stays open and I have a fan that stays on high. No screen in the window either. No bugs either….. and it does stay pretty comfortable in here.

I woke up this morning around 7:00 and stayed in bed and woke up again around 10:00. I’ve missed the breakfast downstairs two days in a row. Guess I’m really just saving calories! LOL. It was raining this morning so I got dressed to go downtown and run errands. I decided to go to Landstuhl first for lunch. Landstuhl is 1 mile away. Like driving from Eddyville to the Oasis Restaurant.

It was raining and I wanted pizza. I found an italian pizzeria called Da Gino’s. I noticed they were actual Italians so I decided to try out my Italian before I get to Italy tomorrow. I spoke only in Italian while I was there and I did pretty good! I was proud of myself. At first I was in a panic because in my mind I was getting my german and italian mixed up. I also went blank and forgot my italian! As I sat there the waiter was speaking Italian and it gave me time to process it in my mind before he took my order. It was fun speaking Italian! I felt so “continental”!!! He understood me too.

I ordered a pizza margarita but actually it was just a cheese pizza. I need to find out if I need to order it in another way. I wanted the tomatoe slices on it but they weren’t. The pizza was good, it was very similar to the cheese pizza I get from Mama D’s in Calvert City. To be honest, my homemade italian pizza is better. I enjoyed it just the same.

After lunch the rain had stopped so I walked around downtown Landstuhl. My original plan was to have lunch at Castle Nanstein at the outdoor cafe and eat brats, but it was raining.

I came back to Ramstein and ran errands and took some last day photos around town. My favorite clock tower. I love it so because we saw this every day out of our living room window when we lived here. It is a familiar face to me in a country where I know noone. I will miss it.

I am in my room resting now and getting ready to go downstairs and do some laundry.

This is my last night in “my Ramstein”. I am sad about that. I am going back to the Grumbeer tonight and have my last german snitzel and fried potatoes. I might also have a bowl of potatoe soup, it was awesome!

I did my laundry and started packing to leave tomorrow. I will get up early and get to Frankfurt airport by 10:00 a.m. to turn my car in. I will miss my little Fiat 500!!! It’s so cute! I am very happy I rented a car. Two things I couldn’t have lived without this week are my mini laptop….(my lifeline) and my GPS. Thank the Lord for GPS!!!! It makes travel in a foreign country a no brainer.

After packing I left the hotel for the Grumbeer. It was sunny when I went in and I was disappointed because the outside patio was closed. So I ate inside this time. Good thing….about 15 minutes after I got there it came a big storm and rained cats and dogs.

It was just as good tonight as it was the first night. (I’ve eaten dinner here 3 nights). Tonight I had salad, weinersnitzel art and fried potatoes. When I first got this salad I thought …hmmmm…corn kernals on top of lettace….I don’t know about that. But it is so good. The first layer of the salad is shredded carrot. The second layer is cold green beans, then the lettace, then corn kernals and chopped red and green pepper. You mix it all up and it is so good. I will have to try to recreate it at home.

After my meal, I told the waitress how much I enjoyed my meal and the soup last night. She said she makes the soup too and she told me how to make it. If I can find leeks at home (oh, I am sure the new wal-mart will have them!!! Yea!) I will make it.

After dinner, I drove around Ramstein one more time….drove past our old house one more time….and I admit…I was sad to go. It has been wonderful being able to see the things I saw as a child and relive some of the experiences that Mamma, Daddy, Walter and I shared. It’s something I always dreamed about….but never really thought I could do. THANK YOU Lord and thank you my wonderful Husband, for giving me this gift.

I ended my last night in Germany going to the “Ice” shop, for an Ice cream. Lo and behold, to my surprise, it wasn’t just german “Ice” but a real ITALIAN gellato shop! OMG!!! I got chocolate and vanilla and it was sooooooooo creamy and sooooo rich and soooooo good. Isn’t that how it always goes….you go on vacation and find something the very last day that you wished you had done everyday you were here. But, not to worry….there’s alot of Gellato in Italy!!!!

Next time I write, it will be in CORTONA, ITALY!

Ciao! A presto, …. Auf Weidersein….CHUSE!

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Day 6 ~ Travel Day to Italy!

I got up bright and early this morning and left the Hotel Ramsteiner Hof by 8:00 a.m. I headed through Ramstein saying Auf Wiedersein to the good memories I made these past 5 days.

I hated to do it, but I had to get on the Nascar track….uh….I mean the Autobahn. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! I never was so relieved in my life to get off that thing!

Checking in and going through security was again, a breeze. I was the only person going through security when I arrived. Everything went smoot and I proceeded to my gate.

I was starving, (of course), so I grabbed a foccachia with parma ham and a bottle of Aqua (water in Italian).

I also spied german pretzels and will have one before my flight leaves. My flight leaves in one hour. I will arrive in Florence this afternoon around 2:15 europe time (7:15 a.m. CST). I will then take a shuttle to the train station at Santa Maria Novello. The train ride is a little less than an hour. When I arrive in Carmucia~Cortona, my taxi driver, Adreani, will be waiting for me to take me to Villa Marsilli (my hotel). I aleady got two emails from the girls at the hotel this week telling me they can’t wait “to meeting” me! They have been soooo nice and helpful already and I haven’t even met them.

I will write later tonight as I head to my room after MY FIRST ITALIAN MEAL!!!!!! ;-)

Ciao!

Another very long travel day! I am getting very tired and will look forward to coming home. It is hotter here in Italy than I’ve ever experienced. I think I would compare it to Las Vegas when we used to go to Ty’s tournaments. It is also humid here like home.

On the flight to Florence I was sitting between a woman from Wyoming and 3 very nice folks from Detroit. The woman from Wyoming talked my ear off but I didn’t mind…it
was good to carry on a conversation in English. Then the guy from Michigan asked me where I was from. I just said Kentucky. He said his grand parents were from Hopkinsville and Paducah and told him I lived right smack in between. He then said “Wildcats or Cardinals?” I said “neither”…he looked real funny and then said “Hilltoppers?” I said YES!!!! Then of course I said, remember the 2007 NCAA tourney? And he said “oh yeah, the shot that kid made”….. and I said “HE’S MY COUSIN!!!!” So here I am landing in Italy and talking about Ty and the shot with some folks from Michigan! What a small world.

When we got off the place in Florence it was soooo hot. We all went in to get our luggage. A drug sniffin dog sniffed me….I wanted to pet him. While we were waiting for our luggage the guy and his girlfriend asked me where I was going. I told him and he said they were too so they invited me to share a cab with them to the train station. That was an answer to prayer because I was so nervous about getting there. So far I have been blessed by Americans just when I need them most.

The train trip was so hot I thought I was going to have a stroke! I almost got sick. There was no air on the train at all. Everyone was fanning and miserable.

Finally we arrived at Cortona’s station and I could see Cortona perched high on a hill. My taxi driver was right there asking for Bobbi! We arrived at the hotel in 5 minutes. The view from this hotel is breath-taking! Cortona is such a lovely old hilltown.

After settling in my room I dressed and went up the hill to dinner. My hotel made a reservation for me and told me where to go. I ate at Tonino’s. It was very fancy. I felt a little like a fish out of water. There was a huge American wedding party going on in there too. Ty’s age. I thouht of Ty and Mandy’s wedding.

They knew who I was when I walked in the door and escourted me out to the outside terrace overlooking the city of Cortona and all the towns below. Oh how I wish each one of you could see it. Photos just can’t do it justice.

The sun was beginning to go down and there was a lovely color behind the old bell tower sticking up in the distance.

The waiter came over and just started pouring me a glass of champaign! I didn’t even ask or order! It was delicious and I secretly toasted my arrival in ITALY and a dream come true. Then he brought me three slices of parmasan cheese and bread. Then I ordered from the menu. I orderd a pasta in fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil. The spaghetti was thicker than ours because it was fresh home-made noodles. It was very good! I couldn’t believe I was eating pasta in Tuscany!

After dinner there were people swarming all over the town square. You know the scene in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” where they are having Christmas and walking down the steps in the middle of town. That is where I was. I couldn’t believe it!!! Jerry, I pretended I was Frances Mayes in the movie as I walkded through town!!!!! LOL. I saw places in the movie and was just freakin out inside to myself!!!! I actually got to say Scuzzi and nobody told me to shut up!!!! LOL.

This town is truly truly beautiful and I will get photos of it and post more tomorrow as I go to the Saturday market and then walk to Bramasole!

I AM HERE!!!!!!!

Buono Notto!

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Day 7 ~ (Cortona Day 2 ~ July 25, 2009….My 50th Birthday!!!!)

I woke up today and threw open my shutters to a georgeous, sunny tuscan day! I went to breakfast in the hotel. Breakfast was all kinds of breads and spreads, italian meats and cheeses, watermelon and other fresh fruit, Cherry tomatoes, boiled eggs, cereals, juices, coffee and water. The orange juice here is red! But it is tasty! I guess they use blood oranges. It is fresh squeezed too.

After breakfast I walked up the steep hill (boy am I ever out of shape) to town. It was market day in Cortona and people were everywhere! It certainly was the place to be. I was in awe that I was walking past places I’ve seen in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. I saw everything I have been looking at on a t.v. screen right there in front of me!!! I was thrilled!

I quickly started shopping as there are so many unique shops. I bought myself a Birthday present. I bought a hand made, hand painted ceramic plate and 2 smaller plates from the artist to made them. I am going to put then on my mantel in the dining room! I love them!

After shopping I found a table at an outdoor cafe that looked straight at the clock tower in the town center.

I ordered a coca cola light, tomatoe and mozz cheese crostini, and penne arrabiata. I ordered from a little old italian man. I spoke only Italian and he understood every word! I was so proud of myself. And…at the market this morning, I don’t know how many times I got to say “scuzzi”…….. I thought of Jerry Don…….. ;-)

After lunch I went down the road to a Dolce Vita Gellato shop. I had a double dip of gellato, chocolate and vanilla. OMG, their ice cream is to die for!!!!

After a short rest, I walked 30 mintues up a steep, hot in the (Tuscan) sun hill!!!! OMG….I was sweating like I had run a marathon! I was in search of Villa Bramasole from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Of course, that is the entire reason that I came to Cortona out of all the places in Italy! I kept walking and walking and was just about to give up when I thought….o.k., I’ll just go around that next curve and then that is it! Good thing I did because after the curve I could see the gardens of Bramasole in the distance.

All of the sudden…..there it was. Bramasole was right in front of me! I wasn’t looking at a picture, I wasn’t watching the movie….I was there!

I have waited 2 years for this moment…..

Bramasole was a beautiful house and the gardens and terraces were immaculately groomed. The flowers were so pretty. Butterfly weed was planted along the rock wall and there were literally hundreds of butterflys swarming around. I was happy to meet it….finally. I took some photos and tried to absorb every detail of the house and the grounds. I walked over and touched the Madonna and child in the grotto that was embedded in the old rock wall. I couldn’t believe that I was really there! I didn’t want to leave.

I stayed a while and rested a bit before heading back down the hill for the 30 minute walk back to my hotel. I walked a little way then turned around to look at the coral facade of this beautiful villa one last time. Bramasole……my sole purpose for being in Italy. The trip was worth meeting her.

Once back to my room, I rested and took a cool shower. I was drenched in sweat. It is really, really hot “under the Tuscan sun”!

I came down at 7:00 for the evening appertif. Tonight they were serving martini’s! Ha! It was orange and I thought it was Mimosa’s. I drank one and to my surprise, it was good!

Up the hill again…..in kitten heels….to La Buccachia for a very special dinner. My hotel had suggested it and made the reservation for me. A celebration for my turning “50″ today!

I arrived and to my surprise, they were waiting for me and started treating me like royalty! I was in awe! The owner, Ramono was my waiter and his wife was the cook. Their daughter served the wine, believe it or not. She was probably 12.

Romano said he had a surprise for me tonight! I thought…..hmmmmmm. He wouldn’t let me see a menu, just asked me if I had any food allergies and if I like cheese. I told him I loved pasta and he just smiled and said “for you tonight….not one but THREE pastas!”. Wow, I get three pastas!!! I can handle that. Mi piace monjare la pasta!!!! (I like to eat pasta).

Shortly after that Romano’s daughter brought me a little tiny bottle of white wine made in Cortona. Then Romano brought me out a plate of fresh ricotta cheese (that he made this morning) with TRUFFLES!!!! I’ve never had a truffle but from watching the food network I know they are expensive. I really don’t like ricotta cheese, but I ate it. After the first bite or two it was pretty good.

As soon as that was taken away, here came a plate of thick noodles that tasted and resembled my dumplings for chicken and dumplins. They were in a thick white cream sauce made of,,,,get this,,,,,potatoes and pecorino cheese. I liked it!

By this time, I am full. Romano walks by and I say…I’m full and he just shook his head and said no, no senora….

Next came a green spaghetti freshly made (I thought it was green beans actually) with a sauce of porchini mushrooms! This one was my favorite!!! Oh, the mushrooms were so flavorful!!!!

And you guessed it, after that one was a small plate of fresh made ravioli stuffed with chianti beef (a specialty of Tuscany) and topped with a truffle cheese sauce. Olive oil was floating around too. This one was my least favorite. Of course I was full as a tick by then! I didn’t like the taste of the fresh beef. It tasted like the beef we had when we killled a cow. I didn’t like it either. But, I ate it all because I knew Romano was trying to make it special for me.

I was sitting there enjoying the evening when all of the sudden Romano comes in the dining room (which was packed with people from Austrailia, England, France and Italy and turns down the lights really low….then this loud music came on like something you would hear in a kings court when the king was about to be announced. Then in he walks with a little desert treat with a candle on it. He announced Buon Compleano!!!!! Everyone in the room started clapping and cheering..

Well, I teared up of course! I was overwhelmed by the moment. At that minute Romano starts hugging me and giving me the European kiss on each cheek….then the older Australian man came over and took my hands and did the kiss on each cheek. Everyone started talking to me and before the night was through I had made fast friends with the table from Australia, (two older couples) and the family from Heathrow, England. I loved them, there were great to talk to and their children were so sweet. She is a professional Opera Singer.

The meal (experience) lasted 2 1/2 hours!!!!!!! Everyone said their good-byes to me as they left and I was ready to go too. I felt like the bell of the ball tonight!

I left the restaurant and walked down the hill back to my room. It was 10:30 and the town square was busier with people tonight than it was last night. Italian’s eat very late.

I am exhausted and getting ready to take a shower and go to bed. I have no plans tomorrow. If I get up on time I plan to go to one of the old churches tomorrow.

Good night everyone! Sweet dreams!

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Day 8 ~ Dominica (Sunday) in Cortona

I woke up at 10:00 a.m. to another beautiful day in Tuscany. I am sleeping like a baby here. I guess it’s all the exercise I am getting trotting up that hill 2 times a day and walking all over creation. My legs are gonna have muscles after this week.

I started my day at a pizzeria, Flufluns. I had a porchini mushroom pizza. It was very good, but I still think my home~made is better.

After lunch I headed up and down little alley ways and ended up at Piazza Duomo. This is an old church. The views from here were so vast! I left there and wondered through another winding alley road and walked right in to an outdoor antique market! I thought….oh my…..Walter would be in heaven! So I walked around and looked for a nice “textile” for him! LOL.

I immediately spied a very very old Devil puppet and knew Walter would love it! I just had to call him at 6:30 a.m. in the morning to discuss it. He said “YES!!! I would love that more than anything!” He loves to collect old devils….. So I tried to bargain with the old Italian man but he wouldn’t budge from 40 euro. Walter said he would buy it and off it went into a bag and into my hands. I walked around and found a nice limoges plate for me or Mamma. It is so pretty with pinks and greens. 12 euro for Limoges! I thought that was a steal!

After the market I walked to my favorite place in Cortona, Dolce Vita!!! I got a double dip of gellato with a wafer cookie on top! What a delicious treat!

I then walked back to the hotel to rest.

Tonight at 7:00 I headed downstairs to the evening appertif. Tonight I met 2 couples out on the patio. One couple from North Carolina, and an older couple from Ireland. The Irish woman was taking a photo of her husband and when she looked at it she started laughing….it looked like he and I were sitting together at the same table. I told them I would be happy to move so she could take another and he said “oh no,,, that will make a lovely conversation to take back home!”. We all laughed and I offered to take their photo together.

We all thought that the cocktail of the day was too strong. So, I asked Gina (the girl who attends to breakfast and the evening appetizers) if we could have some ice. She brought us some and the cocktail was much better. We were all discussing where we were going for dinner and where we had been to dinner the previous night. Italy is all about the food and that is quite obvious.

I told Luana (my favorite girl who works at the front desk) I wanted some roasted chicken and potatoes. She said she knew the place and would call and make a reservation for me on the outside patio overlooking the piazza republica (the main square in Cortona). Everytime they make a reservation for me my table is ready and they call me Senora Miller when I walk up. It makes me feel special! I ate at La Lacconda. My table for one was perfecto. I was sitting at the edge of the patio looking down at the square and straight on at the tall clock tower.

The waiter came and told me the specials, poured my still water and brought my pane (bread), After he explained the appetizer special I ordered it first. Zucchini quiche. Then I ordered the grilled chicken and roasted potatoes. He said no, no, Senora….you can have potatoes any time when you get home….you will get the porchini muchroom and garlic. I said O.k. and I sure am glad I did.

BEST MEAL since I’ve been in Europe! OMG I don’t know how to describe it! The anti-pasta (appetizer) was a small round quiche topped and surrounded with fresh chopped tomatoe, basil and olive oil! MMMMMM It was hot and melted in my mouth! I loved it! I didn’t order the Primi (first course which is usually pasta) and went on to the Secondi (Second course). My chicken arrived and a second plate with the porchini mushrooms and garlic. I inhaled it all! Jerry Don makes a wonderful chicken, but honey…..this melted in my mouth….you could cut it with a fork…..and the taste was like nothing I’ve ever tasted in my life. It was supreme! I asked Anso (my waiter…who told me to tell Stephano at my hotel hello for him) what they marinated the chicken in. He said “nothing…the chef uses only very fresh chicken and herbs and grills it”. And the mushrooms…..oh……I will go back before I go just to eat the mushrooms! It was a great meal and the view was the best. This little town comes alive after dark. Families with children, old people, young people, tourist and locals all gather every night in the town square. Tonight on the steps there was a young man playing the guitar (I thought of Joshua!) and then a choir started to sing. Dogs are barking and people are laughing. The energy is great! Everyone is happy! Everyone in Italy smokes too. People are smoking, eating, playing…..it is one big party every night.

After my wondreful meal I walked to the are where the market was today because I was following this beautiful opera music. It kept getting louder and I noticed people going into this dark walkway. I approached it and this is where the music was coming from. As we got to the end of the walkway we entered an open air theater. I don’t know quite how to describe this next experience but I will try.

There was a building with a courtyard in it. We were in the courtyard but there was no ceiling or roof. You looked up to a beautiful black sky dotted with rhinestone stars. I looked up and saw an old friend, Saggitarious the Archer. He was pulling back his bow over my head in Italy just as he was doing with all of my loved ones in Kentucky. It was quiet moving. There was a big movie screen on one side of the building as big as a drive in theater…well not that big, maybe a 1/4 size of a drive in theater. There were chairs lined up just like our plastic chairs at the pit that Jerry hates. Then there was an italian man with a computer and a microphone showing movies made from his still photographs he had taken in different parts of the world. The sound system in this open air theater was amazing and he was using opera music and native sounds to go along with each presentation. This was all free by the way. I immediately sat down in my plastic chair and began soaking up this experience. Everything was in Italian so I really didn’t understand what was going on. Each presentation was about 6 or 7 minutes long. When I walked in he was on Sarejvo. Photos to moving music. Photos of war, poverty, death, and the converse of each. The next short was Rwanda. Then the middle east which was a strong presentation on the extremely wealthy to the extremely poor. The next short was Italy and the next was the Grand Canyon in my homeland. He showed a map of the U.S. and highlighted the area where the Grand Canyon is. This one’s theme was the American Indian. At the end of that one I heard Italians saying “that was the United States…..the Grand Canyon park”…they oood and awwwed at it. It made me realize that people here look at our country in the same desireable way we look at theirs. It was nice. All the europeans I have met on this trip tell me how big the United States is….what a big country! I never thought of it that way but I guess we are a large country compared to The United Kingdom and Europe.

I continued to watch the photoclub of Cortona’s presentations while enjoying the music, the stars over my head and the cool breeze that made me wrap my shawl around my arms.

I hated to leave but decided to because it was approaching 11:00 and I needed a gellato fix! Almost 11 p.m. and this town was alive and vibrant! I walked to the ice cream shop and got my double dip! Two in one day!

I was strolling through the piazza della republica when I heard someone say in a British accent “are you having your dessert?” I looked over and there was the British couple I met earlier tonight at the hotel. We started chatting about our dinners. I had a wonderful experience, but they had a bad one. They told me all about it. What a shame. I told them about the open air theater that I had just left and how much I enjoyed it. They asked if it was still going on and I said yes. So off they went to check it out.

I walked down the now familiar street to my hotel. People were still out everywhere. The sidewalk cafes were all full. Polizi were strolling quietly through, children in strollers, all at 11 p.m.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all small towns at home were like this. I thought, Eddyville should do this every week-end. People in Italy made each night an event. Eddyville could put up the outdoor theater, local photographers and artist could show their presentations, and restaurants in town could put out seats on the sidewalk. We could get a gellato shop, and they would come! Each night should be a celebration….not just the week-ends.

I know this was a long one tonight, but I had such a nice time. I am looking forward to coming home, I think 2 weeks is really too long of a trip…but I sure am enjoying the things that happen my way each day. I’ve never gone on a trip I didn’t have planned down to the nano second. But this is so refreshing…..no plans at all……just let things come as they may.

Buono notto a tutti!

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Day 9 ~ Monday in Cortona

I slept again this morning until 10:00. I wandered downstairs and up the hill to town around 12:30. Not a cloud in the sky again today. The Tuscan sun is bright and very very hot! Molto fa cauldo!

I had lunch today at Trattoria La Grotto. I sat outside and had bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil as my antipasta. My second course was home made spaghetti with garlic, basil and olive oil in a fresh tomatoe sauce. It had a hint of heat to it and was good. I’ve decided I don’t really like the fresh made “spaghetti”. Their spaghetti is very thick and very al-dente or chewy. The noodles are almost as thick as a McDonald’s french fry.

After lunch I went shopping….again. I am really not a shopper but these little shops are so quaint and hold so many surprises inside.

On my way back to Villa Marsili, I was going to get a gellato. I sat down on some steps in front of the Gellato shop to organize my bags and my camera. Then I spied some children eating their ice cream and decided to take their photos….what happened to me next “is a very good thing in Italy”…..

There is a line in the movie “Under The Tuscan Sun” where Frances Mayes has just walked in Bramasole for the first time. She is talking to the old lady that owns the house and trying to come to a price. The old woman decides she won’t sell Frances the house. She needs a sign. El siengo….. About that time a pigeon flys over Frances’ head and poops all over her. The old lady starts shouting “el siegno!!! el siegno!!!!”. Frances is embarrassed by what just happened to her and Senore Martini says “What happened to you just now is a very good sign in Italy!!!…it is very good luck!”. At that, the old lady sells the house to Frances.

Well…….I must be in for some very good luck because a pigeon pooped all over me while I was sitting in front of the ice cream shop!!!! I was sitting there and all of the sudden felt something hot hit my lap and arm. The poop was hot! It was all over my black linen capri’s, on my arm and in my reading glasses! I wanted to jump up and shout “EL SIENGO!!!! EL SIENGO!!!”….. Believe it or not, after my total surprise of realizing what happened, I was THRILLED!!!! We all started laughing and people were walking by saying “good luck….good luck!!”

A nice grandmother and her grandchildren were sitting across the way and offered to help me clean up. They were so nice and I took their photograph. The woman was American but lived in Cortona. She took my picture with the bird poop all over me!!!!

I quickly scurried back to my room and washed my capri’s in the sink!

While in town this evening I went to the Etruscan Museum. Well, needless to say, I flew through it! I just don’t care for history even though these things date back to before Christ. I did get to see some bones of some dead person and that was pretty cool. You know me and dead people! LOL. I also saw a marble tomb.

Of all the things I have done in Germany and Italy….this was the thing I liked the least. But, my husband would have LOVED this. Honey, your arrow head collection put theirs to shame!

Walter woud have loved the art. I was in and out in 15 minutes! LOL.

Dinner tonight was at a sidewalk table looking at the clock tower. Although several people were milling about, Cortona was much more quiet tonight. If anyone ever travels here be sure to come on the week-end. The week-end is magical here!

I wasn’t very hungry tonight because I had the appetizers at the hotel. I ordered a home-made ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese. It was in a sauce of butter and sage. It was really good. Then I ordered a Caprese Pizza. I “thought” I was getting a pizza with tomatoe sauce, mozz cheese, tomatoes, basil and garlic. When it arrived there was no sauce…..just cheese with fresh (not cooked) cherry tomatoes and basil. No garlic. So I ate a slice and brought the rest back to the hotel. I gave it to Stephano, the manager.

I just can’t eat a pizza without tomatoe sauce! I am my mother’s daughter!

I am in early tonight, but I am very very tired. I am ready to rest.

Tomorrow at 4:00 a taxi arrives to take me to an Italian farm house for my cooking lesson with several other people. I am looking forward to that. I am also looking forward to the taxi ride outside of the town wall.

I am having a wonderful time, but I am ready to see the green, green grass of home and see all of my family, friends and most of all my pets!!!!!!

I have enjoyed the food in Germany and Italy very much…however….

I also want some fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob…..bacon, eggs and my mother’s home made biscuits…..

Good night to all!

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Day 10 ~ Tuesday in Cortona

I started my day walking up the hill to town and stopping to get a few things I needed. I had planned to get a slice of pizza for lunch and eat it in the Piazza Del Republica but there are just too many little trattoria’s that I couldn’t pass one up.

I am getting smart and not ordering all that food! Italians eat 4 – 5 courses at lunch and dinner every day!!! I couldn’t do that every single day. I’m ready to get home and get on one big ole diet!!!

I chose spaghetti with tomatoe sauce. This was the best spaghetti I’ve had since I left home. It was just like the pasta I cook and I love my own pasta. So simple and delicious. The was the food I was waiting for! Fresh tomatoes cooked in olive oil, garlic and basil. MMMMMMMMMMM. I thought of my Mamma, she would have loved it!

After lunch I didn’t have time to do much because I needed to be back in my room by 2 in order to get ready for my cooking class outside of town tonight.

I walked down the hill to the entrance of Cortona and took some photos of some breath taking views. I saw the church of Santa Maria up close and it was breaktaking. Then I just wandered through little alley ways where people live.

I arrived back at my hotel to relax for a hour before I needed to change clothes. Someone would be picking me up at 4:15 to escourt me to the Agriturismo farm Poggio al Sole. Poggio al Sole means sun on the top of the hill.

A man arrived sharply at 4:15 and seemed to be in a hurry. So, I got in the Land Rover with him and we headed down the hill to Cortona. We spoke in broken italian and broken english. I am loving speaking Italian! I will miss that most of all. At home when I speak Italian I am always told to “please stop that”. Ha ha. And besides, no one knows what I am saying anyway. But here THEY DO! I am proud that I tried to learn their language and you can tell that they really appreciate it when you speak to them in Italian. They become freindlier.

We drove along the road that was in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. All of the sudden the man said “there was a movie made here about a house and that is the house they used in the movie.” I already knew that they used a double for the house in the movie because I had read it online. The house they used as Bramasole in the movie is actually “villa Laura”. We passed right by Villa Laura and he was kind enough to stop and let me take pictures. I was THRILLED! Earlier in the week I was going to ask where it was but then I forgot about it. The man (who is Bendetta’s Uncle) (Bendetta was my chef) told me an American woman who is in the wine business has bought Villa Laura and has been restoring it. SOUND FAMILIAR?

After we passed Villa Laura we drove down the winding hill through farm land. I didn’t know this but they grow tobacco here! We passed fields and fields of tobacco and also SUNFLOWERS!!! (Girasole). They export the tobacco and they use the sunflowers for the oil. Zio asked me if I had ever seen tobacco before.

Soon we drove in a gravel drive and started up a hill. Zio (I call him that because it means Uncle in Italian) pointed and told me that up the lane was Poggio al Sole. (The house).

As soon as we arrived I met Bendetta, a 42 year old woman, and her mother. Bendetta explained the dishes we would be cooking and presented me with a recipe book to bring home with me. She gave me an apron and said we would be cooking for 12 people tonight.

As soon as the apron was over my head we jumped right into making pasta dough for Pici. (Pee-chee). A home made large spaghetti noodle. You know, the ones I described earlier in the week as being as big as a McDonald’s french fry.

I did it all with her instruction. She was impressed with my dough making skills and asked me if I made pasta or bread at home. I said no, but I do make pizza dough like this. She said my technique was “perfecto”.

One thing I learned was that I don’t knead my dough long enough. I knead my dough about 5 minutes. Well, I kneaded this dough for a full 15 minutes. That is a long time to work on a piece of dough!!!! But my dough turned out perfect and was so soft. Soft like baby’s skin Bendetta told me. She said when you close your eyes and feel the dough, it should feel just like a baby’s skin.

As we were cooking, Bendetta gave me history on the region and food, and why the Italians did things the way they did. It was really interesting. She said she didn’ want to just teach me the food, but the culture as well. Bendetta is passionate about food, eating, cooking, and teaching it. She is also passionate about her home and her country.

After the dough was done we had to let it rest. At this point we started the dessert, Cantucci. Cantucci is an italian biscuit or as they call it Biscotti. She explained that biscotti meant “to cook twice”. I mixed up the dough, added the whole almonds (yum) and then had to let that dough rest as well. After the dough rested, I cut it in 4 sections and then rolled each section into a long tube. Then I put them in a cooking pan and pressed each tube down. Then we put it in the oven. You cook it at one temperature for 20 minutes, then you pull it out and let it cool. After cooling you cut each log into little diagonal pieces. After you cut all the pieces you put them back on a cookie sheet and cook them again at a lower temperature. That is why they are cooked twice. Now these cookies are hard as a rock and that is how they are supposed to be. But, the Italians dip them in Vin Santi….an italian sweet wine….that tasted more to me like Bourbon! I hated the vin santi…but Iiked the hard cookies. I made them!!!!

After I made the Biscotti, Mamma brought out a plate of bruschetta and a glass of white wine. She told me to sit down and relax and enjoy my snack. She had prepared the bruschetta and it was the best bruschetta I have ever had. I asked her what the secret was and she said to only use the most ripe tomatoes and add the basil at the end! The wine was delicious too. I thought It tasted like champaigne so I asked. Benedetta told me it was wine with “just a splash” of champaign added to it. It was so refreshing!

I was just in awe of this experience, of their home, and of the food that I was cooking and tasting! I am soooo very glad I took this class!

Now it was time to go in the kitchen and prepare our first course, we made a bread and vegetable salad called Panzanella. I thought….hmmmmm…..a salad made out of wet bread. I don’t know about that. But….I really did like it! I can’t wait to make it for my family. JD might not like it because of the bread in it. But it is tasty.

Our next step was to go roll out the pici dough and cut the pici into strands. I rolled it out and used a wooden thing called a matarello to cut it into the long strands. Every now and then the pici would break but Benedetta told me “not to worry….inside the stomach is dark!” Her grandmother had always told her that when she was learning to cook. When she made a mistake or something didn’t look perfect, her grandmother told her that inside the stomach…it is dark! Benedetta missed her grandmother as she told me she had just recently passed away.

Next we went into the kitchen to prepare the main course. We prepared Pork Sirloin with Country Style Sauce. It was yummy….it was wrapped in pancetta and looked like a little filet mignon. Now when I make it at home, I am going to make a different sauce. I didn’t care for the sauce made with black olives, fennel, and some other ingrediants I can’t remember right now. The fennel was over powering. I don’t like fennel….tastes too much like licorace. But….the pork was delicious!

Finally it was time for me to go outside to the patio and relax while Bendetta, Mamma and Zio put everything together for a table of 11 and myself.

The table of 11 were all from Germany but they spoke very good English. They were renting the Villa for a week. So…I paid them to let me cook for their guests! LOL. It was worth every penny of it too!

Dinner started at 8:00 p.m. and was over at 10:30 p.m.!!! It was all outside in the Tuscan night. The stars were brilliant and the half crested moon was so big!!! It’s truly been beautiful weather here this week.

Zio served us all one by one….I was served first. He explained to them that I helped prepare the meal and they would ask me questions about it. They loved my biscotti!

As we were in the kitchen cooking today, they were listening to music. All the music was english and the first set was the music that my Uncle Jason and my parents loved. That old jazzy sound with a female singer….I thought of my Uncle Jason, who passed away one year ago today, while I was cooking. He would have loved the music!

I was treated like royalty tonight just as I was on my birthday at La Buccachia.

I enjoyed this experience more than I can truly express. It was so much fun, informative, relaxing and inspiring. I was inspired there tonight as I have been inspired this entire week in Italy. Watch out J.D., I have some plans for our patio!!! ;-)

It was now time for Zio to take me back to Villa Marsili. But bofore he did, we all gathered for a group photo and kisses from cheek to cheek. Mamma came over and gave me a sunflower to take back to my room, and they gave me a little cutting board to hang in my kitchen that Zio made from the wood from their olive trees outside their house. I was so touched. They were good, people and so kind to me.

This had to be the highlight of my entire trip. I have had a magical time that I will never forget. Bendetta told me while we were cooking that everyday she woke up she said she thanked God for the life he had given her and for the beautiful farm they restored and live on. She said “it’s something that was my dream”. I told her that coming to Italy had been my dream, and that I, too, thanked God everyday for bringing me here and showing me the beauty of the land, the people and their culture.

The world is vast. Each person and each place on earth can teach us a lesson.

Thank you, Italy…..for letting me learn.

Buono Notto…..

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Day 11 ~ My Last Day in Italia….

Today is my last day in Italy. I woke up at 10:00 again this morning. Gina, the girl who does the beautiful breakfast, stopped me a day or two ago to ask me if anything was wrong. She said she didn’t see me at breakfast and wondered if I didn’t like it. How sweet she is. I just explained to her that I have been so tired and going to bed so late that I slept past the hour for breakfast.

I woke up to another blue sky day. Not a cloud in the sky as I look out my open window to the church tower in the distance. This has been my routine. Every morning I wake up, open my shutters, open the window and check my email and facebook. I have been having 20 – 30 messages everyday from Facebook. It’s been nice to know that people are enjoying my blog and my photos I’ve posted daily on Facebook. I didn’t think anyone would be interested.

I am sitting here now, ready to go home to my country, but absorbing every little last moment of this beautiful town.

I can hear Italian voices outside chatting to one another and laughing. I can smell food cooking across the way. I look up and see the houses with the green shutters and the terra cotta roofs stacked up on the hill like pieces of a puzzle. I hear a vespa going by right now and the engine of a little tiny Italian car. The car engines sound like electric lawn mowers. I actually saw a Monk walking down the hill today! I was thrilled!

There is not a cloud in the sky and that is how it’s been for the past 5 mornings.

I have been given a gift….this trip….and I will never forget that. God is so good. He truly gives us the desires of our hearts if we truly believe. Not only do I feel blessed by this trip and my experiences, but I feel blessed for what I am coming home to.

This trip has opened up my eyes in a different way regarding my homeland and my “home”. I am blessed to have such a wonderful, loving mother, the BEST brother in the world, an amazing extended family (especially my cousins!) and a wonderful, loving husband. Jerry and I are so very lucky to have the farm. He has always told me that and I agreed. But now I see it in a different light. I can’t wait to go home and pick tomatoes and basil out of our garden and cook!!! I can’t wait to can my tomatoes for the winter. In many ways we do live like the Italians. I am looking forward to our grape plants becoming a little vineyard. I want to plant some olive trees….if we can find some. I think the climate at home is so similar to here that they will do fine. The only thing Zio said to look out for is ice. Uh oh…………

I am so happy I have a field of sunflowers (girasole) waiting for me at home, smiling with their happy faces! I hope they are as eager to see me as I am they.

I don’t think I have to mention how much I miss my pets. I cannot wait to love on my babies! To smell them and feel their fur against my skin. I have missed them so much. I have seen many cats (catti) and dogs (cane) and each time I do it just makes me want to see Katie, Cole, the Bebekins and …. Bella, Sparky and Neeko! I even miss the roof cats!

As I sit here reflecting….my stomach is telling me it’s hungry! So I better get dressed and trot up that hill!!!

Ciao for now!

Lunch today was the cheapest I’ve had since I’ve been in Europe. A slice of cheese pizza and aqua (water) only 2.3 euro’s! I sat on a shady stone windowsill overlooking the Piazza Della Republica. I sat inches away from the spot that Frances Mayes followed Catherine up the hill in the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”…. As I thought about the movie it dawned on me…. I am not the character “Frances” afterall….I am the character “Catherine!” LOL….

It was so hot and sweat was running down my back so I decided to go back to the hotel for a cool shower and begin my packing for home.

I said my good bye’s to Luana, the front desk clerk. She will not be here when I check out in the morning so we took photos and did the kiss kiss cheek cheek thing! She has been so very helpful to me and is so sweet. In fact everyone in this hotel has gone above and beyond the call of duty for each guest they have. I have truly never seen such genuine concern for their guests happiness and comfort.

Stephano is the manager, Luana works reception and Gina prepares the beautiful breakfast every morning and the evening appetizers and drinks. She is a little shy, but so sweet. She’s been very kind to me. They all have. I will miss them….they have been my family in Italy.

I had so much to do tonight to prepare for leaving tomorrow that I decided to just run to town and grab a slice of pizza for dinner. I went downstairs first and sat down to the evening appertif. I met a couple from Maryland. They were a young couple in their 30′s and had been in Europe for 3 weeks! We chatted so long that I missed getting to town before the shops closed! They were walking to town too and asked if I would like to walk with them. We chatted all the way up the hill and then we parted at the Clock tower.

I grabbed my pizza slices and decided to sit on the steps of the tower one last time and take in the beauty of Cortona.

I sat there and looked around trying to absorb everything like a sponge. I want to remember every detail when I get home. These memories will have to last me a lifetime.

I guess if I start to forget, I can always watch “Under the Tuscan Sun!” LOL

I finished my meal and walked back to Villa Marsili. I turned around one last time to see the clock. I walked Via Nationalle like it was Martin Chapel Road. It now felt so familiar. I ran into the big ole yellow cat that I’ve seen lying around every night. He has quite the attitude and everybody stops to look at him. I passed the gellato shop and for the first time, I didn’t go in. (I had one at lunch!)

I walked down the hill one last time…..

Tomorrow….I begin my journey back “home”.

Ciao Bella Italia……molto grazie for my memories….

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Day 12 ~ Travel back to Frankfurt

It was hot and sunny the morning I left Villa Marsili. Stephano carried my bags to the taxi and we hugged good-bye. I will miss him, Luana and Gina. They treated me like family….like royal family.

The taxi arrived at the train station way too soon. On the way to the station, I got to see Villa Laura one last time. I looked back at her hoping to see her again one day after she has been fully restored.

We passed beautiful sunflower fields and the happiness I felt inside was overwhelming.

Once on the train I settled in for the one hour ride to Florence. This time I was in luck…the train was air conditioned!!! As the train pulled out of the Cortona station I felt sorry to be leaving. Happy to be going home, but a little sad about saying good-bye to Cortona and all the great people I had met during my stay.

The train ride offered more beautiful scenery to view. We passed villas and farms, sunflower fields and olive groves. I decided to get out my ipod and listen to music for the first time on my trip. The first song that played was Lorrie Morgan’s ballad “The Color of Roses”. It was so fitting for this last glimpse of Tuscany. The lyric “only the ones who believe ever see what they dream…….ever dream what comes true……”

Once in Florence I took a taxi to the airport. Shortly after arriving at the airport, I was boarding a flight for Frankfurt. Smooth sailing.

I arrived in Frankfurt, Germany an hour later. I caught the shuttle for my hotel, “The Intercity Hotel” right on the grounds of the airport.

I was so tired that I ate in my room that night. I had a turkey sandwich and french fries. Soon to bed I went fast asleep.

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Day 13 ~ TRAVEL HOME!

On Friday, July 31, 2009…..13 days after arriving in Germany….I boarded my plane for HOME. The flight was 9.5 hours. When we touched down in Cincinnati I was sooooo happy to be in my homeland! My own country…..the good ole USA!!!

I had a little layover in Cincy so I immediately went to the food court and had a CHICK-FIL-A!!! Fast food again! Yea! Full cups of ice again, yea!

It was great to stroll along and hear Americans having conversations, not having to translate or think in my mind how to ask for something in another language.

Soon I was boarding my flight to Nashville! As we flew from Cincy to Nashville I looked out the window at the countryside below. I was trying to see when we passed over our house, but of course, I could never figure it out. 45 minutes later I was home….. Jerry was at the airport to greet me and we jumped in the car and headed for my Mom’s!!!

We arrived at Mamma’s around 10:30. Mamma and Walter had fried chicken waiting for me! It was sooo good. She had also baked me an Italian Cream cake for my Birthday. At that moment it dawned on me that my favorite cake has always been “Italian”….. ;-) We visited until midnight.

I went to bed as soon as I got home….well….after loving on Katie, Cole, the Bebekins and my sweet baby raccoons……

I was blessed by a wonderful, wonderful experience. I loved my trip, and I love the memories that I made. I will cherish them forever! This trip meant more to me than anyone will ever know.

Thank you Lord for getting me home safely…..and thank you for all the moments I experienced in another part of our vast, glorious world! The world is truly, truly wonderful and awesome. There is so much beauty in our world and so many wonderful people that inhabit it.

My mother wrote a short story after we came back to the United States from Germany….she titled it “Three Wonderful Years”. Now I have written my story…….

“Two Wonderful Weeks”…….

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