Cuisine of Cortona

We’d agreed at the start of our trip that we wanted to do an Italian cooking course and we found a great one in Cortona. 

The town is pearched on a hill in southern Tuscany and looks over colourful paddocks to Lake Trasimeno. Beautiful town with a lot of history and cute little lanes winding up the hill. Also lots of Italian leather bags on offer, Rach couldn’t refuse.

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The course we found was run by Shirley, an American who after many trips to Italy moved here 9 years ago with her husband.  She’s been doing classes for years and said if she wanted there’s demand to hold them 6 days a week.  

Instead of the usual 3-4hour class ours went from 9am to 7.30pm, great value considering it was cheaper than the shorter classes and all food/wine was included.

After meeting for coffee to discuss our menu we bought the necessary ingredients from the market and local butcher.   The quality of the fresh produce is great.   We, (us plus 2 other couples)  then headed to Shirleys house on the hill to begin cooking. 

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MENU
Starter:
Cold cuts and cheese
Foccacia bread
Zucchini salad
Fennel bulb salad
Stuffed tomatoes

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The tomatoes and foccacia bread were definitely the favourites.

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Entree:
Fresh pasta

We each made a different type of pasta from basic egg pasta doughs and combined them with different sauces.
Pumpkin ravioli with a sage butter sauce.

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Bow ties with a cauliflower sauce (tasted much better than it sounds)

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Tagliatelle with a tomato/meat sauce

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All were super tasty and a lot easier to make than we’d thought.

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Main:
As if we weren’t full enough next was the bacon wrapped pork chop cooked in vin santo sauce.
This was served with some sweet onions, eggplant and chilli beans.

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Dessert:
We were on food overload so had to take our dessert home with us. Olive oil lemon cake, delish!

At the start of the day we had also made biscotti so had that to take away too.

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Overall we had a great day, the other couples were good fun too, we just hope we remember everything for when we get home. Italian night anyone?

Working for a living in Mondaino

Eric and Pip had put us in contact with a couple in a small Italian town, Mondaino, who regularly have people stay to woof (workers on organic farms).   We loved the idea of staying in the country for a few days so rocked up to Suzie and Phelans house about 1pm, prepared to work for the afternoon.  

Instead Suzie told us to rest for the day, as we must be tired from our travels, and packed us up a fantastic lunch of bread/cheese/olives/homemade relish and home grown tomatoes/figs and grapes.

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We were expecting to stay in either The Goo or a van they have set up but instead we got the Farmhouse that they would usually hire out.  

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Beautiful old stone house with heaps of character.

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We did do a bit of work this day, clearing out a huge a rosemary bush (size of 2 cars) that had creepers and thorns all through it.

We were ready to get to the next lot of work the following morning so Phelan gave us the task of helping to erect a fence around a newly planted terraced grapevine area so the sheep couldn’t get in.   We were using trees that he’d cut from the woods as posts and resurrecting wire fencing.  

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Not sure whether the work is visible between the before (above) and after (below)  but rest assured a lot of sweat went into the final product.

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This was actually just one section so by the end of the 2 days we had completed the 4 sections needed to make it like Fort Knox.

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It doesn’t necessarily look pretty but we’re confident it’s going to be effective.

Matt also had the job of planting some NZ flax plants, Phelan guessed that they’d have to survive if they were planted by a NZ’er.

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It was great to get to know Suzie and Phelan and all their animals.  Dogs, cats, pigeons, ducks, goats, sheep, rabbits and a massive pig.  

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Suzie is a better than great cook so we were spoilt with our lunches and dinners.  The first night (our rest day)  she turned up with a beautiful casserole.   We were sure it was lamb but when we asked her the following day she said it was one of their baby goats.   We also had a great tart –

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pasta with clams , and our last lunch was what would be served as an entree at a typical Italian Christmas lunch, Capitelli, stuffed pasta cooked in a chicken broth.

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They are the most self sufficient people we’ve ever met, making their own everything – olive oil, cheese and wine, and raising their sheep/goats/ducks/pig to eat.  Huge vege garden. Their red wine is actually the first that Rach has taken a liking to, must be something about being in Italy.

All the time we were outside we didn’t come across creepy crawleys other than lots of gecko’s, it was only when Matt was heading to bed one night that he stopped in his tracks. Once we got a decent light on it we realised their was a scorpion sitting in the middle of the step to our bedroom that Matt’s bare foot just about landed on.

After a quick discussion (i.e. what do we do???), we got a glass to cover it to get it outside like you would a spider.

Well in the process Rach squashed it a little and it didn’t seem very happy so a little more force was applied, this time by Rach’s jandal.

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The nights sleep may have been interrupted by dreams of the scorpions mother coming for revenge, but in the morning we found out the the European scorpions sting is no worse than a bee/wasp sting, so didn’t have to worry.

Mondaino is in rolling hill country and their are lots of other towns nearby. One is Urbino, a University town with loads of history and great medieval buildings.

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Also a town quite keen on Pinocchio.

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This was also where we realised tbat when you order a drink you get nibbles included, nuts/pastries/mini sandwiches/chips. That slightly made up for the price.

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We had fun working for a couple of days, Matt even fixed Suzie’s computer after her ‘computer man’ had spent at least 6 hours trying to fix it.

It was all a nice change from sightseeing, and what better view could you want.
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Cruising Croatia

Our drive from Montenegro up the coast into Croatia was pretty short, although a big line at customs held us up a little.  Not sure what the purpose of the checkpoint is, the guy didn’t even take our passports just waved us on.  Guess we’ll take that to mean we look trusting.

Our first night we stayed at a campsite a few km south of Dubrovnik.  We got there with the afternoon ahead of us so got a taxi boat into the Old Town.   The first thing we did was take the cable car up the hill to get a great view across all of Dubrovnik and the sea beyond it. Couldn’t have picked a better day for it.

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We also wandered around the Old Town for a while but it just felt like it was packed with Aussie, US and English tourists and it just didn’t feel as nice as the other Old Towns we’ve been to.

It didn’t seem like a single Croat actually lived there. It was also a bit of a shock to see the prices of food /drink etc, much more expensive than Montenegro. 

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The buildings are beautiful and the location right on the Adriatic is perfect but we decided pretty quickly that we didn’t want to spend long here, so after a nice sunset boat ride back to the campsite and a night in The Goo we ventured off again.

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We got the car ferry to Mljet Island which has a National Park covering the top 1/3 of the island.   Our campsite was a little remote, a few km round a hill on another 1 lane road, in a beautiful bay.   We had to take the opportunity for a swim off the small beach.

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The main attraction on the island is the 2 salt water lakes which are a beautiful spot to relax and have a swim in the clear water.

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This was by the big lake but we also walked around to the small lake which seemed more popular for people swimming in the shallow water. This is where Matt tried to hone his Lleyton Hewitt impersonation.

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After a drive to the south tip of the island we stumbled upon a sand beach which was a welcome change to the pebble/stone ones we’ve seen so far.

From Mljet we got another car ferry to Korcula. Another great little town with plenty of character.

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We had another great site for The Goo, parked in amongst trees 20 metres from the water.

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You could get by with never leaving the campsite, like many in Europe they have a grocers, pizza place, grill bar and are joined to a hotel which has a cafe/restaurant and wifi. The cafe did well out us enjoying their apple strudel and coffee a couple of days.

We’re really glad we invested in snorkel gear and a fishing rod from the market in town even though we haven’t caught anything on our fishing outings.

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Next stop was Hvar Island, with yet another cute Old Town that is obviously one of the stops for the Sail Croatia trips.

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Lots of boats tied up together overnight. Great place for a magical sunset.

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We opted to hire our own superyacht for a day.

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We got off to a bit of a bumpy start due to a windy morning but once we got amongst the shelter of the islands we were fine. Had a fun day fishing and having our picnic lunch with the wasps.

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We also walked up the the fortress above the town, great views of the smaller Islands.

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We decided it was time to get back to to the mainland so back on the car ferry.

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Zadar was our next stop, we enjoyed looking around here even though our sightseeing was interrupted by a couple of thunder storms. The town has plenty of locals around so it feels a bit more authentic than the likes of Dubrovnik.

One of the cool things to see/hear is the sea organ. The water hits the steps with strategically placed holes and produces sounds like an organ. The sound is best when the wake of boats hits.

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Pag Island was a great place to visit, we couldn’t turn down the chance to sample some of the worlds best sheep cheese so did a full tour/tasting at the Gligora factory.

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It was a lot of fun and an interesting place to look around, smelt amazing.

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We go to see the whole operation but the storage fridge was the best. So many different types and ages of cheese in there.

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Our only issue with the tasting was that we liked too many of them. We decided in our three favourites; 100% sheep, mix of sheep and cow and 100% cow. We didn’t like the goat cheese so much.

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The sheep cheese is the world’s best because of the winter winds that bring salt to the island and the wild herbs that the sheep eat while in their stone walled paddocks.

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In the end we left the island with about 1kg of cheese – Good job we were catching up with friends Eric and Pip so they could help us out eating it.

We met them at Plitvice Lakes, a collection of lakes joint by waterfalls.
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Being Croatias No. 1 tourist attraction there were lots of tour groups but once we got on the walkways further away it was actually a really beautiful peaceful place to be.

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It was great to have a couple of nights catching up with friends, stayed up after 9pm being the latest nights we’ve had in ages, it was good for us.

The best thing about Croatia was being in the water – super clear and great to swim in. We found the landscape a little barren in many places we visited, the food average and perhaps overall just lacking character compared to other places we’ve visited.

Well ok the sunsets were pretty good.
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Next stop Italy which is definitely not lacking in character and the food is way above average.

Magical Montenegro

Our drive from Serbia was a bit longer than we expected (293km left at 930am arrived 630pm with two 10 min breaks) Three reasons: thunderstorm with lots of thunder and lightning, lots of twists and turns and the unexpected road accident that had us held up for over an hour.  

It was quite funny watching how curious everyone was, we seemed quite sedate waiting in the line of cars as others drove past us on the wrong side of the road to get a better look at things.  

Because everyone seems in a hurry lots of cars opted for the route over an old, unstable looking swing ( foot?) bridge.   Each car was guided over individually but eventually after about 10 cars went over they (who ‘they’ are we don’t exactly know) decided it wasn’t safe.

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Turns out our stash of crackers and chocolate biscuits came in handy.

We got moving again and finally felt we were getting through the country. We had come from the north, followed the road to the south east then had to get to the south west to where we had decided to stay.   The whole country seems to be mountain after mountain, we thought it looked like a good setting for Jurassic Park.

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We drove past the capital city Podgorica which rightly so is known as a pretty ugly city.   We were glad we weren’t stopping here, lots of grungy looking apartment buildings.

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The coast is where all the action is, beautiful scenery of mountains dropping off into the Adriatic.  Most of the coast is busy with tourists during the summer, we stayed near Budva which has lots of beaches and a popular Old Town.

One town close by is Sveti Stefan which has a small island connected to tbe mainland. 

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Unfortunately the island is now privately owned by a resort but we found the public beach right next to it.

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Matt was happy to point it out.

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You can see that Matt was afraid of getting lost in the water so purchased some highlighter orange togs.  I haven’t lost sight of him since.

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We had a few days out of the camper and stayed in an apartment a bit out of town.  It was well set up for cooking with a great grill set up outside.   Matt made a friend here the first night, she didn’t seem concerned that we couldn’t understand a word she was saying and kept talking to us throughout the night.

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A common interest was the cat and 4 kittens that were hanging around.  They were very cute so benefited from our left overs.

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Most of the beaches around here are stoney rather than sandy but that doesn’t bother anyone.

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From the coast there is a road inland through the old capital city Cetinje to Kotor Bay, our next port of call.  Getting to Cetinje was ok, the steep climb up the side of the mountain gave great views across Budva and the sea.  The second half of the drive though was mainly one lane which became a bit of an issue when we started meeting tourists buses going the opposite way.

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Matt executed many uphill backing manoeuvres to allow the buses to pass. There are many hairpin turns to negotiate.
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On the upside we got a great look over Kotor Bay, definitely one of the most scenic views we’ve ever seen.

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Kotor is based around it’s Old Town which was just heaving with people the day we arrived (due to a couple of cruise ships being docked).

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We were staying within the Old Town walls for a couple of nights which we thought may have been a mistake but the following days were nowhere as busy so it was actually quite fun to be based there.

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This was the view from our window, part mountain part town.
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There is an old fortress on the hill behind the old town. We decided to walk up to it in the morning before it got too hot. 1350 steps up the fortress wall and we reached the top, amazing to think how these structures were built in the 1300-1400’s.

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From the top we got another great look over the bay.

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Kotor has a problem with wild cats breeding, there are even shops dedicated to ‘Cats of Kotor’ souvenirs. They’re not scared of people, most seem pretty relaxed.

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Our last night in Montenegro we went out for a great meal at an Asian restaurant at the superyacht port. Sea bass, prawns, calamari all delicious. The port is one of the more modern developments in the area. The marina was pretty full of some big privately owned boats, the likes of which we can only dream of getting on.
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The one thing we had been told by people in Serbia about Montenegro was that it had been taken over by Russian’s, both as tourists and property developers.

To us it just gave the area a really busy feel but the comment ‘too many Russians’ was one we heard a few times by locals too.

Montenegro is a great place to visit for a relaxing, affordable beach holiday with beautiful scenery. We loved our week there. They just need to work on widening some of the 1 lane roads- next stop Croatia.