Saturday, December 17, 2011


We will soon be returning to Italy to begin the enjoyable job of fitting out our new Italian home in Citta della Pieve. If you remember the photos I posted some time ago, there is nothing new about it, except that it is new to us! The cotto floors are very uneven and dip significantly, the thick stone walls are certainly not straight, and the chestnut timber ceiling beams are gnarled and aged - and it is absolutely beautiful, has wonderful character and we are very excited about the prospect of finding just the right vintage pieces to fill the rooms. 

Some items, like beautiful bed linens, favourite books and some gorgeous fabrics I have had made into curtains for the bedrooms, we will be sending via unaccompanied luggage, an expensive but speedy way to see our things in Italy. However the majority of items we will find by wandering the markets and antique shops in small villages and towns across Europe, and over the months our little house will become a home. I will post entries along the way. 

Like many villages across Italy, Citta della Pieve has the large old walls surrounding the perimeter of the original town. These walls were used for defence and protection of the villagers. Today newer buildings have spread beyond these walls as the village has outgrown its original footprint, but the place still has the feeling of its medieval origins. Perched high on a hill on the Umbrian Tuscan border, it is the perfect place to chill out (and yes it will be cold, so we are hoping the fireplace and heating work!) and relax before leaving for Cortina D'Ampezzo to run our biggest conference of the year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Some of our Nutcracker collection
No two Nutcrackers are identical and they each have their own personalities
Traditions have a funny way of sneaking up on you, I feel. Many years ago when my younger son F was celebrating his very first Christmas, my parents gave him and his older brother O, a beautiful nutcracker after we had been listening to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The following year, they gave O & F another nutcracker for Christmas, and now 19 years later, they have given them one every year since, and as a family we have developed a wonderful Christmas tradition along the way! We have written the year under the base of each one, and no two are identical. Each year they make us laugh as they line up across the table to celebrate Christmas. Yearly we all repeat the same jokes - about the 'leanness'  of the year relating to the little nutcrackers or particularly skinny ones, or the success of the years relating to the fat/large ones. We each have our favourites, plus nick names for many of them, and they have now become part of the fabric of our family and a wonderful source of entertainment for us all. One day when O & F leave home we will split the collection, but whatever happens we will continue to add a new nutcracker each year. These 'little men' give us such delight for the 4 weeks they show their faces each year!  

Our Nutcrackers have become the only Christmas decoration we display each year as they have such visual impact!

They do actually crack nuts, with their movable mouth, but we rarely use them for this purpose!

This centre Nutcracker is our 2011 addition - our 19th one!! My favourite is on the left of this photo
I love a sparkle!


We were recently running a conference in Florence, and after many visits there over the years we have a few favourite places we visit to eat & drink.  

Life is too short for ordinary food ..... 
Choosing favourite places to eat & drink in any city is a very subjective thing - not just because the writer has particular preferences for food, interior decor & mood of a place, but also because one may have struck a place on a particularly good/bad occasion or chosen particularly well/badly from the menu. So listing the places I enjoy frequenting when we are in Florence means I am putting my neck out, but I am doing it anyway! My preference is always for good honest local food with simple but efficient service, as opposed to silver service - so these places are lovely, but certainly not glamorous. 

A delightful wine bar 
LE VOLPE E L'UVA (the fox & the grape) Piazza dei Rossi 
Whether you are a wine expert or novice you will enjoy sitting at the bar in this atmospheric enotecca which is situated between the Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. The sommeliers have collected a large variety of mostly Italian wines which are available by the glass, and together with a plate of local cheese and meats it is a perfect spot for a light lunch or dinner. We love that it attracts a local crowd who the friendly staff seem to know, so you don't feel like a tourist even though right in the midst of tourist central.   

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A wonderful Panini Bar
DA'VINATTIERI Via Santa Margherita 4r  Conveniently located under a medieval vault in case of inclement weather, this tiny hole in the wall has exterior stools for seating. It sells very simple, local food - a good selection of panini and a few choices of bean/pasta dishes washed down with local wines by the glass. Fabulous for a short break in a tourist's busy day, but one that will reinvigorate you to continue the impossible task of seeing all that Florence has to offer. (A beautiful traditional leather shop is opposite - he hand crafts superb leather boxes by moulding them over timber blocks, so be sure to check it out also.)
A great bread shop 
CANTINETTA DEI VERRAZZANO Via Dei Tavolini 18/20R Not all Italian bread shops are created equal,  so make sure you go to the best! This one offers a very good cup of coffee, either standing at a beautiful marble bar or seated at tiny tables, many varieties of bread/tarts/cakes in the bread shop, or a small restaurant for a quick meal - but my favourite is the delectable seasonal foccacia served directly from the oven. It is a wonderful pit stop in the middle of the day, or simply a great place to buy fabulous bread for your meal.

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A lovely restaurant to enjoy an intimate dinner
ORA D'ARIA Via dei Georgofili 11R
Located opposite the old jail, the name colloquially means 'hour of the air' and refers to an inmate's one hour of daily exercise time. In contrast to many of the traditional eating places in Florence, the menu at Ora D'Aria is modern and innovative. We find the environment quiet, and the decor contemporary and stylish - particularly the wonderful view of the open kitchen - it is a place worth luxuriating for awhile. A few weeks ago I read that Ora D'Aria received its first Michelin star, so if you are a foodie, then it is worth visiting for this.

A lovely (if noisy)Trattoria  
RISTORANTE IL LATINI 6r (Palazzo Rucellai) 50123 Firenze tel (+39) 055210916
We like this place even though I am warning you it is noisy, busy and can be quite raucous. The food is Tuscan favourites, served in good portions by happy waiters who like a chat. Rustic traditional food rules the menu and there is a good choice of options. The house wine served in chianti bottles is reasonable and well priced. 

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A rustic Tuscan Trattoria
TRATTORIA ANGIOLINO Via Santo Spirito 36/R Recently we were lucky enough to coincide our Florentine visit with a good friend of mine from Sydney, and this is the place we all went for a lovely Tuscan meal of good pasta and vegetables. I know the place is known for its Bistecca Fiorentina, but I love the vegetables or a simple pasta dish, as a huge chunk of meat is rarely my thing. A traditional Tuscan menu and rustic simple tablecloths add to the simplicity of this place. 

Fabulous Gelateria
GROM Via del Campanile (and many other places in Italy as due to a fabulous product their popularity is spreading rapidly). There will be little disagreement with this choice as many people rate this Gelateria very highly. Inspired by the slow food movement, the gelati in this establishment is made with fresh seasonal fruits, no colorings or artificial additives and a host of other high ingredients. Flavours vary with seasons but are always interesting exciting and some of the most wonderfully intense tastes you can have. Queues can be very long but it is absolutely worth waiting for! At the same price as other ordinary establishments, why go anywhere else?

If you have some other places that you love to visit send me an email - I would love to try some of your recommendations.