Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Last week we arrived in Berlin and is has been a whirlwind of activities since. Berlin shows herself from her most sunny side, summery, warm and incredibly entertaining. When I came last it had been winter and I longed to explore this great city during a warmer time. Now we could.
Walking tours have been on our daily schedule and we found many delightful corners.
Berlin is a relaxed city.

Cafes, markets, playgrounds, water and parks make it so much fun, the infrastructure is perfect and getting around easy.

The Elephant Gate at the zoo near Kurfuerstendamm.
We visited one of two zoos, toured the beautiful Havel around Berlin and Potsdam,

watched the circus artists perform on Alexanderplatz and marveled at German ingeneering while visiting the new SONY center and Legoland at Potsdamer Platz.
Again I discovered local fashion and it astounds me how much creativity can be found walking alone through Berlin - Mitte.
We will finally return home on Friday, filled with grateful feelings for a wonderful summer together with our families and with many new impessions.
As for design ideas: I love the light, white, modern rooms I have seen again, the use of classic and antique furniture in modern settings, strategic colors and no fear of being different.
By now I can't wait to return home and to sort out all my impressions and show you some new ideas and more pictures.


All pictures by V.Zlotkowski

Friday, August 13, 2010

Leaving Tuscany

We all are leaving this wonderful house on the hill - Sansepolcro - Tuscany with a heavy heart and to tear us away from so much loveliness is not easy...And yet, we have received so many wonderful gifts: being together as a family, spending time with my parents and siblings, my adorable in - laws, my older children and the rest of us! We have lived together, talked and cooked and walked together, we laughed and cried (sometimes) and we are all so immensly grateful for the time we've had.

Eastern Tuscany is so beautiful and unlike the area around Florence, Sienna and Pisa somewhat off the beaten path. Of course we encountered travellers like us, but we felt mostly being among Italians. Strolling through many small towns filled with the treasures of Piero della Francesco and Andrea della Robbia has been an incredible discovery, climbing the mountains around us a true adventure.

We will bring the scents with us of lavender and rosemary, olive oil and cheese... and our minds are filled with the images of Tuscany and the memories of all the lovely people we encountered, new friends we have met and the relaxation we feel now!

Thank you Lizzie for opening your wonderful house to us, truly Tuscan and incredibly comfortable, we have felt home here from the moment we stepped over the threshold.
We will never forget the views which greeted us upon arrival, the valley below and the beauty around us!

We have already made plans to come back! That way it is much easier to leave...

A long drive awaits us tomorrow, all the way to Munich and then later after one more night on to Frankfurt, where we board our respective airplains home (my husband) and Berlin.

I will post a little once I'm in Berlin; as many of you know I love the city and I am now looking forward to seeing my friends and family there again.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lovely Cortona

A couple's retreat...Just when I thought, after seeing Arezzo, it could not get any better my husband (and I) had the idea to visit Cortona...alone!

This day was a precious gift to us. Isn't there anything sweeter than a few leisurely hours alone for a hardworking couple with children of a certain age and little time for themselves??? We are not blessed with any family back at home and time for just the two of us is very rare indeed.
We spent the day together, leaving everyone behind and took off to a mini road trip to Cortona, the old Etruscan city on the border to Umbria. We started early towards Arezzo, spend a delightful late morning shopping and sightseeing, had lunch in a tiny Osteria, hidden in a courtyard and covered in Wisteria, potted lemon trees - ripe with fruits - all around us.
We felt giddy with delight just to do as we pleased...
We walked hand in hand through a park, found an old, now overgrown Roman amphitheatre, later a fortress from the middle ages and then continued our journey towards Cortona...

Cortona hangs on high up on a steep hill side, but oh, it's a treasure to behold. A winding alpine road leads up to the first piazza, the views are amazing at every turn. The city is a fortified place, it's thick walls onces protected the inhabitants. Now we walked the steep narrow streets and marveled at every door, nook and cranny. The city is build up on top of itself. Houses from earlier centuries became the foundation of later ones. If only these walls could talk...The temperatures were soaring, but the city was shady and we stayed cool within.

The small city is a time capsule, now lively with artisans and craftsman and -woman. Handmade leather goods, handmade shoes, purses, bags and wallets are on display. The leather scent is so enticing...

I met a wonderful artist, she creates artful batics on larges linen strips, paints delightful pattern on linen dresses and her daughter creates colorful knitted coats and jackets. All this and more she sells at a small, but oh so seductively filled store. I could not resist and bought a lovely dress.
Finely woven linen can be found all over Tuscany, table clothes, hand towels and bedding... Thinking of my luggage allowance taking anything home was out of the question...(And the prices stopped me too, it's very expensive.)
We paused in a street cafe, watching the life around us going on....

Old man spending the afternoon over coffee and grappa, moms with two, three children in tow stopping by for ice cream...tourists making hard desicions as what to bring back home. We felt almost like locals.....

It was wonderful to stroll throught the steep lanes and alley ways, incredible vistas down the mountain and romantic corners wherever you turn.

The rooftops are centuries old, covered with the typical red roof bricks of the region.

Pottted plants, gardens and well taken care of old houses give this place a magical flair.

It is also a city of churches and cloisters, we counted at least 5 or 6 monasteries, all lived in and religious live is observed in a sweet and humble way. Many times have we stepped into a small chapel or larger church to discover an organist practicing, or a lovely solemn atmosphare, cool and spiritual.

Smallest chapels are lovingly decorated and fresh flowers and devotional candles burn under many altars.

The lovely terra cotta works of Andrea della Robbia can be found and works by many painters, today unknown.

We ended this glorious day at the terasse of a small hotel, having dinner just to ourselves, the lovely cusine of Tuscany and an incredible view down towards Umbria before us. Ahhhh.....

We returned home, filled with delicious impressions, memories and a glorious day just for the two of us...

This journey in Italy is coming to an end, come Saturday we will pack our bags and leave back to Germany, where the children and I'll stay with the older sons and a good friend in Berlin for a couple of days before returning home. My husband will be back in New York by Sunday night.
I can not put my emotions into words...


All pictures taken by us...apart from the lovely work by Andrea della Robbia.(google image)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The culinary delights of Tuscany...

Oh, where to start? Beginning with the markets, filled right now to the brim with the harvests of the season, you will find peaches and grapes, berries and plumes, apples and different pears, and from squash and cucumbers to aubergines everything can be brought home. Onions and garlic range from pale white to brilliant purple and cooking with all these ingredience is such a delight.

Pisa market

The ripeness and taste are exquisite and I have not had so many juicy plumes in years...
The cousine is very particular Eastern Tuscan, appetizers range from cold meats - prosciutto and different types of salami - to classic brushetta and small delicious toasts with chopped liver.

Pasta is often handmade ravioli filled with spinach or squash, covered in a fine dressing of mushrooms and meatsauce. There is tagliatelle alla pomodoro and spaghetti with duck...
Dear PVE, these plates below are especially for you...

Game can be found and pork, beef steaks of enormous proportions. Rabbit is a staple. Pasta bianca with loads of freshly grated parmesan and basil leaves is of course a favorite for our children...
The one thing you can hardly find is fish, apart from some sea food appetizers, usually deep fried. I guess it's to far inland and local traditions are strong.

Often you can find at lunchtime people with a glass of local wine, sitting over a plate of bread with three, four types of meats, sausages and cheeses.
The food is hardy and simple, yet refined in taste. A wonderful site to get introduced to the delicious foods of Tuscany is WelcomeTuscany! Receipies are in English...

Grapes of Montepulciano

The wine: Locals buy their wine from vintners directly, filling up 2 gallon glass balloons with either red or white wine. We did this just like them at the beginning of our stay here. At home you fill the wine in bottles and with a satisfying popping sound you cork them in a hand operated corking machine....

The wine of Montepulciano and the neighboring regions is a great fit to the dry cheeses and olive oil. Antipasto is delicious to pair with it as well. Bread can be found typially Italian white or Panne integrale - the whole wheat version....rock hard on the outside and fairly soft inside. One has to eat it right away, storage is not an option...

Goin to small cafes at any time of the day can satisfy any appetite for Dolci, sweet cakes and delicious brioches, filled with chocolate or jams. There are so many different types of coffee we have not manage to try them all by now. Hot chocolate is a pudding like affair, eaten with a spoon, very sweet.
I love Latte Macchiato - a shot of espresso with crema and steamed milk. HMMM!
Actually asking for espresso is somewhat wrong...Italians call it Cafe normale, at least this is how we understud this. Basically everything is prepared with espresso...

A chapter by itself is of course GELATO! Every street has one or two small shops, some with incredible creations of homemade ice creams, often flavors of the week. I had to expirience this when, after a couple of days, I came back to ask for my favorite scoop of Nutella (?) infused ice cream and it had been gone from the menu...

Another place to check out Tourism in Tuscany can be found here!

We love to cook here in this enormous country kitchen, but we also explore the restaurants, often recommended by locals, our lovely host or people we happen to meet, like the two lovely Polish sisters, who happen to own a gelateria in Anghiari, where we stopped by last night and started chatting over coffee...My husband being Polish had a blast on top finding out that the ladies came from his father's small village in Masury.

A few days ago we had dropped our daughter off at a local horse farm and on our way back stopped by at an old former post station on the old mountain road between Assisi and La Verna. Now a rustic small restaurant with an excellent kitchen, we feasted on their version of local foods, pasta, meats and tomato mozarella salad.
Always a glass of vino and aqua naturale rounds up the dishes.

And strangely enough, we have not put on one more pound, simply due to our walking tours through landscapes and cities...

I am not a food critic nor am I a particular chef, but I love to eat and to detect all kinds of ingredience in a dish is a wonderful way to describe my expiriences.
I taste funghi - Chanterelle - balsamic vinegar from Modena and fruity olive oil from our farmer, lemon and rosemary, basil and fresh oregano, fennel and mint, lavender and sage...The food of Tuscany is a delight!
I am happy to be introduced to so many new local flavors and to share it a bit with you all.


Pictures via google image, as indicated and my own.(dishes, wine, corking machine, kitchen, gelato, me happy)

Friday, August 6, 2010


Arezzo has been the biggest surprise for me at our stay in this region so far. It is such a beautifully ancient city, filled with architectural treasures. One of them, the church San Francesco, was build in the 13th century and contains Piero della Francesca's Legend of the true cross(1452-66),one of Italy's greatest fresco cycles.

The frescoes, now visible again after long restoration, show how the cross was found near Jerusalem by the Empress Helena. Her son, the Emperor Constantine, adopted the cross as his battle emblem. He also granted the Christian faith official recognition through the Edict of Milan, signed in 313. All is so beautifully executed, I could have sat for hours and slowly take it all in. Of course this was impossible, since there was so much else to see and we moved on after an hour.

Arezzo is one of the wealthiest cities in Tuscany, filled with antique stores and markets.

Jewellry making is a large part of the local industry and gorgeous pieces are displayed in many stores!
One can walk throughs many beautiful piazzas, one of the most impressive ones being the Piazza Grande. Truly medival in it's design, many buildings date back to the 13th century.

We dined under the handsome arcade designed by Vasari in 1573. The old Palazzo della Faternita dei Laici, right next to it, is decorated with a gorgeous relief of the Virgin by Bernardo Rossellino in 1434. One can get so absolutely absorbed into history.
Wherever you look, the city is filled with breathtaking beauty and is alive and full of acitvity. We so enjoyed our time there.

The movie 'Life is Beautiful' was filmed here. I will want to see it one more time now, seeing it under a new aspect...I loved the movie and now even more!

We will visit one more time, the city deserves a second time to stroll through it's small streets and to enjoy many more details.

Now we are back to the house in the mountains, where the weather is always different then in the valley below! Today we went up into storm clouds and now it's raining...
We are cozy inside, listening to Vivaldi and the wind outside and I get an early feeling what autumn must feel like out here!

I keep on writing my blog, this is a great way for me to preserve my memories and all my impressions are still fresh and unaltered by the passing time.
Thank you all for commenting I am so grateful for your loyal followship, soon it will be time to return home and I will catch up with all your news as well!


Pictures by V.Zlotkowski, images from Piero della Francesco's frescoes via google image.
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