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Italy revisited 10/15/18

It was my birthday and I flew to Milan to share a few special days with my friends in Fidenza, small town just north of Parma. When I arrived a driver, Veronica France was waiting for me. Veronica can be booked on her web site, info@verodriver.com or +393402436094, she drives a beautiful black Mercedes with plenty of room.

With my girl friends in charge they booked us at the most wonderful 1star restaurant on the outskirts of Parma. INKIOSTRO, Via San Leonardo 124, chef Terry Giacomello and owner Francesca Poli were there to make sure every detail was taken care of. if you are in the area has an upscale hotel next door. Every course was beautiful to look at and so delicious. The little micro greens topped small courses on exquisite plates. My main course was rabbit tenderloin with little mushrooms.

The next day we wandered the outlet mall next to the Fidenza exit then lunch at KM90 right off exit Casello from A1. KM90 makes their own pasta and offer large trays of local sliced Parma ham, cheese and culatello. After lunch we just wandered around the little village of Fidenza had a coffee and followed by a short nap before we headed out to the long awaited dinner with the seasonal white truffles. Our dinner was at a simple local restaurant in Salsomaggiore, OSTRERIA BELLARIA, know for its mushrooms of every kind.

The next morning I took the local train to Bologna and caught the speed train to Rome. Every time I have a chance to wander the streets in Rome I am amazed how diverse each area is and how many new neighborhood restaurants I find. I checked into Inn at the Spanish Steps, this hotel is at the base of the Spanish Steps with several out buildings each with one and two bedroom suites and a new 3 bedroom suite. Great prices and perfect location, breakfast is served in the main building every morning and late afternoon happy hour on the deck on the 4th floor.

We tried a few new small restaurants that were on the radar. First night we walked to Cacio e Pepe, Via G Auezzana 11. This little local restaurant is famous for its pasta and they lived up to their reputation. The next day after walking along the many streets and shopping we ended up on Via Veneto and lunch at Baccanale. Sitting outside on the sidewalk I loved the carpaccio and lovely glass of wine. Great place to watch the well dressed shoppers walk by.

That evening we ventured out to try a new small restaurant called TRATTORIA SANTO PALATO. The chef is a 30 year old woman and she is getting rave reviews for her simple Italian cuisine with interesting new twist. The restaurant is about 30 minutes from the steps so not sure if you only have a few days to dine in Rome this is where you would head. However, with that being said the next day we went to one of my favorite places for lunch, The Du Russe Hotel. Be sure to make reservations for the patio and experience the wonderful buffet and don’t forget to ask to see their wine list.

Our last night before heading to Sicily we had a great dinner at NUMERI PRIMI, Via del Polliteama 8, at Plaza Trillussa a hopping place. NUMERI PRIMI is a fish restaurant and every plate was better than the next. Love the ceviche, and pasta with scallops but the menu changes often.

OFF TO SICILY TO COOK WITH FRIENDS AND CHEF JOANNE WEIR. Joanne organizes cooking adventures, JOANNE WEIR CULINARY TOURS.COM, all over the world and this was one to remember. We flew into Catania and our driver picked us up for our ride to the house Joanne had reserved.

LIMO SERVICE “NCC” info@nccatania.net, Giuseppe and team, drive Mercedes cars and vans so you travel in style.

We arrived at our amazing villa, ROCCA Della TRE CONTRATE, Joanne greeted all of us and gave us our recipes and talked about all the planned adventures for the week.The first evening were prepared dinner with the in-house chef Dora and Joanne’s recipes. We had a chance to do both hands on cooking and demo classes where we watched and then shared our dishes at dinner. The house is large with plenty of room to spread out and relax when we were not out exploring or eating and drinking local wines.

The next morning we headed out to Catania for a walking tour and lunch and wine tasting in the seafood market. More fish that you will ever see in any local market. We had lunch at MM1, via Pardo, 34 right off Piazza Del Duomo. They prepare great fish bought right outside their front door and many different pasta dishes with local wines.

Back to the villa to cook and share our lovely dishes after a local wine exporter explained the types of grapes and style of local wines.

No visit to Sicily is complete without a hike on Mt. Etna. Joanne had made arrangements for several local guides and Etna experts to guide us up the lower part of the volcano. Etna, at 10,900 feet, looms large in the distance no matter where you are in Sicily. There was a dusting of snow on the top the day we did our hike. The temperature is cold so be sure to bring a heavy coat for your hike if you are lucky enough to go. Our hike took most of the morning so lunch was a welcome site at BENANTI WINERY.We learned about the grapes used in local wines. The red grape is (Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio) the white grape is (Carricante) you can go to info@benanti.it to learn about this beautiful winery. Back to the house to prepare our dinner with the help of chef Dora and Joanne.

Next day we were up early for a trip to Siracusa, we had a great guide, Marco Sanzaro, info@personal-tourist-assistant.it. Marco explained the history of this seaside town and we had a great walking tour. We could have spent the whole day wandering, but lunch and wine tasting was next. We went into BARGO SANTO SPIRITO, great wine store and local meats and cheeses for lunch.

Every minute of your week with Joanne’s trips are filled with surprises. One evening at a small local winery we had a 5 course dinner and local musicians preformed while we watched on.

Back at the villa the next day after one more great breakfast of local fruit and fresh baked lemon scones we planned for a trip to Taormina, this hill side town is steeped in history, great restaurants and plenty of shopping. We enjoyed lunch at VICO TEOFANE CERAMEO 2, amazing view, large fresh salads and perfect pizzas. I do not think you can go wrong with any of the restaurants that line the hill side. If you have a chance take the tram down to ISOLA BELLA, the Greco Theater.

The last evening we were treated to dinner created by Chef Dora, pasta Alla Norma made using local eggplant and tomatoes was so perfect. We realize after this week that Americans always tend to overlook their pasta and never add enough salt to the water. We all dressed in white and enjoyed every bite of food created by Joanne, Dora and the team of friends that had gathered together for a week of memories. We left with great recipes that we all look forward to creating when we return home.

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Madrid, Spain revisited

As many times I return to Madrid I always experience something new. In mid September I took Carl’s two daughters for their first visit to this amazing city. We arrived and checked into a small hotel I have stayed in before, Catalonia at Atocha 36. There are several hotels owned by The Catalonia group. This is a smaller property off Plaza Mayor. I think the location of the hotel puts it in easy walking distance to all the important sites.

We headed out to explore, stopping for tapas lunch at Mercado San Miguel, a couple blocks from Plaza Mayor. This is one of my favorite stops for everything Spanish when it comes to food. Wander through the food stalls and buy little plates of everything from olives, sliced iberico ham and sliced fruit. Grab a glass of local wine and little pieces of anchovies on bread.

From the Mercado we walked down to the Palace Real, the kings palace. If you want to tour the palace get tickets in advance the line was long. Back to the hotel for a rest before we had a light dinner sitting outside at Plaza Santana, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. This plaza is home to several outdoor restaurants. We chose Tabernacle Vina and enjoyed several simple plates of grilled vegetables, sausages and the iberico ham, of course a bottle of local wine to complement the food.

Then off to see the late show of Flamenco at “casa Patas”, there are several flamenco shows, but this is a small space very close to the hotel and has good dancers.

Just as a reference I had also stayed just up the street from our hotel at Catalonia Puerta Del Sol. This is owned by the same group and a larger hotel, however I think the rooms were newer and brighter at our smaller hotel.

We were up early the next day and headed to the Prado museum for a tour of the collection of Spanish art in the older part of the museum. Always a must for anyone not just on your first visit, but every visit. We grabbed a taxi and joined friends at a amazing restaurant outside to town in an area called FUEN CARRAL, the restaurant is called “Filandon” 917343826. Filandon is a beautiful property, you will not see tourists at this place. If you go order the fish the serving is more than generous to share.

After our lunch we headed back to town and a short nap before we headed out for the next surprise. CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES, at Pasadizo de San Gines 5, this 100 year old shop is famous for serving chocolate as thick as pudding with Cairo’s for dipping. A must visit!
It always seems that the more you explore the more discoveries, we walked to the neighborhood called Malasana where we discovered “Mercado San Ildefonso” a 3 story building filled with little food stalls each one more inviting than the last. The street, Calle Fuencarral, offered an assortment of great small shops with many local products. The girls headed out to see their first bull fight while I took a well deserved rest. src=”https://reneebehnke.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/img_1354.jpg” class=”size-medium alignright wp-image-1553″ width=”4032″ height=”3024″>

We had a late dinner close to the hotel at ” El Barril de Las Letras”, Cervantes 28, good choice in a new upscale space. I had a perfect steak tartare, the girls had their steak grilled, and we shared 2 large grill red prawns with a little side salad of local tomatoes.
We ventured out early and had a nice breakfast at La Terraza in Plaza Santana then it was time for shopping in the upscale area. The main street of Serrano offers every high end stores with every beautiful thing you could dream of wearing. Serrano street is a few blocks from the museums and high end hotels. Since we were in walking distance we went to visit the Monet exhibit at The Thyssen museum. Our lunch was simple tapas in the courtyard of Plaza Mayor.
Dinner at Tabernacle Laredo, Calle Doctor Costello 30, is always good. I had a salad with little shrimp and a plate of rabbit ribs cooked to a crispy finish, perfect. The bar is casual with young people sharing small plates and the dining room upstairs is bright and has a bigger menu and great wine list.

There is a new hotel I would like to try sometime—GRAN HOTEL INGLES, Calle Echegaray 8.
A couple of restaurants I wanted to go back to but did not reserve in advance so ran out of time. CASA BENIGNA, great paella and rice dishes. Another is LA TASQUERIA de JAVI ESTAVEZ, Calle Duque de Sesto 48.

Next morning we headed for Barcelona and a new hotel for me, MUR MURI, in a very up scale neighborhood away from the busy tourist area. The hotel also has several apartments that can be rented just around the corner. I did see the two bedroom until and it was great for a family or 2 couples.
We arrived later in the afternoon and just headed out to explore. That evening we had a 9pm reservation at an A+ restaurant called, “WINDSOR” located a few blocks from the hotel, Corsega 286. We shared several dishes featuring local mushrooms since this is their mushroom season. They offered a good wine list and each course was better than the last. We were seated in a courtyard in the back full of amazing plants and flowers.
We did all the basic Gaudi tourist things, remember to buy your tickets on line before going to Basilica of Sagrada Familia. We did not have any problem getting tickets at Casa Bitilo, the house designed by Gaudi and this was one of the girls favorite sites.
We headed to La Boqueria for a late lunch at “BAR CENTRAL”, located in the back of the Boqueria. We ordered plates of razor clams, long thin stirfried clams. The girls had chocolate crepes for desert at another stand and we bought nuts and Spanish saffron at the spice stall. There are many different qualities of saffron so do you homework.
Then continued wandering the old town, visit to the Picasso museum, here again best to get tickets on line before you go. There are plenty of fun shops to visit as you wander through the Gothic area, old town.
Take time to walk on the beach and along the port. There are many little restaurants to stop in have a few olives and pitcher of sangria late afternoon while you watch all the beach activity.
We went up to Gaudi’s gardens for sunset, but the top area is under construction so everyone was crowded into half of the courtyard. The next time you are in Barcelona it should be finished and ready for your visit.
Our last day was just a trip back to the Boqueria for the last look and to buy some Iberico ham that has been vacu sealed so we could bring it home. After so many tapas bars we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the beautiful Mandrin Hotel on our way back to our hotel. The Mandrin’s restaurant for lunch is so open and cool after walking in the heat of the day. That night we had dinner at “Bardot”, Eric Grwmados 147, a small restaurant close to the hotel with a perfect outdoor seating area in a courtyard shared by several restaurants..
Every time I have the opportunity to visit these cities I find new and exciting places that I look forward to returning again.
Sounds like all we did was eat but I think that is one of the things you will find the Spaniard love to do. Remember dinner after 9 or you will be alsone in most fine restaurants.

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36 hours in Cannon Beach, Oregon

Growing up in Portland, Oregon a trip to Cannon Beach was something we always looked forward to in the summer. Now I try to take my mother down to walk in the sand and just sit on a log and look out at the surf. My mother is 92 years old and still enjoys getting all of her children together around a camp fire on the beach.

We checked into Tolovana Inn just about a mile from downtown Cannon Beach proper. The hotel sits right on the beach and offers rooms right above the beach with a great view. The hotel has an indoor pool for those that want to take a swim. Our room was a suite with one bedroom, kitchen and living room with a queen size hide a bed.

Walking on the beach was perfect exercise for all ages. Families flying kites, and spending time on low tide looking in the tide pools of Haystack Rock.

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Since check in was 4pm we got organized and just had dinner at a restaurant called Mo’s. They are famous for their chowder and fish and chips. The restaurant sits on the beach in front of the hotel. Not the best food, everything fried, but fine for a family. The cabbage salad topped with Oregon shrimp was good as was the chowder. Then my brother built a fire in one of the designated fire pits on the beach and we enjoyed the surf pounding the full moon above.

The next day my brother bought more fire wood and after a long walk we built a fire and enjoyed the day wandering the beach, roasting hotdogs and watching all the families itch dogs and kids in tow.

In the afternoon we drove into town and had a lovely lunch at The Driftwood Restaurant and had a perfect Cobb salad big enough to share. We wandered in and out of the little galleries, ice cream shops and enjoying the lovely flowers every where you looked. The town is clean with plenty of parking.

We had an early dinner back in town at Wayfarer. Wayfarer sits right off the beach with a great view of Haystack Rock and view of the sunset over the water. This is a good upscale restaurant offering fresh fish and salads. I had sautéed razor clams, a real treat when they are prepared correctly and others shared fresh crab cocktails and halibut. Back at the hotel we took up or place on the beach and enjoyed the fire while talking about all the years and memories shared on the Oregon Coast. It is an easy drive from Portland, about an hour and 45 minutes.

Make time for any of the beach towns along the coast of Oregon.

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Renting a house in Costa Rica

In celebrating our friends big birthday we rented a great house in Costa Rica for a week. We have rented houses from “Luxury Retreats” http://www.luxuryretreats.com, or call Jay Lunan 1877-993-0100 he has helped us rent perfect houses around the world.

The house we rented was Residence Pacifico in Tambor, 6 bedrooms with in suite bath and plenty of room to enjoy a week of relaxation after a winter of grey days and cold.

We flew to LA and spent the night since the connection from Seattle to Costa Rica is difficult. We flew on Alaska nonstop to San Jose the main airport in Costa Rica. We then chartered a plane from Sansa to fly us to small airport in Tambor. The plane seated all 12 of us and luggage, cost was $1200 round trip a real bargain. The other option is a 4+ hour drive and a short ferry ride to reach Tambor. Our driver pick us up and drove us to the house with a stop at a little grocer for a wine supply.

The house chef made us a great welcome dinner, helped us get settled and make plans for the week. There is a hotel just down the beach from the house so the next morning after breakfast of fresh fruit and beans and rice we ventured out. The hotel, Tango Mar, has a 9 hole golf course, nice spa and tennis courts and horses for hire.

We had lunch at the hotel several days and love their salads and gazpacho. We were here to relax, so time at the pool with our books was the activity of the day. We went back to the hotel for dinner and gave the coconut shrimp an A+.

Costa Rica is very hot and humid so be careful when you are playing outside on the beach. The next day we did an ATV tour with our guide Edouardo Sanchez tours, 506-87037199. We cruised through the jungle, across the rivers and ended at a lovely water fall for a swim. The tour was about 3 hours of laughter and discovery. Back to the house for lunch and pool and beach time.

This evening started with a 45 minute drive to Montazuma, a small town with shops and local restaurants. We had a simple dinner at “LAS PALAMS”, served on a deck of a family home. The family prepared whole snapper, fried perfectly with sides of rice, vegetables and fried plantains. Dinner was about $22 a person including wine, this is true in most places we ate. Most places have a simple wine list of good wine from Chili, Australia and Argentina.

The next morning we went snorkeling with a guided tour group called Zuma . Our driver picked us up and we went back to Montazuma where we boarded a boat for the trip to a small group of islands. The water was very warm and clear, there were a few fish, but also a lot of other tours in the same place. After about an hour in the water we headed to a lovely white sand beach where our tour group served a nice lunch and plenty of beer and soft drinks. We discovered later the hotel does also offer a snorkeling tour leaving from their beach, saving you the long trip back and forth to Montazuma. A great excursion worth the $120 per person cost.

That night we had dinner close to the house at a great family restaurant, “RESTAURANTE CRISTINA’S, about a 10 minute drive to Cobano Puntarenas where the owner and his mother served us lobster and fresh roasted fish. The owner, Eduardo Gonzales is a guide of Tambor Adventures, egonzalesb79@hotmail.com. You can use him also to drive you around so you do not need a car. The next evenings were spent at the house where the staff created fun dinners, built fires on the beach for us to enjoy and served lobsters around the pool. Nothing was to much to ask and so the afternoons were enjoyed with onsite massages down by the beach with the cool breeze blowing.

We bought our own liquor at duty free on our way down to Costa Rica and had to make sure we drank it all during our week long visit. The food is clean, simple the mood is easy going and the weather is HOT and humid.

We did not see much of Costa Rica, but enjoyed the small corner we explored and believe it is a place for young people of old hippies. It is not expensive so makes it an easy choice of a vacation in the sun.

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36 hours in San Francisco

For a belated birthday Merrill and Marisa took me to San Francisco for one night. It had been a long time since I was there to just wander the streets, stop in small shops and enjoy great food.

We checked into the Fairmont Hotel, dropped our bags and started walking. We walked down to Gump’s for old time sake and bought a few special gifts for those April birthdays. Then since it was a perfect 75 degrees we headed to The Ferry Building. The shops in the Ferry Building are all unique, along with specialized food vendors, there is something for everyone. Lunch at THE SLANTED DOOR at the far end of the ferry building is always a treat. Everything we ordered was delivered hot and perfect to share, try the green papaya salad and crispy imperial rolls.

After a big lunch we headed out to walk along the Embarcadero to the Fishermans Wharf and down Pier 39, a lot of tourist and trinkets and trash. After a quick walk along the pier we headed out toward China Town. When we reached China town decided it was time for a little shopping so we called an Uber and went to Fillmore street. The real shopping started we went in and out of small interesting shops. Could not help myself, the shopping for grandchildren was contagious as we explored one store after the other.

We walked back to the hotel to complete our 20,000+ steps for the day, 8.9 miles. Quick change of clothes and a cab to dinner at “OCTAVIA”, 1701 Octavia street. This special neighborhood restaurant is small, but offers a nice selection of small plates to share. A jewel and worth making reservations if you have an extra evening.

My friend Joanne Weir had recommended Octavia and so when she suggested our breakfast should be at TARTINE, 595 Alabama, I knew we were headed for another great meal.

This was the amazing breakfast egg sandwich I had on a soft bun. We watched the bakers taking loaves of fresh bread from the massive ovens while we ate breakfast, it made me wish I could take some home.

Since we only had an afternoon left to explore before we had to catch a flight home we took off walking to “Hayes Valley”. Fun stores, interesting restaurants and people watching. Found a great store called “Outdoor Voices” nice workout things in soft colors.

Lunch was back in the Financial district, BARBACCO”, 220 California Street. They have lovely salads and simple Italian fare, the room is sleek with a lot of stainless and glass.

Time to hike up the hill to the hotel and back to the airport for our flight home. Sometimes the best way to enjoy a city is limit yourself to 2 days and just start walking.

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Curry seafood salad

This salad was a good way to use al the crab we use to catch while boating with friends in the water around the north west.

3/4 cup of fresh cooked crab meat

3/4 cup of shrimp.  I wi

 

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A few days in Italy spending time with friends

Carl and I flew into Milan and then took the speed train to Florence. Just a note, if you want to do this plan ahead. You will need to get to the main train station in downtown Milan to catch the train. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours. We took the shuttle bus for $8 each instead of 120 euro taxi. The bus is fast and very clean.

We arrived in Florence, walked a couple of blocks and picked up our rental car. Our friends live close to the beautiful resort, Costello di Casole in the Siena region about 90 minute drive from Florence. Since we were staying with friends our days were planned around where our next lunch was. We fixed dinner at home and talked about what the next day would be. 

On the first afternoon we drove to the village of Volterra for a great lunch at Borge Pignano, villapigano@ borgopigano.com, if you are any where close this hotel and restaurant is a must. The grounds/ gardens and amazing pool carved into the rock is a perfect hideaway.  Manager Angelo Pais is there to take care of every detail and the chef created an amazing lunch.

The next day we drove to Siena, wandered through the streets and after a visit to the Duomo, a must if you are in town. Then we had lunch at a charming 75 year old restaurant “Osterisa Le Logge, Via del Porrione 33” just off the main square.  The food was the old style of local dishes, all perfectly prepared and served. 

After these great 3 hour lunches our simple low key dinners on the outside deck watching the sunsets was the perfect way to end the day. Ready for the next day adventure to explore a new village and share another lovely lunch. We drove to the village of “Colle de Val d’ Elsa. Our lunch at IL Frantoio was clean simple Italian fare. This is the village that you will find the famous Lotti terra-cotta cookware lottiterracotte1926@gmail.com. This village is also the place you will find the famous stared restaurant a”Adalfo”. 

The last night we had dinner in Castillo di Casole, they have a menu with many American favorites in the bar with an Italian flair. The next morning we headed north, the area of Parma is where we have long time friends that welcomed us for a short 3 days of food, conversation and exploring new restaurants in the region. After dinner at home and a good nights sleep we headed to the town of Cremona. We visited the Museum of Violins, lunch at a The Tavern La Botte just down the street was a nice local restaurant with lovely home made pasta and soup. After wandering through the town of Fidenza where our friends live and a couple hours of rest we drove to the town of Busseto to a great fish restaurant “L’ Araba Fenice”. If you are in the area this is an excellent choice for dinner, no fancy decor but excellent food. 

A great experience the next day was the opportunity to visit a “Labyrinth  in the village of Fontanellato. This experience was something we don’t get to try figuring out how to navigate the hidden paths,in the U.S. something like this is known to most of us as a maze. Libirinto@francomariaricci.com, is created as a huge maze of paths winding through tall stands of bamboo. When you make your way to the end, if you get lost the have a help number posted in several places, you can enter the museum of the art collected owned and created by Franco Rocci.  You can enjoy lunch at the Labyrinth, but we suggest going to La Forcheta Ala in Fontanellato. Chef owner Chiuso Matedi is there to greet you and promises to bring you the best frito misto and Pizza in Italy. With great memories and a fond farewell to our week in Italy we headed back to the airport in Milan.

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