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Cinque Terre

7.30.2010

Now the part of the trip that everyone has been waiting for….the Cinque Terre.

I was gorgeous and relaxing and the perfect way to split up sight seeing in Florence and Rome.  You are feeling stressed and hot on the train wondering how much longer you are going to be in tunnels and then suddenly you come out and all there is blue water and sunshine.  Sigh.

Anyway if you are not familiar with the Cinque Terre, it five small towns on the coast of Italy that are connected by hiking trails and the train.  We stayed in Vernazza and it was perfect.

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The Cinque Terre does not have many hotels because the towns are so tiny, and most people rent private rooms.  We rented from Maria Capellini and her husband Giaccomo.  Our room was in the yellow building right on the square. They were the sweetest couple and made us feel so at home the two nights we were there.

We arrived on a Sunday (when I snapped most of these pics) and so it looks a lot more crowded than it was on Monday.

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We arrived in the afternoon and of course it was hot, so we grabbed our suits, ate lunch on the harbor, drank some Italian beer and went to the beach.  Heavenly.

That night we probably had our best meal of our entire vacation.  The seafood was amazing as well as the views of the Mediterranean.  Of course this was the dinner that I decided “let’s not be a tourist and bring the giant camera bag with us to dinner…just slip the little one into your pocket”  So this is the only picture of the meal we have….Derek’s first course.  Amazing (and under 10 euro).  My seafood spaghetti and sea bass encrusted in sea salt was the best fish I have ever had.  And the Cinque Terre wine was delicious as well.

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Vernazza at night-

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The next day was the hike.  We decided to take the first train out to start by 7:30 and try to beat the heat.  Also the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza was supposed to be the most physically strenuous so we wanted to start with that.

Monterosso is the morning was deserted but gorgeous.

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Then we started the hike.  Let’s just say the first leg was a little more physically demanding than we expected.  It was very steep and the whole “let’s try to beat the heat” thing…well that did not really work out.  I am not a sweater and my shirt was soaked within in the first half hour.  I consider us to be in reasonably good shape (I run three days a week) and honestly this first trail kicked our butts. 

At this point the blog actually came up.

J: You know Emily from Imperfect?

D; One of your blog friends?

J:Yes (gasping for breath)…she did this hike at the end of her second trimester.  It was not 105, but she still did it successfully.  So if we can’t do it we are total wimps.

So everyone needs to tell Emily what a rock star she is.

Anyway we ended up completing the hike and it was so worth it for the views and after the first leg it was much easier.  The last leg was so flat that it was paved.  But in some ways I liked the first leg the best as Derek and I were the only ones there and was very peaceful.  But enough talking…here are the pictures-

Monterosso after we started hiking into the hills-

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Our first glimpse of Vernazza-

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Coming into Vernazza-

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After going through Vernazza, we came to Corniglia-

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The views were amazing

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And the water was so blue

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The town of Manarola-

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Finally to the paved part.  No pics of me will make the blog because at this point I looked just a tad sweaty.  A lot of women were wearing just their bras to hike in.  Not swimsuit tops or sports bras…just regular bras.  Not sure if that is a European thing, or I am so hot that I don’t care and I will never see these people again thing.

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Anyway we stopped in the final town Riomaggiore for a late lunch and more Italian beer.  Then we hopped the train back to Vernazza and went back to the beach for our last afternoon in the Cinque Terre before heading for Rome in the morning.  I took at lot more pics and if you would like to see more go here.  Hope you enjoyed seeing the Cinque Terre as much as we enjoyed relaxing there!

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Pretty in Pink- Chive Flower Vinegar

7.28.2010

In the spring we, had a slight problem with overgrown chives.

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The rest of the garden had just been planted and they were spilling everywhere.  The purple flowers were pretty and I thought about bringing some inside as cut flowers….but the distinct onion scent wasn’t what I was going for.   So what to do with all of them because they obviously needed to be harvested and there was no way we were going to way that many baked potatoes??  Hmmmmm…

After some googling I learned that you can make Chive Flower Vinegar.  Different sites had slightly different procedures so I sort of mixed it all together and came up with this,

First, I harvested all the pretty flowers.  That basket was totally full.

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Then I washed them thoroughly and put them through the salad spinner to get all the excess water off.

Next, I put them in some glass containers with lids and then added boiling white vinegar over them.

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They sat in a sunny window for a week.   It was the perfect kitchen table centerpiece.

Then I strained out the flowers that were looking a little less purple.

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And was left with pretty pink vinegar with an onion scent.

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I bottled it in pretty jars and put it in the dark kitchen cabinet for another week

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So what does it taste like?  On a mixed green salad there is a slight hint of onion.  I think next time I will leave more of the stems  on and possibly refresh the flowers with new ones to increase the flavor.  But i love the color and it could make a great gift or look  fun on a table next to a salad when you are entertaining.  And best of all it is quick, easy, and uses parts of plants that were going to be composted.

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Florence

7.23.2010
I could write a month’s worth of posts on our Italy vacation….but don’t worry I won’t bore you that much.  Instead I am thinking on doing three posts since we went to three different locales and then a final post on packing and planning and stuff because while most of you do not care, I loved the Europe packing list one of my old favorite design blogs, Decorno.
And no I am not a genius and figured out photoshop in a day….I decided that I will worry about that for pictures we decided to hang around the house and not for the blog.   Much less stress.
So anyway-Florence.  We arrived in Florence with some major jetlag and an entire day in front of us.  We did a jetlag no-no and took an hour nap and honestly it was the best decision for us. And then we opened up some wine.IMG_1238
Our entire trip we decided to stay in apartments rather than hotels and since we were going to be in Florence for a week, we got one with amazing views and a great terrace.  Our apartment was not large, but it had a kitchen and the property management company we worked with, Italy Perfect was great.  Highly recommend them.
See that red circle in the picture….that is our bedroom with 360 degree views.  The Ponte Vecchio is in the center and the Uffizi Gallery is the tan building to the right.IMG_1234circle So we had views like this-IMG_1669
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And of course we loved the terrace.  We ate out there many evenings.IMG_1446
And we loved Florence.  
The Duomo-IMG_1288
The ceiling of the Baptistery across from the Duomo.IMG_1292
Just strolling around was fun….IMG_1649
And Piazelle Michelangelo was the perfect place to spend a sunset picnic-IMG_1751
We had views-IMG_1730
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And Mexican beer.  I swear we drank Italian beer the rest of the trip when we were drinking beer which was actually quite good.  But after sweating all day and roasting your buns sitting on hot stone steps a Corona from the street vendor was perfect.
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Since we were in Florence for a week, we took a couple of day trips.  One of these was on a wine tour through the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.  Our first plan was to rent a car and do this on our own.  But after researching fun things like insurance we decided to join a tour instead.  Best.decision.ever.  We went on a tour with eight other people and given by the Tuscan Wine Society.  Rebecca was an amazing tour guide (and she has a blog).  We learned a whole lot about wine.  We loved this tour and had a great time so make sure you check it out if you are going to be in Florence.  We started at 9:30 and did tastings at three wineries.  At the first winery we got a full tour which was very interesting.
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And then of course the wine-
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We had a delicious lunch prepared at the second winery before heading to the third for some more wine.  Derek learned he is not a grappa fan at lunch.  We also stopped in so cute Tuscan hill towns in between.
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Sadly US customs only allows a liter of alcohol per person through customs so we could not bring that much back with us.  But happily both bottles made it home in one piece and are waiting to be enjoyed for a special occasion.
On our last day in Florence we planned on taking a day trip to Siena.  At to this point we had a relatively smooth trip.  All flights were on time, had successfully navigated the city, found grocery stores and restaurants etc. 
Then we got on the slow bus to Siena.  Which I thought would not be that bad because it is a little more time on the bus…but oh well.  Except the A/C an the bus was not working…..and the bus was very full of people…and it was 102 outside….and the windows did not open….for 2.5 hours.   So when we finally got to Siena we were not in the best shape.  And then as were we trying to find some water, I realized that I had forgotten the guide book on the bus.  NOOOOO!  So we had no map and not really an idea of the plan.  Luckily we were leaving the next day for the Cinque Terre which was in a new guidebook safe in the apartment so it was not that bad.  So we were without my security blanket but ultimately had great time in Siena. 
Even though it was the hottest day all week.  But we did get on the correct bus on the way home.
The town square where the famous horse race is held….sadly we missed it by a weekend.IMG_1841
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The next day we got up early for our train to the Cinque Terre which was amazing….and in a new post.  If you want to see more pics or videos, go to  my flickr page here (or click “my photos” at the top).  I did not include details about everything we did and did not do because most museums did not allow pictures and I did not want to bore people.  (David was amazing though.) But if you interested shoot me an email.  We are planners and that means spreadsheets.  Ciao!
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Buying Fabric at a Hardware Store

7.22.2010

You would think that I would have at least some Italy pictures ready to go by now.  But I don’t.  You see my old laptop was out of space and no matter how many pictures and music I moved to the external hard drive it was still too full and s…l…o..w.  Luckily my brother (whose major is computers) was still in town after dog-sitting for two weeks and officially condemned it and told us what we needed.  So we did what every jet-lagged person does…go buy  a new computer.  We decided on a desktop because of amount space and power I wanted while still keeping the cost down.  I love my new toy that is running amazingly fast….and I now have photoshop.  I was so excited to get to making all the vacation pictures super pretty.  Then I tried to use photoshop…..and then started googling “basic photoshop tutorials”….and then went to the bookstore to buy a how-to book.

So while I attempt to understand the very basic functioning of this program, I wanted to share with you my guest post from Remodelaholic a couple of weeks ago.  I am happy to report that they have been in use over a month with lots of sun, wind and rain and have held up beautifully.

 

Our deck was hot and sunny….a combination that did not bode well for spending time out there.  Especially because I am not a fan of sweating.  We had a rickety pergola that the previous owners had installed but the slats were so far apart that it did not do much in terms of providing shade.  Oh yeah we also installed lights when we moved in for some ambiance.  I still love the light set, but our installation method…..well let’s just say it was straight and rigid.  Not exactly evoking feelings of summer casual fun.  Behold the before-

Before/After sailcloth project

Before/After sailcloth project

But how could we get some shade without adding a roof or another layer the the questionably stable pergola?  Ultimately we would like to have plants climb it and provide shade, but that will take years.  And patience is not one of my virtues.

And then when I was admiring the famous drop cloth curtains I had an idea.  Why couldn’t we use cheap paint tarps as the canvas to cover the pergola with?  Brilliant!

So I head to the nearest home improvement store and bought two 4x15 drop cloths.

IMG_1175 I worried that if I left them this size that rain and wind could have negative consequences.  So I sliced them in two and did a quick seam in heavy duty thread.  No measuring or preciseness…..I cut where they were folded.  I am not fast on the sewing machine and got four done in in 35 minutes.

Then I added two grommets on each end to attach to the pergola.  Again this step did not take very long at all.

With the husbands help, we took down the lights and wove the four strips of drop cloth into the pergola all the way across.  They were attached with screws through the grommets that can easily be taken down in the winter.   An “above” pic from the window.

Before/After sailcloth project

Again no measuring was involved….we just eyeballed the spacing.  Then we added the lights back in a more casual way to get this-Before/After sailcloth project

Before/After sailcloth project

And at night…

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The table is now shady and we can pretend we are in a fun restaurant when we are just eating in our own backyard.  It would have been easy to add another two strips to bring the shade to the end of the pergola…..but you see that green tarp?

Before/After sailcloth project

That would be the BBQ and I do not think flame and canvas are a good mix even in the name of style.

The entire project cost less than $50 and a 2 hours of time.  Will it fade…..yes but I do not care as a lighter color will still work.  Will it last 20 years….no but it was cheap and easily replaceable.

Well worth it for some shade and ambience in my opinion.  And even if you do not have a pergola in your backyard, drop cloths could still be used on other structures or even between a couple of poles.  Who knew that they could be so multi-functional?