Harry’s Bar

                  One of the highlights of our time to Italy was a visit to Harry’s Bar in Florence. It is famous! Harry’s opened in 1953 and was inspired by the Harry’s in Venice. Giuseppe Cipriani, patron of the already famous Harry’s Bar in Venice, gave them some suggestions: the Cuisine – the gratin noodles, the carpaccio, the shrimp curry, the tartare, the flambéed crepes Grand Marnier, the American Bar – the Bellini, the Martini, the Negroni.

This was my second visit to the institution and we stopped in for lunch on a Sunday without a reservation. Sorry, the dining room is all reserved but you are most welcome at the bar. Perfect! That’s where I wanted to sit anyway. It’s a small bar with only about 8 stools. Once perched we met the new bartender( the many decades old bartender has retired).  The new young guy was friendly, charming and superbly efficient.  Amazing to watch. Not only could he mix fabulous cocktails, we watched him prepare an order of  Steak Tatare table side with  precise skill and showmanship. 

We ordered drinks to start and Sheila chose a Vodka Martini (2 olives please). A Negroni was the right choice for me. Delicious to be sure. 

Our bartender recommended the Chicken Club Sandwich which we shared along with a small Chicken salad. One order of fries but No ketchup here. Lemony Mayonnaise is the routine here. So good. 

The sandwich, no crusts on this very thin toast was, perhaps, the best we’ve ever had. Simply wonderful. 

Not only was our bartender entertaining but a family group of 8 stood near us at the bar enjoying a pre lunch libation. Italians are amazing. They all talk all the time and at the same time. Not sure If they listen but the dialogue amongst this group was worthy of a blog on its own. 

Sitting on the bar near us was a photo of Elizabeth Taylor, one of many famous patrons of Harry’s. 

This bar has it all. History, great drinks, superb service, fabulous food and excellent people watching. 

Going to Florence? Check out Harry’s. It’s just two blocks from Ponte Vecchio on the river. 

Just saying…

A Treasure in Tuscany

This is the fourth visit to Il Borghetto, a Villa in TUSCANY just 4 kilometres from the famous hill town of San Gimingnano. Why so many stays and why do so many others make repeat visits? 

First of all Il Borghetto is a delightful place to stay. It is a Tuscan home at least 600 years old. The Bimbi family bought it over 20 years ago. It was abandoned and they saw potential. It was gutted and rebuilt to include 11 apartments all done in the Tuscan style. Beamed ceilings, tile floors, Tuscan rustic furniture. 

It’s not the Four Seasons but is a truly Tuscan experience. All the apartments are different, some one bedroom, some two. The building is situated in the midst of vineyards and olive groves with stunning views of the countryside. 

Each apartment is equipped with a full sized fridge ( you do need to chill the wine), a gas stovetop and a microwave. Lots of glasses, dishes, etc. are included. If you plan to cook you will need your own condiments. By the way,  Cooking Classes  are available. We missed one by one day. 

There is a lovely piazza on which to enjoy the afternoon sun and a glass of local wine. There is a pool amongst the olive trees and there is a dining room serving Tuscan dinners 3 nights a week. Some of the apartments have their  own patios too. 

The owners are wonderful. Sandra & Nicola, Simona & Ricardo.  The girls are sisters and they manage the property. The boys do all the maintenance. Their mother overseas the kitchen and staff. They are most helpful in arranging wine tours, Museum Visits, dinner reservations etc.

Interestingly, most of the guests are Canadian and American. 

This week we met folks from Nova Scotia, Denver, Kansas, Austria, and the Chech Republic. 

Since my last visit in 2014 they have added a light breakfast service offering coffee and croissants every morning. Perfect way to start the day in my opinion. 

Il Borghetto is only 40 k from Florence, 25 from Siena and there are many charming towns to visit in the area. A great location. One caveat! You must have a car. It’s in the country and Taxis are expensive here. Driving is easy here, in fact, quite wonderful. So many twisty two lane roads through the countryside. If you enjoy driving, as I do, you will love driving in TUSCANY. 

The dinners here are epic. Served outside or inside depending on the weather. The dining room is charming and the service offered is top drawer. More on the food in a later blog. 

If you are planning a trip to TUSCANY you must consider Il Borghetto. I have stayed here 4 times for a total of 8 weeks. 

Here is the website. Browse it and learn this history of this villa. 


Just saying…

European Train Travel

Recently we experienced Train travel in Europe and it was most enjoyable and cost effective too. We took the Italian Fressciarossa high speed train from Paris to Milan and the next day Milan to Florence. 

We boarded at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Train travel is simple. No security. No baggage problem..you just take it on board. Lots of places to put it. No two three hours advance arrival. 20 minutes will do. Find your train’s platform and board. Simple. 

We chose Business Class and the fare for two for a 6.5 Hour trip was $232 CDN. That is a bargain. Economy is even less. Business included very comfortable leather seats with a table between us. USB charging plugs are in the seat and wifi is available. Coffee, juice, soft drinks and a snack was included. In the next car was a snack bar and we purchased a Panini and a small bottle of Prosecco for lunch. Reasonable and good. 

This train has a top speed of 300kph and it ran that fast from Paris to Lyon. After Lyon we headed for the mountains at a slower pace passing not far from Grenoble and then into Turin and on to Milan. 

We stayed at a very nice hotel only a 5 minute walk from Milano Centrale Station and the next day boarded another train to Florence. Two hours. Very fast. The train hit 301kph at one point. Using my Garmin GPS I recorded 300kph. Fast. The route took us through the city of Bologna. Saw nothing. Long tunnel into the station and out. 

This train was newer than the previous. More comfortable seats. We loved the Frecciarossa! 

Arrived on time in Florence Santa Maria Novella Station. 

Train travel in Europe is fast, convenient, comfortable and cost effective. We recommend it! 

If you want to know more I recommend this fantastic web site. https://www.seat61.com

It has all the information you will ever need.  

Just saying..

Paris Revisited

This was my fourth visit to Paris, the last one was in 2006.  There are some notable changes is the city. Paris is much much busier that I recall. People are everywhere. Bistros are mostly full to overflowing and the sidewalks are crowded. 

One thing stands out. Not as many smokers as previously seen. Especially fewer women are smoking. Still lots of smokers compared to Canada but dramatically less than in previous visits. 

Paris has excellent Taxis! Full sized cars including Toyota Camry’s, MERCEDES, Hyundai and Scoda. All Black. Mostly hybrids. Clean comfy and efficient. No Prius cabs here. There are also a few electric TUK TUK’S, which are silent unlike those in Asia. And one can even take a tour in a classic Citreon de Chevue.  

Paris has not gone to the dogs. There seemed to be fewer than I recall and there was little evidence of poop on the sidewalks. However, grafitti is rampant particularly coming into town from Charles DeGualle Airport. 

The French do eat some strange food. In one bistro I ordered scallops. The were presented IN Mashed Potato. No vegetables just potato. In another it was delicious Duck served with excellent scalloped potatoes. No other vegetables. Bread is always served but no sign of butter, ever. And French Fries are served with almost everything.

Disappointing that we did not see a menu which included Liver or Sole Meunière, two items we were expecting to enjoy. We did enjoy the professionalism of many waiters. Very gracious and very efficient. They know their stuff. 

Strong coffee and a Buttery Fresh Croissant is the standard French breakfast and we thoroughly enjoyed that in a bistro near our hotel. Delicious. 

We did not see much sign of homelessness but apparently there is,  just not in the touristy areas. 

Paris is still a wonderful city in which to walk and we did. But it’s harder work at our age. Did we do any museums? No. Been there done that. But we did park ourselves in many sidewalk cafes to enjoy a glass of wine and the ambiance of this grand city. 

If you have not been to Paris, you must go. For me , 4 times is probably enough. 

Just saying…

Paris Bistro

While in Paris we booked a reservation at a Bistro recommended by our hotel. Just a 3 or 4 minute walk. 8:30 PM was the earliest we could get in at BISTRO D’HENRI. This was a rather small joint with room for perhaps 30 patrons. The tables were so close together you could share with your new neighbours. Perhaps 8 inches between. Not unusual in Paris, of course. 

After viewing both the French and English Menu Boards,

we began with a bottle of  icy cold SANCERRE White Wine which was excellent. A Rocket Salad with Parmigiana was shared. My first Rocket and I loved it. Sheila, not so much. Sheila chose Roast Chicken in a Mushroom sauce accompanied by outstanding scalloped potato’s. It was a half chicken and was excellent.

I ordered Roast Duck which also arrived with the scalloped potatoes. The duck was wonderful, perfectly cooked, sliced and resting in a simply delicious red sauce, a sauce I’d like to replicate. No other vegetables were served with either dish. Odd! Of course there was a sliced baguette but no butter in sight. What would Julia Child think? 

It was a truly delicious meal but this joint was crowded and noisy. Oh my, the French do like like to talk.Loudly.  And wave their arms! Most of the patrons were French but we chatted with two sisters from the USA and a couple from Brazil. 

Bistro Henri was a real French Bistro experience. Grreat food, good wine, local ambiance. 

Just saying…