A Pop-Up Proposal Picnic in Chianti

A Pop-up Proposal Picnic in Chianti

We were the first to know….. Joey and Liz were engaged

I received an email from Joey, who asked about our Chianti Picnic option. He explained that he wanted to propose to Liz his girlfriend of 10 years with a romantic picnic. He asked if we could help make this picnic a little special, so could surprise her with ‘the proposal’

Our signature Chianti Picnic is one of our favorite tours to host. It is a fun way to entertain, dine, and showcase some of the local delicacies of Tuscany. We provide all the fixings for a lovely relaxing meal. The table is set with linen table cloth, crystal wine glasses, plates, cutlery, fresh flowers, and of course all the incredible food and wine.

We chose one of our favorite spots, under a shady old oak tree, overlooking the Chianti wine country hills, complete with a picnic table.  It was the perfect setting.

We were the first to know….. Joey and Liz were engaged!

Something only old friends and family may know about me is that at one time I worked for a catering company. I started right out of college after receiving a degree in culinary and liberal arts.  Catering for me is all about the details and the organization. You can cater almost any type of event at any venue, with forethought and detailed planning. This is pleasing work for me.

So here was a chance to be part of someones special day. My mind starting filling ideas of extra little things I could do to make this a most memorable day for these two lovebirds.

Joey and I emailed each other back and forth over the next 4 days. In that time we came up with a way to make the picnic a real surprise for Liz. I decided we would post brightly colored signs, along the road, that simply had the word PICNIC with an arrow. (of course I had given Joey the actual address for his GPS).  Joey suggested to Liz that they spend the afternoon exploring the Chianti hills, and in the evening enjoy dinner at a top restaurant.

Joey and I had agreed on a pre-determined time in which we would have the picnic table all set up for them. Knowing when they would arrive allowed us time to set up and then disappear, out of sight.

So the plan was this, Joey would drive in the direction of the picnic, and make a comment about the brightly colored picnic signs and arrows.  “I wonder what these signs are all about?  Maybe we should follow them and see where they lead us”?

After a few of miles through the beautiful Chianti countryside, Liz said, “a picnic sounds so nice right now. I would love to have a picnic, even more then a fancy dinner tonight, I wish we had thought of that”

I am not sure I could of kept a straight face after that comment, but he later told us, he was as cool as a cucumber, and did nothing to give the awaiting surprise away.  Finally they pulled up to the parking spot just in front of the old oak tree to find a picnic table all set for two, and ready to go. We were just up the hill and out of sight.

“I wonder what these signs are all about?  Maybe we should follow them and see where they lead us”?

Joey said he would make the proposal within the first 15 minutes of their arrival. The plan was for us to wait approx. 10-15  minutes before we arrived with a chilled bottle of Prosecco. We did not have to guess when the exact moment the BIG QUESTION was asked. We could hear the laughter, the joy and emotion in Liz’s voice from where we were ‘hiding’

This was the signal for Massi, my husband and business partner to congratulate them and open a bottle of Prosecco. Massi shows up with a saber (sword) an ice bucket and two glasses, he then ceremoniously opens the Prosecco with the sword!

We give them privacy and time to enjoy the picnic lunch. We provided, prosciutto, salumi, pecorino cheeses, with fruits and jams. All locally sourced and presented just for them. We even brought dessert. Joey asked for something chocolate, so we went to one of our favorite bakeries in Siena for just the right double chocolate pasticcini.

After lunch Joey and Liz wanted to thank Massi and I for our efforts on their special day. We toasted to their exciting news, and snapped a few photos for them to remember this special day.

Just a side note, Joey had a fun way of throwing Liz off the trail for a moment. After they arrived and settled in at the picnic table,  Joey handed Liz a small gift box, but instead of the box containing a ring, it contained a necklace. Poor Liz, I can only imagine, what must of been going through her mind. Joey quickly handed her an envelope, and card inside had the message.


There was a second box with a lovely ring.

As I mentioned earlier, by the sound of their voices and the excitement we heard, we knew the reply was a clear YES!

We hope to meet this lovely couple from Australia, again soon. Perhaps they will return to celebrate a wedding anniversary sometime in the near future?


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Flea Market Finds in Catania, Italy

Being the owner of an estate sale co, www.amberostrich.com what does one do while on vacation in Italy? Find the local flea market, of course!
While in Catania I set my alarm for an early start to the Sunday only flea market near the city center.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Estate is the word for SUMMER in Itallian.

Like most good flea markets there is something for everyone, and this market does not disappoint.

Wide variety of books.

Wide variety of books.

Of course traveling under my own self-imposed rule of one suitcase only, I was very limited in what I would allow myself to buy. I was in search of something fun, unique, small and non-fragile.

These tiles and pottery although great looking and reasonably priced, did not fit any of the above requirements for returning with me back to Texas.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

Nice assortment of old tiles.

I Arrive and Meet the Vogals

On Saturday I arrived in the hamlet of San Stefeno outside of Valdobbiadene taking a taxi from Cornuda train station.

This is the heart of the Prosecco wine country.

I am to stay my first two nights at Via Vegnito.


The vineyards are 10x more beautiful than photos I have seen on the internet.


My room was very warm and cozy, compete with AC, another miraculously clean all white tiled bathroom, and beautiful armoire compete with small fridge, which would come in handy later. I decide to go downstairs to the restaurant area and check things out.

There in the font area are two very large long board picnic tables, and I see a couple sharing a bottle of Prosecco.


I said hello, they greeted in turn, and they asked me to join them. They introduced themselves as Doris, and Thomas, who were traveling with their daughter Veronica, and they were from Nuremberg, Germany.


They were very warm and welcoming, and in-between Doris’s love of the Italian language, and some English, we had nice conversation. A short while later Veronica arrived and since she is studying English in school was able to help us over any interpretation hurdles along the way.

They shared their Prosecco, which was direct from the winery/bed & breakfast where we were staying.


Doris and Thomas come to this area once a year, driving from Germany. They have grown to love it and know it quite well.

We go wine tasting, and soon become good friends.

A Week at the Beauty Farm

A Week at the Beauty Farm

This post is a bit out of the time line.  I had some catching up to do.

bibioneWhen Tizianna first spoke of  her trip to Italy to visit her parents, she mentioned that they would all be going for a 2 week holiday to a thermal mineral spa on the Adriatic coast. I was intrigued how one would take a spa vacation for 14 days? It sounded so deddicant to me. She said that this is what she needs to decompress, and that it would truly suite her for her 40th birthday gift to self.

How can I pass up the opportunity for a spa vacation and in Italy no less? I have been wanting to make it back to Italy for over 20 yrs now. This was the perfect opportunity to take a trip and have some fun with my friend Tiz and her family.

therme-inside-lobbyI begin by visiting the web site for the Therme Spa in Bibione Italy, which is on the Adriadic Sea just North of Venice. This is not some shabby road side attraction, but rather a true high-end European facility, which specifically caters to the many German and Italian families who travel here for the health benefits of the alkaline water and treatments offered. Spa treatments followed by doses of beach, sand and sun.

I am advised by Tiz to choose my treatments quickly since the spa is so popular and will book up.

The web site is in all Italian, but thanks to Bable Fish I am able to translate the whole web site into English. Most of it translates well, there are a few things which understandably don’t quite cross over. What catches my eye, is that the translated term for the spa portion of this facility is referred to as a “Beauty Farm”

beauty-farm brochureBeauty Farm… interesting… has a somewhat familiar ring to it? What other venue does one book a lengthy stay expecting miraculous results? Fat farm immediately comes to mind.

For obvious reasons the term Beauty Farm becomes more pleasing to me as I mark my calendar for the pending adventure. It surely is more pleasing to the ear, and easily shared with family and friends. I have booked myself for a weeks treatments into a Beauty Farm. (note to self, a before and after photo would of been interesting) Will I really notice a difference with one week of treatments?

beauty-farm-week-scheduleI decide to chose a basic week package, which seems like good value. It is called the Roman Package. It is complete with a daily routine of 5 mineral mud baths, 5 personal jacuzzi/spa baths of thermal water, and 5 massages, also included are two facials. I decide to supplement with a Watsu ,and Aruvedia massage, and throw in a pedicure for good measure.

The spa has a very European feel to it, I have never been to a spa so clean as this. I swear you could easily perform surgery in the bathroom if necessary. Everything is white tile, and minimal decor and spotless.

Venus StatueWe check in on Saturday afternoon, and my treatments begin the next day on Sunday. As we check-in I am expecting to pre-pay for my weeks worth of services, but am politely told, no need to pay now, I can pay at the end of the week!

I agree to this, and am really amazed that I will be given a weeks worth of services, and they do not know me from Adam. There was no credit card on file, and like everything else I have experienced thus far on this trip, payment is always handled in due time. Even at a coffee shop, you re served, enjoy your beverage, and pay before you leave. Does anyone remember when you could do that at the gas pumps? Fill up and then pay???? If it seems like ages ago. It was.

deb-in-robe1I am given a plush terry cloth robe for the week, and am trusted to show up and pay my bill after racking up over $600 worth of spa treatments. (which sounds like a lot, but in comparison theses same treatments in the US would of been well over $1,000.)

Ok so I had to fly to Italy to save the $$, but that is all part of my vacation.


If I can do it, you can too…

I am getting ready to leave the town of Padova, It hosts the renowned University of Paduapadova citadel, almost 800 years old and famous, among other things, for having had Galileo Galilei among its lecturers.






I stayed one night at the Al Cason hotel conveniently located near the train station. This is a nicely re-vamped hotel that is at more then 50 yrs old and from the photos and a conversation I had with the staff, was a happening place in its time. My room was very modern and clean.


As I return to the hotel, from a quick tour of the city,


I need to use the rest room, but since I have already checked out, I was directed to use the lobby rest room.

Ah ha… They got me.

I was not going to get out of Italy without using the famed ‘older style’ in the floor toilets. The rest room was very clean, like everything else I have experienced thus far.

toilet-in-floorMy mind said NO, but my bladder screamed YES!

So in I went….  It is easier then it looks, just think camping…

Only this one actually flushes, if I can do it anyone can!

Hocus Pocus Saves the Day and I Make 4 New Friends

Hocus Pocus Saves the Day and I make 4 new friends

This is the story if how I finally figured out how to obtain an internet connection in Italy. After a lengthy search, I find it in the most unusual place: a store that sells Hello Kitty and wide eyed stuffed dogs, and other such items for kids. This is also the towns internet hot spot.

For 2 Euros I get 24 hours (a running total of log in time) Amazing, it is the first time I talk to someone who knows anything about Wi-Fi in this populated resort town. There are a couple of hotels that offer it, but it is strictly for the guests.

Once I have the password, I am ready to get connected, but I am in need of a spot to park and set up my ‘office’ I look for the closest ‘bar’ and there it is a mere 50 yards from the Bibi Store.  The sign hanging outside declares the name Hocus Pocus.

Remember that in Italy, a ‘bar’ is not what we would think of as a ‘bar’ with bar stools, and alcohol being the main purpose,. A ‘bar’ here is more of a combo coffee shop, a place were you can get a coffee, expresso, a pastry,or gelato, and of course alcohol is also served. So think Starbucks with gelato and wine. You are more likely to go to a gelataria for a coffee then a drink.

The name of this establishment is interesting for sure. Hocus Pocus, and like many foreign businesses that cater to tourists, I believe the chosen English name is supposed to be alluring to us. If you are like me, you have to wonder what the name POKER (as in card playing) has to do with mens clothing?

Back to the gelateria, Hocus Pocus, it is owned by Pasquele Sozzil, and he always greets his guests with a smile. To my surprise he speaks English quite well. I chose an out-of-the-way table order a glass of Prosecco and ask if I may surf with my laptop and connect to the internet which is broadcast down the street. All goes well, I am able to connect, get by blog page quickly set up, and check email.

I decide to go back the next day, and am welcomed like an old friend. As I take my usual table, and this time the young man behind the bar, asks me if I would like some carrotte with my Prosecco? this is all in Italian of course, which I did fully understand, Did he really ask me if I also wanted carrots?

I am 100% certain of the word, and can only reply yes thinking that is like a crudite or small snack served with drinks during certain times of the day. I was correct.. almost….here is what arrived with my drink! Very delightful to the eye, carrots in a base of green cream de mint!

Over the next couple of days I get to know the staff, and strike up conversations with them. I am very thankful for their friendly service, and have enjoyed getting to know them.

Olga is from the small country of Moldivia, Tony is from Romania, he goes by Tony but his real name is Shahin. Pasquele the owner is a native Italian.



deb and olga

Below is photo of me with Roselba, I will miss my friends at Hocus Pocus.

deb with Rosa at Hocus Pocus

Italian beer