Friday, June 26, 2009


With the advent of summer weather in Chicago (Finally!) has come a major influx of bums, the likes of which I have never seen. I even saw one sleeping in our alley when I took Milly out to potty this morning. She jumped back and growled a low growl (he had a cardboard box, Milly's perpetual foe is the cardboard box) and I shushed her. "Milly, shhhh.... the man is sleeeeeeping!" I whispered before I realized how absurd that statement was. I mean, a) the man is sleeping in an alley, it can't be all THAT restful and b) like Milly understands anything I say. I guarantee she just knows the words BACON, CHEESE, and OUTSIDE!

Anyways, there have been two bums at the train station all week long. Oh and they've been drunk... just Wasted drunk, even at 8:30 AM when I'm going to work (hey it's 5 o'clock somewhere right?!). On Monday, one introduced me to his pet pigeons, Spike and Harry. I wasn't quite sure what to do with that. I just nodded and, thankfully, the train came and saved me.

Today I was hot and tired as I walked up to the train station, and plopped down on a ledge with a sigh. The bum started laughing. Then he started up this convo:
Bum: Run out of gas did ya?
Me: Yeah. It's hot out
Bum: Yup, this weather will do it to you.
Me: Yup (thinking...please stop talking...)
Bum: So how far along are ya?
Me: (thinking... seriously should not have worn this billowy top) I'm not pregnant.
At this point the Chick standing next to me bursts out laughing
Bum: (defensively now) I didn't ask if you were pregnant
Me: You asked how far along I am. How am I supposed to take that?
Bum: I'm sorry! I mean, I just meant..... where did you come from! How far did you walk to get here?
Me: Um, not far.
Bum: Keeps apologizing
Chick next to me: Wow, awkward conversation.
Me: (to the chick next to me) Last year I was with my sister at lunch, and the waitress walked up and said "Wow, are you both pregnant!" and I said "She is, I'm just fat"
Chick next to me: (laughing) Great way to start the day, right?

At this point (thank goodness!) the train comes, and I tell the bum "hey buddy, don't worry about it" because he won't shut up about it. I hurry to get the h-e-double-hockeysticks outta there.

I obviously need to lose weight. Or stop wearing billowy tops.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Random odds and ends

Is it already Thursday?

My non-work time has flown by this week. Let's see, what have I done?
  • Finished the master bath trim
  • Painted the bathroom ceilings (which I still need to touch up)
  • Laundry, boo. That crap never goes away. It's like people keep wearing clothes or something.
  • Had over a few friends last night to partake in the overly massive pot of homemade spaghetti sauce I made on Sunday (the Giada de Laurentis marinara recipe, but added petite diced tomatoes, yum)

This weekend is going to be more of the same. I need to paint the rest of the trim in the master bedroom, which FINISHES the painting, HALLELUJAH! So hopefully I can post some before and after pics really soon. Then the week ends early to head to Michigan and my friends' lakehouse, so I have things to get together for that and a friend's baby's dedication. All good times, to be sure, but busy goings-on!

We are going to take Milly to Michigan as well for the fourth. Is it sad that I am really excited to see her running around in real grass, with the wind in her ears?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Days 13 and 14 - Florence & Milan Airport Hotel

On Day 13, we had a 3ish train out of Florence back to Milan. We decided to head into Florence a bit early to check out the David. Dad reserved tickets online for 11:00 so we headed in a couple hours earlier than that (Greve was about 30 km outside of Florence. On the way there I documented a few Italian street signs. Love the exclamation point.
We drove around Florence trying to find the museum and parking for like an hour. There were lots of scooters!

Finally we found parking and made our way to the museum. Right after I took this picture Mike pointed to the sign on the wall that said "NO PHOTOGRAPHY." I am such a rule-follower I actually was like "should I delete those pictures?!!" Then thought... nah!
After the David we moseyed around and checked out a little town square market.

We grabbed lunch at McDonald's (did you know Italian McD's totally have curly fries? They are delish.)
Mike and I had originally intended to head into Milan the last day, but after getting from downtown to the hotel took an hour-long bus ride to the airport and then an airport shuttle to the hotel, we decided that a two hour commute to walk around another city was unnecessary. So we stayed at our hotel, laid by the pool, and drank some chianti.
It was a good day. A great day to the end of a really awesome trip.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 12 - Last day in Greve

On the last day in Greve, Mike and I decided we didn't want to repeat the awkward wine tasting experience of the first day, so when Dad started discussing plans we told them that they could go explore, but we were exploring the pool that day. We took an extra long morning nap after breakfast, then headed to lunch.

We got lunch at a cute little place on the square. Mike got gorgonzola gnocchi (they were tiny pillowy spheres and so yummy) and I got some spaghetti arrabiatta. Spicy! Afterwards we walked around the square, I took some pics, and got some gelato.

We were out sunning ourselves by the pool when Dad came over and told us he had a plan. We had 7:30 dinner reservations in Lamole again, did we want to go see a small town they'd seen that afternoon and have a few drinks there? Mom mentioned they had a handbag outlet, and I quickly answered that the plan sounded great!

We stopped to take a picture of this castle on a hillside on the way to Radda. So pretty.
The town of Radda is built on the top of a hill with two layers of mighty fortress walls. The guys were pretty impressed with the warring possibilities.

After checking out the handbag outlet (and scoring a bright pink bag for myself and a white one for my brother's girlfriend Kimmy), we had a few beers on a nearby bar patio. We went inside to order beers. "Cuatro birras," I said, holding up four fingers. The guy held up a pint glass and asked me, in perfect English, "You want pints?" I laughed and said Sure! He repeated "Sure!" in a peppy voice. Then I said "Okee dokee!" which he also repeated in his best sorority girl voice again. I laughed and he said he'd bring them out to the patio. Score.

Beagle! I was beagle-missing for sure by this time.
After drinks we walked around and took some more pics of Radda.

Then headed to Lamole, where it looked like a storm was blowing in.

We headed back to Greve after another amazing meal and gorgeous sunset, with the satisfaction of consuming almost every dish on the menu (in our 3 meals there).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 11 - Food and Wine experience at Castellano Verrazzano

On our second day in Greve, we had planned a "Food and Wine experience" at Castellano Verrazzanno. We basically just piddlefarted around until our cab came at 11:30 to take us to our 12:00 reservation for a tour and lunch (with wine! yay!) Our next door neighbors had warned us that the wine was plentiful at this event, so we wanted to make sure we didn't end up in an Italian jail. Cab was soooo well worth the 20 euro or so.

Our tour guide, Gino, ran the place, and we all signed in. I think there was a group of about 20 or so. Once we were all there, we started a tour of the grounds and wine cellars.

The place was amazingly gorgeous and the quick tour was fun and informative.

Then Gino led us down to a little restaurant area, another tour about our size came in as well, and he assigned us to tables. This print was above our table, explaining how the rooster became the mascot/symbol of that area.

We were at a table with a couple from New Jersey and another couple from Ottawa. The guy in the New Jersey couple knew our tour guide (was his cousin or something) and we got A+ treatment (A+ means extra wine, if you didn't know). I think we sat down around 1, and the meal started with salted meats and cheese, moved to pasta, then pork loin and salad, some parm with balsamic, and then some biscotti with a sweet wine called vin santo. Finally they served some grappa (SUPER high alcohol content, the guys at the other end of the table called it "Drano for your body"), which I sipped just a wee bit. All of this was served with accompanying red wine. We ate and drank and made friends with the other two couples, all the while becoming louder and friendlier and more boisterous. Before we knew it, it was 4:30 and Gino was telling us to get out. He didn't say it that way but that's what he meant.

Last count on the damage was like 8 bottles of wine (not including the Vin Santo)
Gino explains something. What, I don't remember.

On the way out we took some pictures and Dad ordered a case of Chianti Reserve that I am going to snitch a bottle of next time I come to Evansville. hehehe.....

The cab picked us up and we headed back for a long nap and some pool time. Mike and I watched Taken as well, then we all got showered and headed to dinner. At dinner Dad got the idea to hit up Lamole for dessert so we headed back to our favorite place again. Luckily this time they didn't disappoint me, and I was able to order the panna cotta (they had been out of it the night before). So good. Note to self: add panna cotta to the list of things to learn how to make.

Days 9 & 10 - Travelling and Day 1 in Greve

The pictures I've been posting are the low-resolution versions of what I actually took so I don't kill the blog. The big guys are located here for Day 10:
On Day 9, we woke up and took a ferry into Naples. We got to the train station, snagged some McDonald's for lunch, and got on the train. Our seats were all the way in the front of the train, and we hiked down the platform. Dad remarked, "Hey, at least we'll be the first ones off the train!"
Once we were settled on the train, a few groups of people came by claiming that they also had our seats. "Man I feel bad for those people, the train people double-booked these tickets!" The conductor came by and pointed out our tickets were for May 25th, not May 24th and that we were a whole day early. Doh. Turns out the travel agent booked our ticket for the wrong day. As we hustled to get off the train, Mike said "Well you were right, we WERE the first ones off the train!" He and Dad laughed as I yelled "NOT FUNNY YET!" Luckily, there was another express train to Florence only an hour later, and we were able to get on that one. Not bad, as snafus (esp in another country where you don't speak the language) go.

The only other major snafu of the trip was when we pulled up to our hotel in Greve. "Oh no," I thought. This is not where I made the reservation. This is the dirty, nonhospitable hotel our neighbors warned us to stay away from. Albergo del Chianti. I made a reservation at Hotel del Chianti. "Um, April," Mike said, "Ya think maybe Albergo is Italian for Hotel?" DOH. It HAD been recommended by the Frommers book, so we decided to go in and look around. I think that an older guy used to run it and his two sons had taken it over - our neighbors had told us that the older guy was SUPER not nice, and the place was awful. But it wasn't bad. Our room smelled like the previous tenant had smoked like 10 cigars in a row in it, but it was clean, on the piazza, and had a cute little courtyard with a pool. So we decided to give it a try. And I'm glad we did because it was pretty cool!

That night we just got some dinner at a restaurant next door (amazing gorgonzola and asparagus penne - I think all the restaurants in the Greve region we ate at were good!) and then had some chianti in the courtyard. My idea of a good time.

The next day we woke up ready for wine-tasting. We got a map with all the wineries marked on it and set off. First we stopped at Vignamaggio. This place was gorgeous, and was the most professional wine-tasting experience we had. They had a little cute wine-tasting and sales room, and we had a few different kinds of chianti.

Mike is looking THRILLED

Now, I had taken a wine class in Chicago where I had learned a bit about wines, but didn't think about how what I had learned would affect our experience. The wine-class lady told us that in "old world" wines (anywhere the Romans were) the taste of the wine is very based on region, steeped in tradition, and the vinters take great pride to stay very loyal and consistent with regional traits. In "new world" wines, how the wines taste very much depends on how the vinter wants it to taste. What I didn't derive from that was this: So you may go to a winery in Napa, and they'll have 7 wines and they'll all taste very different. And those 7 will taste very different than the wines the guy up the road makes. There, tastings make sense - how else would you know what you're getting? In Tuscany, they make chianti (mostly). So you'll go to a winery and they'll have chianti table wine, chianti classico, chianti reserve, etc. A lot of chianti. And while they do strive to make them quality and there are small differences in the wines, it's not enough to make the tasting experience a big thing. It just isn't like that there.
Random shot of a hillside castle
So the second winery we go to, Castellanuzza, we walked up the driveway and saw a door that was closed and locked that said direct sales. What? We checked our watches... nope, not siesta time. We walked up the driveway farther and heard someone taking a shower inside. OK, now we were the creepy people outside the bathroom door. We started walking back to the car to give up when a tiny Italian grandmother came out and started talking to us in Italian. Now we speak next to no Italian, but she got our "Vino?" and motioned that she would go around and let us into the direct sales room.
We walk in, and we're in this dusty room that is very obviously not a wine-tasting room, but a small room off the production facilities where they happen to have a countertop. She opens some chianti classico for us, she talks in Italian, we talk in English. We point to a bottle of wine and pay for it (Thank God the price list was on the wall), and decide to bail. I have one word to say about the entire exchange and that is AWK-WARD.
We decide to drive to the next place, Castello de Stinche, to try our luck there. Again, the direct sales door is closed. We knock, and some dude in his pajamas throws open a window on third floor and says "Vino?!" We all nod, and wait on him to come down.
The guy comes downstairs and opens the door for us. He shows us to a tiny dark dusty room where there is a table, wineglasses, and two chairs. Mom and I sit down, the guys hover around. Wine dude goes to pour us a glass and knocks over one, shattering it all over the stone floor. As he cleans it up we decide to buy a bottle of white wine and a couple bottles of olive oil. We tell the guy that it's OK, we'll just take the junk and go.

At this point I'm about over dragging guys from their nap and ladies from the shower and decide to tell everyone that I'm starving and we must stop to eat (even though I am at best only mildly hungry). Everyone knows how crabby I get when low on food, so we find the nearest restaurant and park in a nearby church parking lot. Of course the boys had to go into the church, so I sent Mike in with the camera while Mom and I sat in the air conditioning, as it was like 90 degrees outside.
Picking this place ended up being our best move by far. It was so freaking good. By the time we finished lunch we'd made reservations for dinner that very night.
We started lunch out with a glass of prosecco. I have always been a bubbly fan, but the bubbles bother my reflux and it gets a little sweet. Prosecco is drier, and has less bubbles that are smaller in nature. It hits the spot, let me tell you. I may have a new favorite drink. Also, the view from this place was pretty amazing. We could see 4 different levels of hills/valleys in the distance.
At the end of lunch, the waiter poured us some lemoncello. We sipped a bit to be polite. I always felt bad leaving it on the table (they poured it after every meal in many places), but I just can't do 100-proof hard alcohol. I guess that is a sign that I'm getting old, eh?
After lunch we headed back to town. We lazed around until dinner - shopping in the piazza, getting gelato (YUM), napping (by this time our room had aired out from previous Smoky McSmokerson), hanging by the pool. Generally, the perfect afternoon. Once the time came we headed back to Lamole for dinner at the same restaurant as lunch. On the way we saw this blue tree. I have no idea what was going on with this guy.
We also stopped to take pics of a house Mom liked. She wanted to frame a pic of it, so I took like 50 to make sure I got at least one she liked.
And then we sat down to one of the BEST meals I've ever had. I took pics of every dish but this one was amazing. Warm asparagus flan. We also ordered a red onion and truffle flan. As I gulped it down, I told everyone "You know, if you'd told me yesterday I was going to be eating vegetable pudding and liking it I would have told you you were crazy. But this stuff is amazing!"
This was my entree, a black risotto with asparagus and rabbit. So good.
And we had lots of vino. We had an amazing chardonnay (I liked most of them out there, they were not as oak-y) and a 2004 chianti by Lamole di Lamole. So good. I am regretting not buying some at the grocery store while were there and bringing it home. But we were pretty sure we were close to our weight limit on the suitcases, so didn't bring back any wine :(
And watched an amazing sunset. Our meal overall took about 3 hours, and we were stuffed with some of the most amazing food after we got done. I would SO highly recommend this place, it's like heaven on earth. And the waitstaff was all super friendly and sweet. Our waitress, Francesca, was great at recommending wines.