It was odd that it only took a 1.5 hour flight to travel to Rome. So much longer when you start in US. It will be interesting to travel around Europe with such short flights.
We got our rental car and left the airport around 4pm, knowing we would not arrive at Herb and Jeanie Klinker’s cottage (named Lucciole after the summer fireflies) until dark. With rush hour (or maybe just normal Rome traffic), it was fully dark before we were very far along. Chris had ordered a GPS from Amazon.UK and had set the coordinates so we had excellent navigational guidance. Traffic eventually cleared, we managed the toll system, and ignored our hunger and thirst through the 3-hour journey.
We shifted to smaller and smaller roads and we knew we were close when we passed the Agriturismo Orsini, our lodging for the next 2 weeks. But we were going first to Herb and Jeanie’s, where Jeanie had dinner waiting for our arrival.
Fortunately we had reasonable cell coverage and I had been texting Jeanie along the way. Once I told her we passed Agriturismo Orsini, she said we had gone too far. And as we entered the town of Massa Mantana, well lit with Christmas, the GPS announced we had arrived. The little device was excellent until the last 2 km.
So with further texting, we located the church/bar (Yes, both in the same structure), and waited for Herb to come lead us to their place. Turning onto a still smaller country road, and a short distance later, we drove through their open gate where Jeanie had placed a small votive candle to mark their driveway.
After hellos and hugs we were handed glasses of wonderful Italian wine, given plates of salami and cheese, fennel and arugula, and settled in their cute comfortable house. Jeanie gave us a short tour, the house is a little larger than the apartments we’ve rented. The combination living, dining, kitchen are comfortably furnished (yay, a fabric couch and side chair!), large stove/oven as they like to cook, and a grand fireplace. A bedroom, large American-style bathroom (including bidet), and hallway equipped with desk, computer and bookshelves complete their home. This will be our home base Jan 5 when they return to Mt Dora, until we depart Feb 11, as they have graciously agreed to let us rent it for our stay. It will be great to live in a comfortable home. They also have a large front porch with dining table and chairs but I doubt we will put it to use during this stay. It will be great to see the property and views in the daylight. During our drive, the lights that peppered our limited view hinted at the rolling terrain we are in.
Dinner was Jeanie’s ribolitta, a famous, hearty Tuscan soup made with winter vegetables, served over toasted bread rubbed with garlic. The bowl is then topped with grated parmigiano cheese and a little drizzle of good olive oil. It was a wonderful meal to welcome us to Italy. J&H had made plans for tomorrow’s dinner in town where there will be no menu but freshly made dishes will be served. And we’ve been told that the food at our Agriturismo is excellent and inexpensive. We are going to have to increase our walking to keep the Italian pounds off!
Our friends then escorted us to the Agriturismo Orsini, they had gotten our key since our arrival would be late, and we could check in tomorrow morning. The apartment is the smallest we’ve had, but it is only for 2 weeks, and I don’t really plan to cook here. We shuffled all the luggage in, said buonanotte to J&H, and began to settle in. The rooms were cool, but the heat was on, and an extra blanket had been placed on the bed. Crawling into bed, the cold sheets made for a different sleep, as we were used to a duvet in France, but we quickly fell asleep.
Around 3am, we woke up cold. No heat from the radiators. Somewhere I read that some places turn it off at night and back on in morning. We woke again at 9 and the heat is now back on. There was no hot water last night and we are waiting to take our showers. I told Chris he can now consider this camping, so check it off his things-to-do list!
Later, Chris had already been out, checked us in and brought me an Italian coffee.
We spent the new day with Jeanie and Herb. We walked around their property, and the small town of Montignano near their house. Jeanie served another great soup for lunch.
Since they know the area and our little Fiat is really only large enough for two, we rode with them to the town of Todi to do some grocery shopping. Returning to our little apartment we finally had hot water for a shower. The problem with the heat was they did not expect us till Tuesday. The heat is now on continuously, hurray!
Dinner reservations had been made at the restaurant of another agrituismo in Massa Martana. Arriving at 8:30, the dining area quickly filled with locals and us, and the feast began. There was a single seating and all tables are served at the same time with the same thing – a fixed menu featuring local dishes and delicacies.
Each table had bottles of wine and water, one flat (naturale) and the other slightly fizzy (frizzante). Foccacia bread with thinly sliced potatoes came first, followed by foccacia with sweet tomatoes, hot from the oven. Then a plate of thinly sliced dried ham, rosemary foccacia, and a bowl of chickpeas in a light tomato sauce. It was difficult to only eat a little of each, and to sip the wine, but we knew much more food would be arriving. In the corner of the room was a stone wood-fired spit with large skewers filled with chunks of meat.
As the dishes of food were emptied, more were offered but we declined. Herb can understand and speak some Italian so he was in charge of communication. Chris and I struggle to suppress the French that wants to come out of our mouths, as we try to remember our basic Italian. There was no English spoken here, except at our table!
Once appetizers were finished, il primi was served, a wonderful wide flat pasta with a light cream sauce flavored with bits of prosciutto and raddicio, then sprinkled with an excellent grated parmigiano. We all had seconds and emptied the serving platter. More sips of wine and water. We had no sense of time.
From my seat, I could watch the tending of the fire as the meat roasted. And I had a view into the kitchen where plates were filled with food, then the dirty dishes scraped, washed and dried for the next courses. We estimated about 70-100 people were dining so the cooks and servers (mom, son and daughter, plus others) were quite busy. Then each skewer of meat (about 4 feet long) was removed, placed on a large pan and carried into the kitchen and this was repeated 5-6 times.
The meat platter arrived next, filled with fried chicken and the chunks of the roasted pork from the spits. So delicious! The young man serving this course stopped at each table offering more chicken and pork. His sister than delivered a bowl of salad. And of course we continued sipping wine and water which was replenished with a new bottle as each was emptied.
We knew more was to come. More meat and salad was offered but declined, and empty dishes were removed. Then we were each brought a small plate with a piece of panforte, and a square of chocolate cake with a flavored layer of something yummy.
Once the desserts were finished, a tray with small shots of thick, dark coffee were brought around. We thought/hoped that this was the end, but no. Shortly after finishing the coffee we were offered a choice of 3 final digestivi – lemoncello, grappa, or some other liqueur (I can’t remember the name of it) to aid digestion.
After a little discussion, our friends let us pick up the tab. The time was after 11:30 and for 3+ hours of feasting, the cost was about $30 each – everything included!
So it is now the next morning, Christmas Eve, we’ve had a cup of coffee and I’m in bed writing this at 11:30AM. It is another gray, cold day (they said it was sunny the day we traveled here), and the temp is about 42. Tonight we will dine again at the Klinker’s. Jeanie is making a pasta dish with truffles, we are contributing wine. Our lodging is only about 2 miles from them so it’s easy to go back and forth. They will spend Christmas day away with friends and have invited us to spend the day at their house so we have a homey place for Christmas. At some point we’ll start to travel and explore the area. And we definitely need to do some walking after all the eating!
(Chris has been in a sepia tone mood)