Archive for the ‘Learning Vacations’ Category

We’ve just finished our last art/culture trip. We’ve sold the business after 15 years. The last 13 of the 15 we married a variety of art courses to the inspiration of Italian life. It has been transformative.

When we began we knew only that the way Italians lived and the intimacy and beauty of Orvieto’s streets, piazzas and buildings touched a cord in us. Over time we discovered that this pairing of art and place reconnected people to their souls. It has been beautiful. Humbling. Evocative. Renewing. Affirming. Yes, transformative.

Changing times and particularly the way technology erodes the ability to be in the moment have had an impact. But even through this very last trip art, Orvieto, and staying in one place absorbing for a week resulted in many people recounting to us how life changing the experience was.

It is a struggle for people to stay connected to their souls, to that inner compass always there to guide us, to stay true to who we individually are. What we have been so privileged to witness is how a week here with us in Orvieto reconnects people to themselves. We have received countless letters, postcards and emails telling us how the trip was a blessing, a milestone, a life changer. It’s not us. It’s this place and way of fulling engaging life, interpreted through a creative medium, that opens eyes to truly see.

Orvieto as seen from Palazzone vineyard

It touched Kristi and me early. Four years in we returned to the U.S. and knew we had to make a change. After four years of biannual visits where we were deeply connected to people and life we could no longer live an anonymous, American suburban life. We began the search. Two years later our house went on the market and we moved to to a connected, soulful, rich life in a small town.

We are lucky. The people who traveled with us are lucky. We’ve all found – or more accurately – uncovered our soul – for it has always been there waiting patiently. For this we have Orvieto, her people, her way of life, and the creative pursuits that helped see it better to thank. There is no way to adequately say thank you. The many soulful lives growing out of the experiences here however, bear testimony to what a great gift this place has given.


Read Full Post »

One of the things I love about Italy is that it’s seasonal. We have grown so accustomed in the U.S. to having everything available all the time that we have forgotten how we once flowed with the seasons experiencing and appreciating things in their time.

Buffalo mozzarella from Campania

This is of course obvious with produce where we get tomatoes, albiet the tasteless, soulless fruit that it is in the U.S., all year long. When you come to Italy you find artichokes in the spring but not the fall. In the fall you find fall fruits and veggies you never see in spring. These seasonal variations are reflected in the menus at restaurants.

3 pecorinos with lemon, orange, pear and fig jellies

There is the less obvious. Chocolate can’t be found in the warm months. We won’t be able to give chocolate welcome goodies to our guests for a week or two more, and then only if the temperature has cooled down. Americans often complain, yet I think it helps us be more in tune with the season and to enjoy each season’s bounty and character all the better.

12 year old balsamico to gave the cheese

Then there is the incredible diversity of regions, of being local. We are getting more this way in the U.S., but the Italians take it to an entirely different level. We did a cheese tasting with Cristian Manca at his deli Gastronomia. What an eye opener. We had buffalo mozzarella from Campania, the area around Naples. It is specific to the area. We had 3 pecorino cheeses, each aged a different period of time. The one year old was from Grosetto. It was distinctly better. Then we had a 5 year old pecorino. Very strong but good. And he put a drop of 12 year old balsamic vinegar on one piece – balsamic from Modena. Unbelievable.

Graziella and Cristian

We finished with a Gorgonzola like none I’ve ever had, again specific to it’s area. It is so creamy you have to spoon it out of the 5 kilo wheel it is aged in. He sprinkled chocolate shavings on it and served it with a sweet wine I’ve never had before from Palazzone winery – a winery I have been visiting for 15 years. Even our foodie friend and sommelier Graziella Gasparri, who was explaining the wines we had with the cheese, had never had Gorgonzola with chocolate.

Gorgonzola, shaved chocolate and Palazzone’s wine

These foods all came from distinct geographic areas that are quite small. Beautiful variety and character specific to the locale. Palazzone wine maker Giovanni Dubini has always insisted that his wine taste like his vineyard, that it not try to be like every other wine of the same variety out there. He succeeds, and his wines are sublime.

Italy is full of wonders. I think the seasonal, local aspect of it’s culture is every bit as impressive as it’s art and architecture. Indeed, it is art.

Read Full Post »

We took our group to our friend Simona’s house for cooking. We went an hour early so they could sketch for the work they are doing with our teacher – Junelle Jacobsen

The country around Simona’s house is beautiful. A short rain brought is a stunning double rainbow.

We made a ricotta/pear/walnut/pancetta appetizer, pasta, a pumpkin/sausage/fennel flower ragu, and tiramisu.

Sweet dreams!!

Read Full Post »

One of the alluring aspects of Italy is that there are so many layers. You peel away what you see and there is another layer, and another. This is evident on the street as you observe an arch within and arch within and arch speaking of years of change and transition. It’s beautiful.

Because we had a mosaic group in May we wanted them to see and be inspired by the mosaic floor of a Byzantine church underneath the “contemporary”church of St. Andrea. Here you see the layers. Byzantine underneath St Andrea and on top of Roman on top of Etruscan.


Here is an Etruscan furnace underneath the floor of the Byzantine floor underneath the floor of St. Andrea. When the Romans defeated the Etruscans about 200 B.C. they banished them and shut the city down for nearly 700 years. Slowly, dirt piled up on top of the Etruscan ruins until the rock was finally reoccupied in the 4-500 A.D. period.


The rough stone at the bottom is the base for the smooth stone on top – an Etruscan street. Above that is debris and then the base for the Byzantine church floor with the mosaics on the floor. The Etruscan streets ran northwest to southeast unlike the Christian orientation of due north-south/east-west.



Here you see the mosaic floor, the “modern” foundation of  St. Andrea with the Byzantine column coming out of the foundation that had supported the Byzantine church ceiling above and still helping support the floor above.





Pavers leading to an Etruscan well, once part of the street but then covered by the church 700 years later



The rough block at the bottom is Etruscan. The smooth block, Byzantine. The concrete from St Andrea. The Etruscan foundation still at work 2500 years later.


Read Full Post »

Orvieto is a city with incredible mosaics. The cathedral is particularly stunning and visible to all. But there are others, less visible, like the mosaics under St. Andrea church dating to the Byzantine period, and sitting on top of Roman and Etruscan ruins which are clearly visible. So we were excited to have Pam Goode back a second time to lead a mosaic workshop. She called it Postcards Home because she had her students do a postcard size piece.


Mosaics are slow. That is one reason it appeals to Pam. And I love the notion in our fast paced world – an art form that requires you to think and be patient and go slow. And so the students started their piece but will finish them at home.

We learned a lot from Pam. She doesn’t like to use grout. Her work is meticulous, the pieces fitting incredibly tightly together – look in the image above. She is also a poet. At our closing she read a stunning piece she composed during the week about why she loves Orvieto and travel and what she will miss. I was in tears because it so beautifully captures what this wonderful town and the gorgeous people we know here do for us and give us. She is working on the poem to get it just right. But when it is done she will send it to us and I’ll post it here. I think it perfectly describes the incredible experience people get on our trips.

Pam is a beautiful soul and you can read a wonderful interview with her here: http://www.lunamosaics.com/pamela-goode.html Visit her website here.

So, pics of the group and it’s work.






Thank you Pam, Susan, Sharon and Mary. What a wonderful week you gave us!

Read Full Post »

Melissa Harris’s watercolor week just finished. I always stand in amazement of what is produced and the individuality of each artist. Wish I could do this!!






Read Full Post »

After the dinner, next up for Simona and Nick on their American and Morganton adventure, was a cooking class at the Reihl’s house on beautiful Lake James. Dianne had set up two gorgeous tables on which to eat and her kitchen lent itself perfectly to the 12 in the class.

The menu was a fava bean/ricotta/mint crostino, a pear and Gorgonzola risotto with salad and roasted potatoes, chicken cacciatora, and panna cotta with coffee caramel and raisins steeped in wine.

Taste of Orvieto

One of Dianne’s 2 beautiful tables

Adventures in Italy

Ready for the cooking students

Cultural adventures

Assembled and ready to begin

Bill Steiner

Peeling pears to be cooked in wine and added to the risotto

Kristi Steiner

Watching Simona demonstrate

Art in Italy

It was fun with much laughter

Adventures in Italy

Some of the men prepare the crostini

Art classes in Orvieto

Look what a good job they did!

Food, wine, culture

Preparing the coffee caramel for dessert

Cooking classes in Italy


olive picking in Italy

The Reihls and Simona

Cheese making in Italy

The class!

What fun it was. It was sad to see Nick and Simona leave, but they were off for more cooking in Boston. Such a treat for us to have them here. You can cook with Simona at her farmhouse in October via our Taste of Orvieto trip!

Nick and Simona may return for another round. We have encouraged Nick to teach some photography while he is here, if they come. To see his incredible work go here. And to learn more about Simona visit her website.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »