Sunday, June 29, 2008

Swap 5 - near Venice

We have just completed a two-day swap in Italy, near Venice:

We were only able to spend one day in Venice itself, which was not long enough:

One highlight for me was visiting the very modern villa which was once the home of art collector, Peggy Guggenheim. There were the most fantastic artworks by Picasso, Pollock (a roomful), Miro, Mondrian, Chagall, Ernst and others in an intimate, close setting:

I wuld also recommend the audio-guide tour of the Fenice (pronounced Fe-nee-chay) Opera House, appropriately named The Phoenix, as it has just been rebuilt after a fire in 1996. We got to sit in the Royal box and visit the Apollonian rooms, and were amazed at how everything has been faithfully restored:

We also took the ferry to Murano and saw a glass-blower making a horse:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's All About the Food (Apart From the Art Of Course)

One of the things I'll really miss when we leave Cortona is the food. For the last two nights we've been to 'La Grotta' which is mentioned in the 'Under the Tuscan Sun' books. Here is the mixed crostini I raved about in a previous post:

This dish is something I've never tasted before and am never likely to again. It's a type of ravioli made with zucchini flowers and is just heaven:

This was scallopini with porcini mushrooms and a souffle of melanzane (eggplant) which was scrumptious (sorry I'd eaten most of it before I remembered the photo):

And of course, one can't leave Cortona without buying some Vinsanto and Panforte:

Also, I'd just like to apologise to anyone who's been generous enough to offer a comment on my posts. Due to the nightmare-ish situation regarding the internet in some towns (ranging from no internet whatsoever through no USB port on computers (!) to computers simply crashing in the middle of a post), I find I don't have much time on the road for responding to comments. As ever, they're much appreciated.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Piero Della Francesca Trail

Today, we accomplished three-quarters of what is probably our main purpose in coming to Tuscany - following the paintings on what has come to be known as the Piero Della Francesca Trail. I would not recommend this without a car as two of the towns are not accessible by train. The first port of call was to Arezzo, to see my favourite of all, the cycle of frescoes known as 'The Story of the True Cross'. One of these, depicting the Queen of Sheba, is seen in the film 'The English Patient'. Sorry about the poor quality of the images:

The second painting we visited was 'The Resurrection' at Sansepolcro, Piero's birthplace. It is called 'The Resurrection' and was termed by Aldous Huxley in 1925 'the best painting in the world':

Finally, a sentimental favourite, the 'Madonna del Parto' or 'Pregnant Madonna':

Tomorrow, we'll be finishing the trail with 'The Flagellation' at the Ducal Palace at Urbino. The trail is also mentioned in John Mortimer's excellent novel, 'Summer's Lease', and the accompanying BBC series.

Palazzo Pfanner, Lucca

This is one of my most favourite places in the world - the Palazzo Pfanner in Lucca. It was used as the home of creepy Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich) in the film 'Portrait of a Lady'. These are the steps which lead up to the piano nobile from the front entrance:

The rear view, overlooking the beautiful garden:

The dining room walls are covered in a stunning moss-green linen:

The chandeliers and ceilings are gorgeous:

I love this bed:

The kitchen is a little basic, but I think I could live with it:

Cortona, Tuscany

We had arranged a week's swap in Perugia in Umbria which fell through. Instead, we decided to stay at the Hotel Italia in Cortona for 4 nights.The town is very beautiful, very hot and crowded with tourists. Yesterday there were markets in the Piazza della Signora, where I bought a white linen pillow slip. There were many things I would have loved to buy but transporting them back home is a slight problem:

I hadn't realised that Cortona is so high. This is the view from the breakfast room of our hotel:

For me, though, the highlight of Cortona is the food. The trattoria are very reasonably priced and the home-made pasta is fantastic. So far, the highlights have been the crostini with a selection of chicken liver, mushroom and tomato spreads, gnocchi with duck and fennel ragu, ravioli with truffle sauce, and vinsanto with biscotti.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Around Provence and the Cote D'Azur

As I said in the previous post, we used the house in Provence as a base to explore far and wide. One area I really loved was Cap D'Antibes, with the exclusive Hotel Du Cap - Eden Roc. Countless celebrities have stayed there and the hotel was fictionalised by F. Scott Fitgerald in 'Tender is the Night'. Needless to say, we only stopped the car long enough for me to take this photo and didn't even contemplate going inside:

We also went to the Musee Matisse in Nice. Not only was it a beautiful building, but there was some of Matisse's furniture inside, which he'd used as props in his paintings:

We also travelled north-west, passing the beautiful lakes near Verdon:

Here are some people playing petanque in Bonnieux, the village where the Ridley Scott film, 'A Good Year' was filmed. Peter Mayle, the author of that book and 'A Year in Provence', lives just down the road, and Ridley Scott apparently has a house (chateau?) nearby:

We also dipped our feet into the Mediterranean at St Tropez:

Swap Number 4 - Provence

We've just completed our 4th Swap - in a village inland from St Tropez. We had our own markets:

Atmospheric main square:

And a character-filled house:

The village was also a central base from which to explore Provence.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Swap No. 3 - near Barcelona

At the moment we´re staying at our shortest swap. It´s only for 3 days, whereas all the others are for a week to ten days. We´re at a very nice apartment in Vilanova i la Geltru, which is on the coast about 50km south of Barcelona. The apartment is very large, with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and two studies. The kitchen is well-equipped with appliances I don´t know how to operate:

I can never get over what an act of trust house-swapping is - the owners just walk out and leave all their books, CDs, photographs and personal items. There are thousands of books in this one:

There´s a really large sunny terrace as well:

The Tapas

Were about to leave Spain in two days´ time and, among its many attractions, perhaps tapas bars are the one I´ll miss most. In Australia, even though we have a beach culture and laid-back lifestyle, it is impossible as far as I know to walk into a bar and select a small plate of food from several in front of you at a tiny price. It´s been possible for us while on the Costa Del Sol to have four tapas plates between us and two drinks for not much more than 10 €. And quite often this would be enough for dinner. This was a very popular tapas bar in the village of Sabinillas:

I just love the atmosphere inside, and the idea that you can order really nice food with drinks rather than just carb-laden snacks:

The standard choice for us was the Salad Rusa (potato salad with tuna and olives) the gambas (prawns), tortilla (potato omelette), and meatballs. At this bar we also tried the huevas (stuffed eggs) which were delicious, Montadito de Chorizo (chorizo sandwich) and the Pinchito de Cordero (lamb kebab). You can see how low the tapas prices were on the left of the menu:

Everything looks so fresh and delicious:

We even got complimentary bread and olives:

Monday, June 2, 2008

More from France and Spain

Just a couple of extra photos of Frank and Ro´s house where we stayed in north-west France:

And here is the bedroom in our apartment in southern Spain:

This is the beach we walk along to the tapas bar in the village nearby:

Sunday, June 1, 2008

House Swap 2 - near Estepona in Southern Spain

We reluctantly left our sunny apartment in Paris about ten days ago in our rented Peugeot, bound for southern Spain via north-west France. We went north first so that we could stay for a few days with our lovely English-Australian friends, Frank and Ro, who have a cute little house in the village of La Doree. On the way to their house we stopped at Monet´s Garden in Giverny, which was just as spectacular as I had expected it to be:

We had a lovely time in La Doree with Frank and Ro, and their friends, Pat and Pete:

Our bedroom, complete with shutters and a church bell across the street:

On the way down to Spain we stayed at the Chateau de la Reynat at Perigueux, which I can thoroughly recommend. The accommodation was reasonably priced, as was the excellent gastronomique meal we had there. We had dishes such as snail ravioli, mushroom cappuchino and foie gras with mango, all of which were unforgettable:

After another two days of driving south through Spain, we were very relieved to arrive at our second home swap, at a resort near the town of Estepona. We can just walk out the door and into the pool:

This is the view down past the pools to the ocean:

Needless to say, we are not planning to venture very far from here for the next week, apart from short day trips to Gibraltar, Granada and Seville. The tapas, wine and seafood are all cheap and very good. What else could we possibly want?
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