Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tea Room Postcard #22 -- The Hitching Post Tea Room (Chickamauga Park, Georgia)

Some of the "yesteryear" tea rooms I find most charming are those that were located in simple homes. The one depicted on this vintage postcard, the Hitching Post Tea Room in Chickamauga Park, Georgia, appealed to me because Chickamauga is well-known here as the site of the Battle of Chickamauga, the first major battle of the Civil War to be fought in Georgia.

Dated Dec. 21 and postmarked 1912, the card is addressed to a "Miss Antoinette Asam" (?) in Detroit, Mich., and reads, "Dearest: Unexpected change of trains here - last u will hear of me for a few days I think. All OK. Hope u are feeling better, will send address later. This is not a Tenn. card but can't find any. Yours, Ross." Maybe Ross was supposed to send his lady friend postcards from all the states along his journey? Yet another postcard mystery …

Friday, May 30, 2014

Winding up our trip — and a visit to Rome!

On our final morning at the agriturismo in Tuscany, before we left for Rome, we decided to have a nice big breakfast there at La Pietriccia. I loved the fact you could get freshly squeezed pear juice, and I can see just a bit of mine in this photo! Not realizing what other goodies awaited, I selected from the buffet thin slices of the cheese and meat so central to Italian meals, a plum, and what I thought was biscotti with some of my beloved Nutella. I soon learned that the packaged "biscotti" was melba toast, so that didn't exactly work with the Nutella!

No worries, though. Soon, to our table comes this magnificent array of breakfast breads. Alex and I just laughed, and he wondered how many guests this would feed at teatime!

Oh, I do love croissants, and I definitely ate my share of them on this trip! It's probably best I never learn to make them …

So when we finally arrived in Rome, we barely had time for another hop-on, hop-off bus tour. (Yes, we know. We tried to do too much on this trip!) At any rate, at least we can say we have seen the Colosseum!

As with so many of the major attractions in Europe, we learned we should have booked tickets online if we wanted to avoid spending several hours (in the rain!) waiting to go inside the Colosseum. We just didn't have that kind of time, and frankly, we both agreed we wouldn't have waited in line if we'd had the time. (I'm not sure there's a perfect solution for the line-averse traveler. If there is, I'd love to hear it!)

The other highlight of our time in Rome was seeing St. Peter's Square. Next time I'm watching on television as the Pope gives a speech there, I'll have a feel for what the square looks like!

The city's incredible architecture, I must say, left me with a bit of an inferiority complex about the U.S. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, but … our old buildings just aren't quite as grand, are they!

I have a dear friend who is a devout Catholic, so I had to pop in a shop near the Vatican and buy her a few items while I was there. And this is out of the norm for me, but I wanted an Italian-looking cup and saucer to take home with me, so I was delighted to find this one in the gift shop. It definitely says "Italy" to me!

And since you all are devout tea lovers, I figured that one of you would enjoy this little book of Italian biscotti recipes featuring cute teatime artwork! When I Google-translated the title, here's what I got: "Small manual biscuit Italian ingredients, good and fantasy." Make of it what you will, but I just loved all the cute tea illustrations and figured it shouldn't be too hard to translate a recipe.

This one is, I believe, for Rosemary Biscotti. So to thank you for joining me on my travels, I'm giving away this little cookbook to someone who leaves a comment between now and 7 a.m. EST on Monday, June 2. Good luck — and thanks again for reading along!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Exploring the hills of Tuscany

On our last afternoon in Tuscany, the hosts at our agriturismo loaned us their two young sons, Nicola and Alessandro, both university students, who kindly drove us up to those hills we had been admiring from down below. We were left to explore for a bit, and they came back for us at an appointed time. As we explored the town, Alex and I looked down the hill and could see La Pietriccia from a different perspective. (It's near the top in this photo.)

Spring is such a lovely time to visit with all the lush greenery and flowering trees.

We decided to stop for a bite to eat at this place, the Bar Centro Storico Pasticceria. It was shortly after noon on Sunday, and we noticed a lot of very well-dressed people coming from church. The men wore suits and the women wore suits or dresses and high heels. I loved the fashions I saw in Italy, partly because the women there dressed very femininely and apparently love florals as much as I do!

Inside this restaurant, I almost decided to camp out here at the glass case full of sweets. Yum! I have realized that Europeans take their sweets very, very seriously. It is perhaps a good thing I don't live there.

As we read over our menus, I was surprised to find I was sitting in a ... "tea-room." Who knew? But I wasn't in the mood for tea. I wanted something Italian, and what's more Italian than …

Pizza! Mmm. That Pizza Margherita is sooooo good. One thing I noticed about the Italian food we ate was that it tasted cheesier but less greasy than Italian food in America. I really must explore Italian cooking.

Whether I'm having it at the moment or not, tea is never far from my mind, so during our wanderings I was tickled to find these pretty lace curtains with teacups and kitchenwares hanging from one of the windows in Chianciano!

Bright red geraniums were all over the town, spilling off ledges and out of window boxes everywhere you looked.

The other feature I absolutely loved about the old part of town was all the intimate little alleyways. I loved seeing the bricks and cracks and weathered metals. So, so charming.

And did I mention all the window boxes? Yes. I believe I did.

This was a pretty church we had passed on our trip up into the hills.

And all too soon, we were back at La Pietriccia having our final dinner, and this was the scene as we prepared to say goodbye to lovely, lovely Tuscany.

Tomorrow: Winding up the trip in Rome … and another small giveaway!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Falling in love with Tuscany

I knew I was going to like Tuscany, but I must say that I did not anticipate how much I would love Tuscany. Alex and I both agreed our stay here in the town of Chianciano completely exceeded any expectations we'd had for the visit!

After the hustle and bustle of the past week, a week packed with train rides and airplane flights, it was glorious to have our apartment waiting in Italy where we had no plans and no agenda for three whole days. Alex had discovered this "agriturismo," or farm-stay, online, and we liked the idea of staying here, touring the farm (if we liked) and enjoying farm fresh meals every night. We also realized that after the small hotel rooms of London and Paris, it was actually a great luxury to have a spacious apartment with its own kitchen awaiting us!

Our hosts were a couple named Franco and Sylvana. After we got settled in, we somehow had it communicated to us that Franco would take us to the local supermarket for provisions if we liked. I took advantage of a few spare moments to explore the landscape and began to realize that gorgeous roses were everywhere here — even more magnificent because of the scenic background!

This cream colored rose was one of the most perfect blossoms I've ever seen in my life!

And this variegated pink one wasn't too shabby either!

I was admiring a lovely (and huge) patch of something lavender when it dawned on me to touch a blossom and sniff: oh, lavender! And oh, the fragrance …

Soon we were on our way to the supermarket, which felt just like a trip to the grocery store back home except that a) I didn't understand what anybody was saying b) I couldn't read the signs and labels and c) I had a sweet Italian man standing with me in the produce aisle pointing to the pears and saying something that I completely did not understand. I found it funny then and even more so now! Happily, though, I knew that "tè" and "thè" mean tea, so I got some "Angelica" herbal tea (I liked the name) and some "tè with pesca," which the box helpfully showed to be peach tea. I also bought an Italian cooking magazine at the store (it had a feature on London and scones) and was amused to find this ad for the Solidal brand of tea I had just purchased. I love how they fashioned a shopping bag out of the tea bag!

Large bottles of ready-to-drink tea were also at the supermarket, so I got "pesca" and "limone" flavors. You can see how tall and thin these bottles were compared to Alex's diet Coke bottle. (Or "Coca-Cola light," as they apparently call it there.)

After we returned from the supermarket, it was time to get ready for dinner at the restaurant of La Pietriccia, the agriturismo where we stayed. I love this rock guy pointing the way!

And here's my handsome hubby at the entrance. I like this photo of him because he looks so relaxed and happy! (And boy, did we need some R&R by that point!)

We were just bowled over when we were ushered to our table and saw where we would be dining. No, we don't quite have a view like that back home!

The meals at La Pietriccia were always four courses: antipasti, pasta, the meat course, and dessert. Everything we ate we swooned over, but my favorites were the antipasti and the pasta dishes. This wonderful bruschetta was, as a friend of mine says, "to live for!"

And this potato gnocchi was served with a pesto sauce that was no doubt made with some of the fresh herbs I saw growing there. I can still taste it!

They speak a little English, and we had an Italian phrasebook, so we learned the grapes aren't harvested until September and the olives aren't harvested until October. Still, they're a glorious sight to see there in Tuscany as the sun goes down. Alex and I agree that if we had it to do over again, we'd spend at least a full week in Tuscany — maybe two!

Tomorrow: An unusual "tea room" in the hills of Tuscany

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Fortnum and Mason giveaway winner is ...

Kim M., who says she hasn't been to London in a while but it's her favorite place! So Kim, if you'll send me your snail mail address via the e-mail button at right, I'll get the book and tin of tea headed your way. Congrats!

Macarons and Paris

As soon as we settled into our hotel in Paris, Alex and I hopped on the metro and went for a little sightseeing, and one of the first things I did was make sure to sample macarons from one of the world-famous Ladurée shops!

My photos aren't so hot because they were taken indoors in the evening rather than waiting for natural light the next day, but of course I simply had to eat these immediately! Oh. My. Goodness. I can definitely see why these macarons have the reputation they do as the creme de la creme of the tea table. The Salted Caramel one (second from left) was my favorite!

Since the visit to Normandy took up most of our time in France, we barely had time for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour in Paris, and alas, it started pouring down rain the day we went! I had promised my niece Cari a photo of the Eiffel Tower, however, so we got out in the rain with our umbrellas and grabbed some photos.

The Eiffel Tower is definitely the one thing you're *supposed* to see in Paris, and when we got there I gained a whole new appreciation for it. It was much, much more magnificent than I had ever imagined.

Neither Alex nor I care to stand in lines, so we didn't take a ride up, but I was intrigued to see that many people were waiting in line in the rain to ride the lifts. In fact, there were lines everywhere that day, and it was quite crowded for a Thursday. I wondered why, and only later did I realize they were celebrating Victory in Europe Day, a national holiday. No wonder we had a hard time getting around that day! The two shops I had most wanted to visit in Paris were Ladurée, which I did visit, and Fauchon, which I did not. It was so sad to stand outside not one but two Fauchon shops and wonder why they were closed (because of the holiday, I imagine), so I wasn't able to buy any of their tea as I had hoped. Next time!

Still, it was nice to zip by some of the famous sites, including the Louvre, although we simply didn't have time for a visit this trip. Before the rain sent us down from the top deck of the tour bus, we saw some of the wonderfully grand buildings such as the Academie Nationale de Musique. One thing I should add about our brief time here: I've heard for years that Parisians are snobs, that you can just expect to be treated rudely, but Alex and I didn't experience that at all, not at one restaurant, ticket window, or café. In fact, one young businessman and one young woman, both French but who spoke English, stopped to help us with directions when we were trying to figure out the lines in the metro and at one train station. They could not have been any kinder. The young woman actually offered to accompany us through the train station (I'm not sure she trusted us to get it right!), and she smiled and chatted with us all along the way. I so appreciated their graciousness, and Alex and I agree we need to go back when we can give Paris the attention it deserves. (And after I've learned some French!)

Tomorrow: Arriving in Tuscany

Monday, May 26, 2014

Our D-Day Tour of Normandy

Since today is Memorial Day, I thought it would be a fitting time to share pictures of our recent visit to Normandy, France, where we were very moved by our visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

My husband, Alex, has been very active in local efforts honoring our veterans, and through this work he got hooked up with a man who lives in France, an Irishman named Dave, who generously offered to meet us at the local train station and guide us on our D-Day tour. Our first stop was the Visitor Center at the cemetery in Normandy, and I was tearing up before we even got through that. I was so touched by the exhibits of photographs and artifacts from the war. It stopped me in my tracks when I saw that one of the women killed while serving has the same name as a friend of mine. If I had been alive back then, that might have been my friend — or me. We also saw pictures of the four actual brothers central to the movie "Saving Private Ryan."

The area leading down to the beach is beautifully landscaped and has seating areas that I'll bet are popular with the veterans and families who visit. You look out at the quiet, peaceful beach and have a hard time imagining the events of June 6, 1944.

There's nothing quite as sobering as seeing those rows of crosses and imagining all the pain and suffering and loss they represent. I stood there feeling so proud of these Americans who fought for freedom, and it was a strange feeling to have to remind myself I was in France, not America.

The chapel was a fitting place to visit on such a trip.

The mosaic ceiling is absolutely beautiful, and it shows, according to a brochure I got, "America blessing her sons as they depart by sea and air, and a grateful France bestowing a laurel wreath upon the American dead."

Here's a detail from the mosaic depicting a warship.

Of course what gets you are all the crosses and Stars of David. A few had single flowers or even large floral arrangements placed before them. Dave told us the flowers are allowed to remain until they die, and then they are removed. This cross bears the name of Harry E. Wagner of Pennsylvania, and there's a reason the lettering shows up.

Some visitors, Dave said, get sand from the beach and rub it into the carved lettering to make the names visible in photographs.

Soon we were on our way and headed a little farther down Omaha Beach. As we got out and walked on the beach, I was again struck by the serenity and the peacefulness. It was a far cry from all those ships arriving with soldiers, and all the lives who were lost on D-Day.

Here's a National Guard of the United States Memorial on Omaha Beach, located above what was once a bunker.

The morning's rain began to clear out almost the moment we arrived in Normandy, and it ended up being a gorgeous (if cold and chilly) day. Here we stopped by a section of Utah Beach in Ravenoville where our friend Dave lives. I asked Dave if the beach is really used as, you know, a beach during the warmer times of year. Oh yes, he said. I was pondering whether that is appropriate when he commented that a veteran told him, "That's what we fought for," so that people could enjoy their everyday lives here. The more I thought about it, if the beaches were treated merely as the graveyards they once were, that wouldn't have been a very happy end to the story, would it?

Alex and I knew that Dave and Celine had a World War II memorial near their home, a memorial dedicated to soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division. What we did not realize was that this memorial is in their front yard! They are quite passionate about their love for the veterans and hold a memorial event around D-Day each year. With this year marking the 70th anniversary, they will be hosting several hundred guests under tents right here at their home in Ravenoville!

Here are Dave and Celine in front of the memorial displaying a book Alex brought for them containing the stories of our local veterans who fought in WWII, one of whom, the late Gene Cook, they met and even hosted in their home. (One of the many times I thought, "It's a small world.")

Since we'd left Paris at the crack of dawn to take the train in time for a full day in Normandy, we had skipped breakfast and were getting pretty hungry. To our delight, when we stopped by their house, Celine said she had a "snack" for us, but it was what we call "lunch" at my house: Chicken salad sandwiches, shortbread cookies and tea! Her chicken salad was awesome, by the way, and I learned she makes hers with shredded carrots and diced tomatoes. I will be trying this!

And I was chilled to the bone after walking those windy beaches, so I was especially happy when she offered me a hot cup of nice, brisk tea. What kind? A black tea from India, she said. Celine is French but speaks English beautifully. I've thought about the fact that I was sipping Indian tea at a house in France with a Frenchwoman and an Irishman giving us a tour of the D-Day sites. Small world indeed!

After lunch, Dave drove us to Marmion Farm in Ravenoville, a farm which is featured in some famous WWII photos. A news reel that was shot here contained the first images of U.S. paratroopers to be shown back in America.

Dave was keen for us to recreate one of the famous photos of D-Day, so here Alex and I are at Marmion Farm in the exact spot in front of the farmhouse where U.S. soldiers are shown after capturing a Nazi flag.

We wrapped up our D-Day Tour with a visit to St. Mere Eglise, the first village in Normandy to be liberated by the Allies that day. A paratrooper, Private John Steele, actually got caught on the tower of the church here, and an effigy hangs on that tower today.

Dave says this is always the first photo everyone takes when they see the church. Steele hung there for two hours pretending to be dead, was captured by the Germans, escaped, and returned to his division. He was made an honorary citizen of St. Mere Eglise and returned to the town throughout his life. (He's played by actor Red Buttons in the D-Day movie "The Longest Day," which I watched for the first time this weekend. I definitely feel that my love of history has gotten a boost from this trip!)

This is a stained glass window of the church which shows the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus with paratroopers around them. The inscription reads, "This stained glass was completed with the participation of Paul Renaud and Sainte Mere, for the memory of those who, with their courage and sacrifice, liberated Sainte Mere Eglise and France."

There's also a great museum in the town, the Airborne Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of the troops of the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division. I loved having tea in London, and later this week I'll share about our magnificent time in Tuscany, but I would absolutely tell you that the most memorable day of the entire trip was this jam-packed visit to Normandy. May God bless America — and our friends around the world too!