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Archive for January, 2009

Best/Worst Airports

CNN has published a list of the world’s best and worst airports. As with all lists, one can wonder at the criteria for inclusion. For what it’s worth the best are Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and Munich. For those traveling to Italy with us from the U.S. only Munich will be on your radar screen.

As for the worst they were Baghdad, Delhi, Nepal, Senegal, LAX (Los Angeles), Heathrow (London), and Charles de Gaulle (Paris). I would concur with de Gaulle. I always advise people to be sure they have a long layover at de Gaulle because it is maddeningly spread out and convoluted!

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Dawna Markova says our souls have seeds that want to germinate. In order to do so the seeds, like those in nature, must crack the outer shell so they can fall away. This is something that happens on our trips to Italy. It is not that we are so brilliant in constructing our trips. Rather, it is that we stumbled upon this magic serendipitously. But it brings great joy.

And passion. Markova also said. “Passion creates the desire to reach, to pass on to the world what you love. And through that opening the world passes into you.” Italy is our passion. Selfishly as we pass that passion on to our travelers, they pass the world to us. I’m not sure it is a fair exchange!!

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There is a wonderful daily e-mail note on Italy called the Italian Notebook. It provides little insights into all kinds of things Italian. If you love Italy, or the thought of it, you might want to subscribe.

One of our groups sharing lunch

One of our groups sharing lunch

Today’s note was about doing nothing – niente in Italian. It is about Lake Bracciano in the winter, and how quiet it is this time of year. (The lake is north of Rome about a third of the way to Orvieto.) It says you might even find someone doing nothing and dining alone. Dining alone, they say, is like a pathology in Italy.

It is true, and it is one of the great delights about spending a week on our small group tours in Italy: the great camaraderie around food. After a week in Orvieto you are filled with the joy we bring each other as human beings, reminded of what pleasure there is around the table, and determined to return home to have more of the same. Too, you have quiet moments looking at the countryside and reveling in how great it is to slow down and do nothing. La dolce vita – the sweet life!

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Taking time to observe and reflect as you travel

Taking time to observe and reflect as you travel

Slow travel is what Kristi and I do. We find it so much more satisfying. We have talked to people who have been to Orvieto briefly. It’s what most people do – see the Cathedral, which is spectacular, walk around a little bit and leave. What is so sad, is how much they miss.

Fast  is how most people travel. Perhaps, if you travel just once, it makes sense. You try to see all the marvelous sights. Unfortunately, they all end up blurring into each other. “Which church had those black and white stripes?” Who knows.

With our Adventures in Italy learning vacations you learn about a place, a community, its people, a way of life, an outlook on the world, customs, quirks, hidden places. You settle into Orvieto, becoming a part of it for a week. It is so tremendously satisfying. Instead of a series of snapshots all running into each other, you get a deep memory, a marker in your life, a point of reference. You may even get a turning point, a place of departure, a launching pad.

This is what slow travel and small group travel with us is all about. It is deep, rewarding, rich, soulful, exciting, revealing.

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Killing Community

Part of what people experience with our small group tours to Italy is the tremendous sense of community that exists in Orvieto. I think it is one of the things they come away appreciating, and perhaps wondering why we don’t have the same in the U.S.

Enjoying coffe in Orvieto, Italy

Enjoying coffe in Orvieto, Italy

I read an article recently that is but one example of the challenges we face here at home. The article chronicled the shutting down of evening music programs offered for years by small, independent coffee shops across the country. Turns out that agencies such as Broadcast Music Inc., (BMI) and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) were going after these folks saying that performers could not play copyrighted songs unless the shops paid fees reaching into the thousands of dollars.

While I understand the intent, it seems to me that these small operations were hardly a threat. And the unfortunate result is that places where a real sense of community is built suffer, and the sense of community suffers.

I don’t anticipate those on our learning vacations are going to come home and start being advocates for coffee houses or like kinds of community generators, but maybe they will stir the pot a little! Here’s to finding ways to support those places that build our ties to place!

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Olive oil tasting is something you probably don’t think of when you think of Italy. Yet, when you consider how important olive oil is to Italian food, it makes sense that you would want to get the best.

Italy has professional olive oil tasters, who go through extensive training. Just as wine can receive a DOC categorization, oils can receive a DOP classification – the very best. To receive DOP, professional tasters do blind tastings of oil every year. If a grower knows his oil will not receive the classification, he is likely not to submit his oil in a given year.

Oil Tasting in Orvieto with professional taster guiding us

Oil Tasting in Orvieto with professional taster guiding us

Oil tasting is done with oil at room temperature, warmed in a small glass held in one hand, while the other covers the glass to trap the aroma. You breathe in the oil aroma, take a small sip, swirl it all around your mouth and aspirate. You can see an entertaining  demonstration of this.

Some people are good at discerning good oil and some aren’t. Turns out I am in the latter group. Well, it is still fun and I’ll continue to try – maybe I’ll get better?!?

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Espresso

Espresso

So what is it like to cook a meal with a chef in Italy? Well, a total blast. We may start with an espresso to wake us up. We are cooking in the chef’s kitchen, preparing food for our group, and typically for that evening’s restaurant guests. We learn to make pasta, sauce of some type, perhaps a meat course, or dessert, or salad. We work alongside the chef and his assistants, sampling a little wine, learning a lot, and kicking up our heels. Then, we sit down and enjoy a

Dinner

Dinner

multi-course meal some of which we have prepared and some done by the chef and his assistants. It is a lively exchange and a peek into the other side of the restaurant business. We also are able to see the importance of fresh food and how carefully and simply Italians prepare their food. So, so fun!

A Little Wine

A Little Wine

Egg Pasta

Egg Pasta

Taste Treat

Taste Treat

Our Polenta

Our Polenta

Lorenzo's Meat

Lorenzo's Meat

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