Blogs: Richard Weber

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Our first appointment of the day was an optional breakfast within the hotel. I had what could be best described as a bologna and cheese sandwich and orange juice for breakfast, not like the full Irish breakfast I had become accustomed to previously in the trip. After breakfast it was time to do the suitcase shuttle as we moved out of our hotel and needed to walk across a small city park and square to where the bus had been able to park.

With everyone and everything loaded on to the bus it was off to the wine cellar and olive oil producer. We learned that many of the growers in the region are already certified organic growers while others have begun the certification process. We were also told how it takes as little as an hour from the time a grape is picked until it is processed into one of the large stainless steel vats. In the wine cellar we were shown large aging casks and small casks as well as some vintage bottles wines that date back to just after the close of World War II. The building had been damaged and any of the wine from previous years had been destroyed. Then we had a brief class about wine and how to examine a wine. We were given to red wines to try. Each wine was made with slight variation in grape content, handling style, and aging so we could learn to discern the different wines and what the different signals from the wine should mean to us.

The third wine we tasted was a white wine that looked about the color of a good clear honey and it tasted nearly as sweet. This wine is a visiting wine, meaning it was served to guest who were not going to be served a meal, which is when wine is meant to be consumed according to tradition. The third wine was made with the green grapes and aged in oak casks which are responsible for the color of the wine being a light golden color. After the tour everyone seemed to be very relaxed.

After some time milling about enjoying some foosball and the vineyard overlook from the courtyard it was time to return to the bus and back to Florence for an afternoon of cultural adventure. I was able to visit one of the many cathedrals and photograph some of the beautiful art within, as well as walk through many plazas and photograph the many statues, monuments, and sculptures that are on display. I believe most of my classmates were using lessons they learned in negotiations class to purchase clothing and gifts for themselves and their family and friends. We all met up back at the train station to meet our driver for the evening.

The streets were clogged with vehicles as there was a protest march through town which had traffic snarled. After a short while we decided to make our way to the bus since it could not come to us. Then the driver backed the bus up the ramp and changed roads to get out of the traffic. The next stop was a cooking school specializing in Tuscany based cooking. The menu consisted of fresh pasta, wild boar- provided by a local hunter, steaks cooked in oil and butter then dowsed with red wine, and chocolate volcano cakes with strawberry sauce. Almost all of the cooking was completed by students.

The first task was to prepare the fresh pasta. This was done using semolina flour, egg, a pinch of salt. Then each ball of pasta dough was allowed to rest while preparations were made for the other courses. The wild boar needed to be cut the onions diced, the garlic peeled, vegetables steamed, steaks coated, steaks cooked, mushrooms cooked, chocolate cakes, made and from scratch-shaving chocolate melting in double bowler with butter, mixing that into an egg and sugar mixture, then adding a beaten egg white and sugar mix. Once the cake batter was mixed together it was place into small baking dishes then place in the freezer. The meal was delicious the cooking instructor was quite pleased with how well we had done with such a complex menu. After a little more cooking time mostly for the fresh noodles, it was time to enjoy our efforts. We had made plenty of food and everyone had the chance to leave full. We then cleaned up our dishes and chairs, said our good byes and boarded the bus for a two hour ride to our next hotel.

The time together as a group has allowed us to get to know each other to a far greater degree. At the same time being driven around in a bus for much of the day and encouraged to travel as groups has started to ware on the nerves of some. Much of this can be pinned to frustration I believe. We,who live in the US, have such connected lives through digital devices we often don’t remember some off the human skills that we have automated away or we expect everywhere to have the infrastructure available to support us. Our U.S. based cellular phones come with various priced international options so most are using free hotspots provided by cafes and businesses to get access for email and other communication. Another point of frustration is the seemingly constant change in the schedule. The final schedule that was received on Friday before our departure from the US changed at three time that I know of.