Russ and Elke's European Travel

It's not only what you see, it's how you see it

Russ and Elke's European Travel is a small company run by husband and wife team Russ and Elke Beck, a professional travel agent.

Over the years we have experienced some fantastic places, people, food and wine.  Out of our love for travel developed the idea to create very exclusive, intimate and interesting itineraries and let our clients experience, taste, smell, touch and hear what has given us so much joy in our travels. 

Brunello di Montelcino: A tale of 2 tastings

Wine tastings are a HUGE part of any trip Elke and I plan to Italy.  90% of the wine produced in Italy will never be exported to our country and we want to taste all of it.  This was why, on a fabulous June afternoon, we found ourselves, walking the beautifully manicured gravel paths leading to Poggio Antico, one of the most celebrated and decorated producers of arguably the greatest of Tuscan wines - Brunello.

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Why Europe?

With the world-wide economy in a bit of a slump and people watching their money more carefully these days I often have to overcome financial fears and preconceived notions that Europe is unattainable.  Let’s get it out of the way right now; YES, a trip to Europe costs more than a visit to your family cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee, YES a trip to Europe costs more than a trip to Niagara Falls, YES a trip to Europe costs more than a trip to the Grand Canyon.  All of these are fantastic travel destinations for their own reasons, but WHY, if it costs more than other options, WHY should you travel to Europe? 

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As a travel agent I can’t tell you how many times people call me or come into my office lamenting that they did some research online, and as a direct result ended up completely overwhelmed, utterly confused and tired of the whole thing. A joyous occasion has turned into a chore and major headache.

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The Mad Butcher of Panzano

The small town of Panzano in Chianti, which is located on a high ridge exactly halfway between Siena and Florence, has a poorly kept secret, the town is home to a Mad Butcher.  Now, before you jump to conclusions, you should know that this Mad Butcher has a name, Dario, and he is a butcher of meat, not a wild eyed, homicidal maniac.  In various circles we had heard about the “Mad Butcher of Panzano” and his eccentricities so our curiosity was peaked, we had to see this for ourselves. 

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Piccolo Pienza

One of my favorite little towns in Tuscany, incredibly charming and quaint, leaves me longing to return even though there are not an abundance of touristy things to do there.

My heart belongs to Pienza, a tiny medieval town with grand ambitions.  Without fail, with each visit, I turn into a romantic dreamer.  I want nothing more than to live ‘La dolce Vita’ in this enchanted warren of narrow, cobblestone roads, old stone buildings with colorful wooden shutters and window boxes overflowing with pretty flowers.

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Un bicchiere di vino Chianti, per favore

Well Russ and I, with our son in tow, entered this cathedral of wine at around 10:30 in the morning and decided to have some fun… heck we were on vacation and somewhere in the world it was already noon. We familiarized ourselves with the concept of wine carousels, each displayed a number of different bottles for tastings and each taste was purchased via a pre-paid card that was inserted in a slot on the carousel.  

     We purchased three wine cards, one for each (yes our son was legal to drink wine in Italy at sixteen). What we hadn't taken into consideration was the fact that we all had a fairly empty stomach and some of the tastings merely required a 0.50 cent charge.

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Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Contucci is unique among Vino Nobile producers in that they are the only family still producing wine in the town of Montepulciano itself.  Each harvest the grapes are brought from their 450 acre farm just outside of town and delivered into the 900 year old cellar just off of the Piazza Grande in the center of town.  The grapes are then crushed, fermented, aged and sold in these venerable cellars.  Some believe that the age of the cellars contributes to the uniqeness of the Contucci wine and that is why the family is reluctant to move their operations outside of town as most other producers have.

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Sightseeing (and more) in the Charming Medieval City of Lucca

There are many richly built, basilica style churches in Lucca with rich arcaded façades and campaniles, a few as old as the 8th century. We first went to the Duomo di San Martino and, as expected, were impressed by the architecture. An old legend we had heard explained why all the columns of the facade were different. According to the tale, the inhabitants of Lucca announced a contest to find the best style of columns to decorate the facade of the Duomo. Artists from all over the region each made a column, but the inhabitants of Lucca decided to use all of them...without paying the artists...and each of them now adorns the gracious exterior of the Duomo. 

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Buono Fichi

So imagine my surprise, when my husband picked the plump green fruit right off of the tree and after cutting it in half told me to try it. It was delicious!!! An explosion of sweet, honey flavored juices made me shiver with pure delight and I was in love. We enjoyed those figs, which became a part of our daily diet while staying at this enchanted place high up on the hill.

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Tuscany is known all over the world for it's scenic beauty, architecture, history and countless photo opportunities. I can't tell you how many times in our travels on those curvy, narrow roads my husband, unannounced and with great gusto, would swerve off onto the shoulder, usually a narrow crumbling embankment, to take yet another picture to add to his collection. Wether it was an amazing natural vista, a stunning town, silver leafed olive trees or simply sheep grazing under a lonely stand of cypress trees, he never tired of capturing this tranquil beauty.

     So I wasn't the least bit surprised when, nearly giving me whiplash and barely avoiding his fathers car up our rear end, he had to take the obligatory picture upon sighting Monteriggioni in the distance.

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