Residence Uccello

Residence Uccello is one of the most unique and exquisite properties in all the city of Florence. This luxury penthouse apartment on the top floor of an old Patrician building in the city center was just completed in 2004. Its stunning beauty includes unusual architecture, beautiful woods, stone and tile, priceless works of art, an incredible view of the city, and the best of amenities including air conditioning throughout.

Toll Booths

It was confusing, this toll booth thing. Every time we got on the freeway we’d be driving along just beautifully, but when we exited onto another highway we’d be funneled into a toll booth.

The first few times it was nerve-wracking because we don’t have this phenomenon in our neighborhood in Seattle! The traffic would be moving along at a pretty good clip and suddenly here was a toll area where there was a relatively short distance to slow down and aim our car at one of the lanes. Which one? That was the rub at first. There seemed to be 6 - 8 lanes in most of them, all with little windowed toll booth structures.

You can’t see through the dirty smoke-covered windows as you approach, but we presumed we’d find a friendly English speaking ambassador in each. Nooot! We tried not to be put off by this tall, ugly, metal “government grey” structure that completely blocked the highway. We scrambled to decide which gate to enter. Each had a symbol on top as well as a foreign word. Some we understood such as a Visa card, coins, a truck, a car. But my brain didn’t handle the need to drive and interpret all at once. So, it seemed to me the best thing to do was stop and figure it out. Wrong! People following seemed to have a great deal of trouble with that. The honking was loud!

So we chose a lane that had a cash symbol above it, but then we had to scramble around in our purses to dig out necessary coins, inspecting them closely because they were unfamiliar currency. Meanwhile the honking continued! Sometimes we’d be all set with coins out in the center console, rigid in nervous anticipation, and an automatic ticket would jump out at us as we moved through the lane. We’d sigh with relief and wonder why. A couple of times we’d go through a lane that only took a credit card, so there again it was a scramble to find what we needed.

Then between Rome and Lucca we really did it!! We came through a lane where a very serious looking uniformed man was sitting at the window. There was a slot like a credit card slot, so I put my card in. It beeped and spit it back out. What was wrong? I tried a different card – same thing! Oh dear, what now? The man began to speak in very fast Italian and we just shook our heads in disbelief. Kathryn was madly thumbing through the dictionary and of course there was the incessant honking behind us. Finally, after much waving of arms and near tears, we were handed a sheet of paper, the gate was lifted and we were waved through.

As I drove on Kathryn read the English version on the bottom of the paper and determined we were being fined 41 Euros! And we didn’t even know how or where to pay it! Luckily the next day we met a lovely English girl who lives in Lucca. We sheepishly showed her the paper. She tried not to laugh as she explained the toll booth system. You see, it’s very simple. Many of the highways in Western Europe are maintained by tolls received from the drivers on that highway. Therefore there are entry toll booths and exit toll booths. When you enter you’re given a ticket that tells where you entered. At the next booth you put this ticket in the slot and it determines how much you owe to have driven on that stretch of the highway. This is what the toll man needed…the ticket we had from the last booth. When we couldn’t produce it, he gave us a fine.

Needless to say we subsequently stopped the next time through the toll booth at the local office and they figured out the nominal fee we owed and negated the fine. Whew! Just thought I’d give you that little tip to prevent the same stress we went through! But now we laugh when we tell the story…I’d hate to rob you of that opportunity.

Kathy Hayes, Editor

Dear Travelers,
As we head into the longer days and nicer weather it’s hard not to dream about visiting other lands!  We’ve started helping a lot of you plan for your summer vacations and as always it’s very exciting!  The next months will be a key time for you to make your reservations and choose from our new and existing properties in Italy, France, Portugal and England.  We are busily working on our new website with new name,, which is soon to be unveiled!  We are certain you will find the changes an improvement!  We’ll be sure to let you know when the change takes place.  Keep in touch and as always, happy travels!

Emmanuel de Ricard, President

The Duomo in Florence

When you look out over the beautiful city of Florence, the predominantly red tile roofs give the city a rich and vibrant color. And above the skyline the single most outstanding architectural feature is the famous Duomo of the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. It has a fascinating history and is still to this day an engineering marvel.

The building was erected over a period of 150 years, beginning in 1296. It was begun in the Gothic style and then certain painters and sculptors influenced the city fathers to follow Roman forms, including an octagonal dome 42 meters in span which was built at the east end of the nave.

Brunelleschi was a goldsmith and sculptor who was commissioned by the church to make statues for the cathedral. While working on these assignments, he became interested in the building itself and built some smaller parts of it. And then in 1415 he designed this incredible duomo that he said could be built without the aid of formwork which had never been done before. To prove this would work he built a 1:12 model in brick which was wholeheartedly accepted. He then supervised the construction of it for the 16 years it took to build.

Brunelleschi’s design consists of two layers, including an inner and an outer dome. These domes are both supported by 24 stone half arches or ribs of circular form that are 7 feet thick at the base and taper to 5 feet to meet at an open stone compression ring at the top. To keep it from pushing outwards, tie rings of stone held together with metal cramps run horizontally between the ribs. There are also tie rings of oak timbers joined by metal connectors. The spaces between the ribs and tie rings are spanned by the inner and outer shells, which are of stone at the bottom and brick at the top. The entire dome was indeed built without formwork, being erected in horizontal layers and maintained by a system of measuring wires fixed at the centers of the curves. In order to do this precise masonry, he also designed elaborate wooden machines to move the necessary building materials both horizontally and vertically.

When you visit the Duomo be sure and take in the Cathedral Museum with its many displays of historical artifacts from this period.

Kathy Hayes, Editor

Mini Cilantro Crêpe Appetizers
An unusual and beautiful appetizer

A handful of fresh cilantro (Coriander leaves), finely chopped
3⁄4 c milk
1⁄4 c beer
2 eggs
1/2 c flour
black pepper
4 slices fresh goat cheese
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 Tbsp raisins
salt and paprika to taste
1⁄2 c balsamic vinegar
1⁄2 c sugar
Hazelnut oil to serve

Mix milk, beer, eggs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add sifted flour and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Set aside for 1 hour. To cook, lightly butter a skillet and pour thin batter mixture. Cook approximately 3 minutes, flip, and cook 1 minute.

Filling is made by mixing the fresh goat cheese, pine nuts, walnuts and raisins. Season with salt and paprika. Place a spoonful of the cheese mixture in the center of each crepe and roll up. On a lightly oiled baking tray, heat the crepes in a warm oven.

For the sauce, place the sugar in a pan. Add just enough water so it’s fully absorbed by the sugar. Cook slowly over low heat until golden brown, turning into a caramel. Carefully remove any pieces of sugar that may have crystallized on the edges of the pan. Deglaze with 1⁄4 c water. At the same time, in another pan, reduce the balsamic vinegar by one quarter. Finally mix together the vinegar and caramel until you have a taste not too sweet and not too sour. (The balsamic concentrate will keep well in a bottle and can be used on many dishes as a decoration.)

To serve, place a crepe in the center of a plate and pour the balsamic concentrate around the plate along with a splash of hazelnut oil.

- Compliments of Frederic

Rouge VillaThe Rouge Villa

"It was truly a phenomenal house in a wonderful location!"

- RV, San Francisco, CA


A telegram was sent to Cary Grant’s agent that read:

“How Old Cary Grant?”

Grant had him reply:

“Old Cary Grant Fine. How You?”

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