Friday, January 23, 2015

The Dollar Is Strong - NOW Might Be The Time To Buy In Italy!

As many of you know, when the euro cost us $1.60 in 2008, that's when we just had to say "uncle" and put our house on the market.  Since we moved back to the states in 2010 housing sales - never as strong as in the U.S., because people just hand the houses down from one generation to the next! - have been increasingly weaker, and the strong euro has probably kept a lot of people from buying.  For those of us living in U.S. dollars, the euro is down to $1.13 today - a rate we haven't seen since late 2003 or maybe early 2004.  For this reason, NOW may be the perfect time to make that fantasy a reality!

And -  I have a suggestion for you.  Several years ago we helped our friends scout locations for a second home in Italy and were very pleased when they found a fixer-upper in Panicale.  They did a wonderful job with the restoration, as the pictures clearly show.  The village is charming, the location is not just panoramic, but also easy to get to, and there are always English speakers around, just in case!

Here's the link to a beautifully restored house in Panicale, and I have to tell you, that roof-top terrace is amazing!  Take a look, tell your friends - YOU could be living the dream too!

HOUSE FOR SALE IN PANICALE UMBRIA


Monday, December 15, 2014

I've Fallen In Love With Another - Country!

That's something I never thought I'd say, but honestly, I've fallen in love with the Dordogne region of France after watching Rudy Maxa's "Smart Travels", and can't wait to visit!  After finding the show on YouTube I noticed that Rick Steves also has a show on the Dordogne, so I checked that out too.  After the first few minutes of the RS show I knew we'd seen it before, and I was puzzled why I hadn't fallen in love after watching his show.  There were plenty of the same shots, many of the same cutesy villages, but I'm guessing the RS show featured a little too much information on foie gras and the geese who supply this delicacy. That and the fact that "Smart Travels" had shots so gorgeous, so timeless and so evocative that I was practically in tears.  Really.

I'm a sucker for English quaint, or medieval stonework.  Half-timbered house and thatched roofs make me sigh, and looking out at an endless view across row after row of tile or slate roofs is simply a magical experience.  And I've found all that and more in the southwest of France, not far from Bordeaux.

Cruising down, or driving along the Moselle River, gazing up at row after row of grapevines, peering up at pointy towers on hilltop castles and winding through half-timbered villages was other-wordly.  Driving the Romantic Road went from the drama of the Alps to the charm of medieval villages still fortified with town walls and covered ramparts.  And yet this area of France, along and between the Dordogne and Lot rivers, not far from the Atlantic coast, seems to channel everything I love about Umbrian hilltowns and Tuscan beauty with the romance of medieval Germany and a healthy dose of English quaint - in stone and half-timbered houses and villages, into one convenient location.

To sweeten the pot even further the famous caves of Lascaux, with their prehistoric paintings are not far away, and I absolutely LOVE caves!  And, amazingly, a walled city long on my bucket list, and one I'd given up hope of ever seeing, Carcassonne, is about 3 hours away.

.I'm so amazed and excited about discovering a new area that seems tailor made for me that my complete and utter lack of French isn't even dampening my enthusiasm.  And altho I usually don't have much praise for French food (altho I do confess to loving any French bread or pastry), preferring the simplicity of Italian cuisine to the fussiness of French cuisine, I'm absolutely sure that I'll come home more than happy with the food!  I'm sure it won't be necessary, but I could survive on pain au chocolat with no problem at all.  Now all I have to do is wait until 2016....or win the lottery!   And now I finally understand why some of my friends love France the way I love Italy and England - and we're ALL right!!!

Watch the "Smart Travels" show and let me know if you agree with my new crush on France!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Del Frisco's Restaurant Review

For years Del Frisco’s has been our go-to steak house.  The steaks were thick, and juicy, and tender....and so flavorful that I rarely made steak at home because I could never recreate the Del Frisco’s magic. Seriously. Combine one of those steaks with the decadently rich, creamy and cheesy Green Phunque (that I could justify because it contains spinach), and I was satiated in a way that could only be improved upon by chocolate, and the Silk Pie made the evening complete.  Just thinking about it makes my mouth water, but perhaps I need to reconsider.  Del Frisco's may be past its prime, and I don't know if it's a gradual slide. or simply a loss of passion in the kitchen.

I'll admit that it's been a few years since our last visit, but I remember that our last visit was as delicious as ever, and altho we commented (even then!) about the tired, dated decor, the food and excellent service made the surroundings less important.  Now, years on, tired, dated decor has become almost tacky.  When we were seated and I saw the thin, cheap cutlery (I started to call it 'silverware', but I don't think that would be accurate) I wondered if people stealing the 'real' silverware over the years had forced management to eventually use only the cheapest of cutlery.  Maybe the expense of replacing the silverware is what kept them from remodeling - maybe they just couldn't afford it.

The service that night, a Friday, was wonderful, but the restaurant, at least the room we were in, was probably only half full. Our waiter brought a beautiful, warm loaf of bread, along with whipped butter.  We rarely indulge in bread these days, but in anticipation of a wonderful meal, warm bread with butter sounded like an additional treat.  It's hard to describe how disappointed I was when I bit into my thick slice of fluffy white bread.  I don't have to have 9-grain bread or something non-traditional, I LOVE a great yeasty, white bread, especially warm.  This was NOT that bread.  This bread was just airy and tasteless, and the whipped butter didn't even make it worth the trouble.  Okay, at least I've have more room (and less carb-guilt) about that Green Phunque, and the dessert.

We all ordered the rib-eye steak - it's my favorite cut, and I ordered the smaller 12-14 oz steak.  I was rather surprised when the steak arrived.  It was sizzling hot, as always, but it much much thinner than I would have liked.  I will say that despite the thinner cut it was still cooked to perfection.  Altho my steak had what I considered to be an very acceptable amount of fat, others thought their steak was way too fatty.  The flavor was incredible as ever, and I savored every bite.

The Green Phunque was another story.  It was bland - I don't think salt and pepper were used when the dish was prepared, nor any other seasonings.  All in all the dish just didn't seem as satisfying as in the past, and I wished I'd ordered something else, or had a salad.  My cousins, who had been to Del Frisco's just one night before us, said that their salads were drowned in so much dressing they were barely edible.

As I mentioned earlier, the Silk Pie was nice, but the chocolate cake was nothing special.

So, that was our experience, and our (four) cousins, who had dined at Del Frisco's on Thursday night agreed with us on every point.  My cousins all felt their steaks were much too fatty.  I hope this isn't the beginning of the end for a (once) great restaurant, buy I'll probably won't take a chance the next time I'm craving a steak.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's official!  Our 2015 dates are set - Umbria here we come!  With an ordinary tour you'd have to travel during pre-set dates, but with us, you can pick any 7 days between June 27, 2015 and July 10 for your week.  This will not only allow your vacation to work for you, but will also allow you to plan to visit Rome for a day (or two!) at the beginning and/or end of your visit!

Contact us at:  artnbarb@italymail.com to see how we can customize a tour for you!

Friday, October 17, 2014

COMING SOON - See Umbria WITH Art and Barbara!

Yes, it's true!  There's nothing we love more than sharing Umbria with friends, and now we're making it official - Art and Barb's Umbria will be a week filled with food and fun, with wine and ceramics and gelato, and maybe even a little history thrown in for good measure.  We'll be posting details soon, but for now I can tell you to think about what YOU would like to see and do in Umbria, and to consider joining us next June!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Vacation 2014 - Italy and Slovenia - A Quick Summary

Our vacation this year took us back to Italy for four weeks total, and finally to Slovenia for an additional ten days.  Here's a quick breakdown of our costs:

Car rental for 39 days, booked thru AutoEurope.                          
We requested and received a diesel, which made the fuel
a little cheaper.  We also included a zero deductible, which
raised the cost but eased our minds.                                                             $ 911

Road taxes, not included in the rental                                                           $  97

Gas                                                                                                           $ 523

Tolls, parking                                                                                             $ 143

Hotels/Apartments 37 nights total                                                                 $2894

Airfare $1622 EACH, plus $300 to upgrade to
business class for the flight TO Italy                                                             $3844

MINUS the airline vouchers we received last year                                       - $3000

Everything else:  food, admissions, souvenirs                                                $3962

GRAND TOTAL 4 weeks in Italy and 10 days in Slovenia                            $9374

(Without those airline vouchers our costs would have been $12,374)

The car averaged out to just over $25 per day, and the lodgings, a mix of apartments, hotels and B&Bs averaged out to $78 per night.  Although I know we drove 6,641 miles, I didn't track our fuel consumption, but as I mentioned above, the diesel fuel helped, and of course we had a stick shift which may have helped as well.

When I wrote about last year's vacation to Germany, our costs averaged out to about $288 per day when I excluded the (free) time we spend with relatives.  This year's vacation came in at $253 per day, but once again having that $3000 airline credit really made a big difference!  Is it wrong to say we were a little disappointed not to get bumped again this year?

Monday, May 05, 2014

THE COUNTDOWN HAS BEGUN!

SEVEN WEEKS AND COUNTING!  Who has tips for Volterra?  How far in advance should we book for our Modena lunch?  Oh, and will there be any festas in San Venanzo so we can watch our Italian friends line dance to the accordion of our friend Erika, and just for a little while imagine these people are still our neighbors?    BUT - I'm so excited for all the wonderful things we've planned to do, as well as all the wonderful, crazy unexpected things that just happen, the things you could imagine even if you tried - travel is truly magical!  Oh, and finally........Slovenia!  It's gonna be a good good time!