Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 31: Rome-Washington DC

We are back home.....even though the reports indicate we are still in Venice. The return flight on Iberia went very smoothly; we are now big fans of the airline. The only downside is that they bruised one of our bags pretty badly.

As always, I intend to finish the reports (I do have detailed notes for the remaining days) but based on past performance, it may not happen.

Just to summarize, our last few days in Venice were pretty relaxed...the weather took a turn for the worse and we even had a mild encounter with "acqua alta" on one day. We did go to Burano and bought some lace, toured some more galleries and churches and very much enjoyed our Venetian experience. We took the train from Venice to Rome on Sunday, October 28 and had two beautiful days there before the rain arrived. Our apartment on the Piazza Farnese was very convenient and we had good visits with friends and colleagues during our stay. We walked around, went to the Galleria Doria-Pamphili and Santa Maria del Popoli, bought olive oil at Volpetti in Testaccio and sat in on one of Maureen Fant's market tour/cooking class/lunch sessions which was terrific.

So at least you are up to date if I fail to complete the rest of the trip reports.

Jim and Diana

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day 22: Venice

It is cooler and overcast this morning–rain is threatening–as I make my daily run for the great breakfast rolls.
Today we are off to the Accademia….we take the vaparetto down the Grand Canal and we can see that the water is higher in many places than it has been, although it is not yet an ”acqua alta” which is predicted for Friday.
We get a nice look at the Rialto Bridge as we continue down the canal
and of people crossing the canal in gondola “buses”–traghetti–which ferry passengers across the canal so they don’t have to go out of their way and cross one of the three bridges.
The Accademia is the premier art museum in Venice and has an amazing collection of the most important painters of the Venetian renaissance. The gallery was actually started by Napoleon in the early 19th century when he took some of the major paintings out of churches and established the “secular” gallery. The collection, which includes works by Tiziano, Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Bellini, Giorgione, Tiepolo and many others, is truly spectacular. We are completely blown away by a number of the paintings. My favorite is the Veronese “Feast at the House of Levi” which is like a Last Supper on steroids. The painter was reprimanded by church officials when he submitted his “Last Supper” and directed to make changes to make it less “secular”. The artist’s response was to change the title and leave the painting intact. It is a huge canvas, covering a whole wall, and the “supper” is just the center of a much larger scene complete with “infidels, i.e. Turks” and other objectionable material. For someone like me who “collects” Last Suppers, it is amazing.
But the Veronese has lots of competition in the Accademia….Giovanni Bellini’s paintings–both large and small–are beautifully executed with wonderful faces and incredibly rich historical detail.
This “Procession in St. Mark’s Square” is by his brother Gentile and is endlessly fascinating.
The other painting that I was most impressed with was a very disturbing Tiepolo work called “The Bronze Snake” which has truly shattering imagery of death and destruction.
I could go on but there are just too many pictures that could be mentioned. In any case, we really had a great morning in the gallery and will certainly go back on future visits to Venice.
After the Accademia, we stop at a bar/cafe–the Bar Torino–for lunch. We had passed by it yesterday when we ended up at the wine bar, Enoteca Al Volto. In addition to the usual sandwiches, they have large dishes of freshly prepared pastas and risotto available and many Venetians come in for a quick lunch eating while standing at the bar. We sit at a table and I have a sandwich while Diana has the risotto. It is a delicious and economical lunch.
We then head for Piazza San Marco…..after twisting in and out of the narrow streets, the first sight of the very large piazza and the imposing Basilica is quite stunning. Even though it is one of the most familiar scenes in Italy, it is still very impressive.
There are not too many people in the piazza today, so it is no problem to get into the basilica. We pay our 3 euro admission to go upstairs to see the horses, walk around the balcony and visit the museum. The horses that are placed over the entrance are very impressive replicas, but you can see the c. 3rd century BC originals in the museum. The closeup view of some of the mosaics is interesting and the view over the piazza is very good.
You can get a much better view of the interior mosaics from the balcony and you can really appreciate the vastness of the church from above. Downstairs, we walk through the church and take a look at the Pala d’Oro–an incredible gem-encrusted gold altar piece

(not my picture)
and wish we could see the mosaics on the walls and ceilings as well as they appear in this picture.
(not my picture_
Leaving the basilica, we head back to the apartment by taking the vaporetto around the eastern end of the city….past the public gardens, the soccer stadium, the Duomo (the church was not that influential in the Republic of Venice so the Pope’s headquarters were historically located in the far reaches of Venice) and acres and acres of shipyards.
Dinner is at another neighborhood place called Ai Quaranta Ladroni (Forty Big Thieves). It is decorated in an underwater motif which is a bit strange, as is their policy of only serving pastas in portions for two people. However the food is good and the staff is very pleasant. We end up not having pasta…Diana has an order of very good fried “moeche” (small local soft-shelled crab) and a delicious whole grilled branzino. I enjoy my mussels and clams in a light tomato sauce and another very good “frittura mista”. We have a good pinot grigio from Friuli and for dessert, I have an indifferent semi-freddo and Diana has one of her favorites–”sgroppino”–which is a loose lemon sorbet mixed with vodka…very refreshing.
It’s a pleasant walk back to our apartment through the peaceful Cannaregio neighborhood.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Day 21: Venice

The rolls that we get from the local bakery are exceptional–if only we could something similar at home–and with my large cups of strong coffee and very hot tea for Diana, it makes for a very satisfying breakfast.

This morning is a relaxing morning. We are waiting for Marta to come over to check the washing machine to see why it didn’t finish correctly when we used it last week. So we run another load to try and replicate the problem. This time it spins, but once it’s done, the door won’t open. We stay around the apartment and work and read while waiting for her. When she gets to the apartment, she diagnoses one of the problems; it appears that we weren’t waiting long enough to try and open the machine after it finishes. She also explains that on some settings the machine doesn’t spin. She brings over another electric deodorant vaporizer to combat the smell of cigarettes but apparently the ones we bought the other day have done the trick. After Diana hangs out the laundry, we walk with Marta to another of her apartments to have a look.
Enroute, we stop at a neighborhood restaurant (alla Vedova) where she is known because she wants to have us try their special cicchetti–polpette (meatballs). Unfortunately, they have sold out so we “settle” for some “baccala mantecato”–dried codfish spread and a small glass of white wine. We meet her mother who is staying at the apartment for a couple of days and it turns out that Marta grew up in Belluno and her mother still lives there. She says that she was surprised when she learned that we were staying in Belluno because she didn’t think that any tourists ever went there. The apartment–which we had considered staying in but it lacked high speed internet access–seems to be very comfortable and her mother is very friendly and lively. It is certainly an apartment I would consider using for clients of mine coming to Venice.
We walk back to our apartment and have a late lunch there…..the rolls make the prosciutto, salami and cheese taste even better. In the late afternoon, we visit two local churches–the Gesuiti and Sant’Apostoli. The Gesuiti is very unusual….the outside has a typical, massive Baroque facade with tall columns and large statues scattered all over the front.
But inside, the architect made the green marble look like floral wallpaper and brocaded curtains. The effect is quite stunning…..way over the top….but definitely stunning.

There is also an interesting painting of the martyrdom of San Lorenzo by Tiziano……Saint Lawrence was burned to death on a grill and the painting is very dark with the only light coming from the fire at the bottom and moonlight coming through a hole in the ceiling. If you look long enough, the figures of the executioners–who appear inhuman–emerge slowly from the darkness.
Sant’Apostoli is a very different story. It is a much plainer church but it features a very ”theatrical” Tiepolo painting of The Communion of St. Lucy where the soon to be martyred woman recieves communion after having been blinded. Her gouged-out eyeballs are shown in a dish at the bottom of the painting.
For dinner, we again stay in the neighborhood–actually on the same Fondamenta–and eat a place called Diana. Many restaurants are closed on Mondays and we can’t resist making reservations there for “Diana”. On the way, we stop to admire the window display in the costume rental store that we pass. They have just changed the windows and they are pretty hard to pass by.
Dinner at Diana is a mixed bag….since the weather is cool, only inside seating is possible. And the owners of Diana have packed as many seats into a small space as humanly possible which means you are “up close and personal” with the diners at adjacent tables. The decor is also pretty strange….the kind of knotty pine paneling that is associated with basement rec rooms from the 1950s. The service is also very ungracious and prefunctory. However, to be fair, our food is quite good. I have a saute of mussels to start and follow it with a grilled orata…very simple but perfectly cooked and very delicious. Diana has the spaghetti alla busara–a seafood and tomato sauce, followed by grilled gamberoni (very large shrimp), which are a pain to eat but are very tasty.

We end up talking to our neighbors; one couple is English and the other American (the restaurant is almost completely filled with tourists) so it isn’t all that bad, but I don’t think we will be returning to Diana anytime soon.
Tomorrow we will go to the Accademia gallery.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day 20: Venice

Today is a beautiful sunny day. Our first destination this morning is the church of San Raffaele which is in the far southwest corner of Venice. The vaporetto goes right past the area where the cruise ships dock and we are amazed at the size of the four or five ships docked there. We get off the vaparetto one stop beyond the closest stop (the different vaparetto lines alternate stops) but the walk back along the Zattere–the broad south-facing promenade along the Giudecca Canal–is delightfully sunny and bright on this Sunday morning. We pass the large supermarket on the Zattere–it is open today and it is very crowded.
We have actually stayed in the piazza where the church is located but had never made it inside. The church of San Raffaele has a couple of Last Suppers that flank the 18th century paintings–described as “pre-impressionistic” by one guide book–that are on the front of the organ loft. The five paintings tell the story of Tobias and the angel Raffaele and are very distinctive in their soft coloring.
The “pay lighting” in the church is also distinctive…for 1 Euro, the whole church is illuminated for a pretty long time. There is also a very nice pulpit with intricate carvings.
We go back into the sacristy to see a ceiling fresco but are more impressed with the old priestly tunics that are on display.
Next, we are off to the opera house–La Fenice–that reopened a couple of years ago after a disastrous fire (which was featured in John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels). It has been restored “where it was, as it was” and we plan to take the tour of the building. We decide to have lunch before going in and we start walking around in the area looking for a likely place. We sit down at one of the restaurants with outdoor tables right in the same piazza but I am put off by the waiters in formal white jackets so we move on.

The area around La Fenice is deserted on this Sunday afternoon, even though just a few minutes away, the San Marco-Rialto corridor is jammed. However, there are not many restaurants open either so we walk quite a way before reaching the Enoteca al Volto, a crowded wine bar. The people are very nice and we have a good time watching the boss train his “staff”, a young boy of 15 (his nephew maybe) and a new waiter. We share a vegetable antipasto and have a couple of pasta dishes…mine is with mussels that are very good but Diana’s “amatriciana” is bland. We also have a nice, very dry pinot grigio from Friuli. We are little surprised at how much lunch ends up costing–each of the pastas are 12 euros and they charge us 15 euros for the 3/4 bottle of wine we drink–but Venice is definitely expensive.
The tour of La Fenice is with an audioguide and you get to see the public areas and the amazingly overdecorated auditorium as well as getting to sit in the Royal Box. You learn a lot about the history of the building and the various rebuilding projects but unfortunately you don’t get to see the backstage area. It is interesting but not necessarily a “must-do”.
(not my picture)
After the tour, we wend our way back to the Grand Canal and as we approach San Marco, the crowds appear and the shops are all open. We take the vaporetto back up the Grand Canal to our “Venetian” neighborhood. We rest in the apartment, do some work and I head out for a short walk in the neighborhood.

We are meeting Nan and her friend Giovanni and two other Venetian friends at one of their favorite Cannaregio restaurants, Ai Pescatori di Fontego. The place has been written up in a number of food and travel magazines as a place where fish is creatively prepared. The owner is also the president of the fish market at the Rialto. The restaurant is very attractive with well spaced tables. One of Nan’s friends is an artist, the other works for an apartment rental company.

The menu is presented by the owner and he has special “instructions” on how to eat the appetizers to experience the best effect. Everything is beautifully arranged and prepared–appetizers include an assortment of raw fish, a plate of cooked Venetian seafood antipasti, tuna tartare and some treatments of fish and shellfish with fruits. The best primi is the seafood risotto which most of us have. My gnocchetti with scallops and zucchine is less impressive. The wines are excellent, especially the Soave classico.

It is a long and lively evening…talking about Venetian food and wine, the art scene and Italian travel…and it gives us a peek into Venetian life. We break away after 11 and get lost–easy to do in Venice’s back streets–on the way home.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day 19: Venice

It is bright, sunny and a little cool as I make my run to pick up rolls for breakfast. After we eat, we walk over to the Grand Canal to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop–about a 10 minute walk from the apartment. We hop on the No. 1 vaporetto and stand in the outside area as we motor down the Grand Canal. We get off at the Accademia stop and walk through the Dorsoduro neighborhood to the Peggy Guggenheim museum. In our previous visits to Venice, we hadn’t made it to the Guggenheim collection (or to the Accademia) so we plan to remedy both of those omissions this trip.
The collection of modern paintings was acquired by Peggy Guggenheim and is housed in her beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, just upstream from San Marco. When we get there, we realize that we may have made a mistake coming on a Saturday because the place is jammed. The space, while extremely attractive, doesn’t handle crowds that well so there are lots of traffic jams–students with drawing pads sketching and people blocking one’s views of the art. So whether the art doesn’t speak to us or whether the crowds turn us off, our Guggenheim visit isn’t a big success.
However the view from the terrace/landing on the Grand Canal is pretty impressive.
After we leave the museum, we walk further on to the very large Salute church. It was built in the 17th century to celebrate Venice’s deliverance from a plague and was designed by Longhena, one of the most important Venetian architects. It is very large and very baroque outside, set in a large piazza almost directly opposite San Marco.
Inside, it feels almost empty since the ceiling is so high and there is little in the center inside the circle of columns.
There are paintings in the altars on the surrounding walls; the guidebooks said that the plans meant for people to enter straight through the center, toward the high altar, for the greatest effect, but the center is roped off today so we don’t experience that. We walk around the church and then take a vaparetto back up the Grand Canal to the Rialto Market, where we are meeting Nan for lunch.
The ride up the Grand Canal is a treat, especially since the boats aren’t as jammed as they had been on our last trip to Venice two years ago. We meet Nan in front of the clocktower of the San Giacomo in Rialto church
and she takes us to a newish osteria La Ciurma for lunch and to discuss some business. The osteria is an attractive but tiny place, a few stools at the bar, a couple of tables and a small kitchen. We meet the owner who is in the process of cleaning some small red mullets and have a bottle of wine and some cicchetti, talk with the owner and discuss Venice and the travel business with Nan. We do order some of the mullet that had just been cleaned and they come grilled and very delicious.
(tiny place, tiny picture)
After lunch, we hop on the vaporetto and go back to the apartment for a rest and some work. I do a little more exploring in the Cannaregio neighborhood which is still filled with Venetians pushing baby strollers, pulling shopping carts and sitting in bars with a glass of wine or a coffee.
Dinner is at a favorite Venice restaurant, Anice Stellato, which means “star anise”. It has become very well known with tourists as well as being popular with Venetians. On this Saturday evening, we are lucky to get a table for 7:30 pm. It is about a ten minute stroll from the apartment (we like to eat in “our neighborhood”), just over on the next canal. We are seated in the front room which (at this hour) is filled with “foreigners”–French and Americans. The Italians don’t arrive until later and this way the restaurant can turn over about half of their tables since many diners will be coming in at 9 pm or later.

Food is terrific as usual–we both have pasta dishes to start (but the ingredients have slipped my mind) and for seconds, I have the “frittura mista Adriatica”–a gigantic plate full of wonderful delicately fried fish, squid, clams and vegetables. Diana has the “moeche fritti”–small Venetian soft-shell crabs in the same tempura-like style. With the meal, we drink a Muller-Thurgau–a white wine from the Alto Adige–which is new to us but had been recommended by our friend Alessandra in Cortona; it was also excellent.
A wonderful meal–not expensive by Venetian standards (about Euro 75.00 or $110.00 US)…and a nice short walk home.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day 18: Venice

We walk over to the main street–the Strada Nuova–to buy some fresh rolls and cheese. The rolls and my french press coffee make for a very good breakfast. The weather is cool but sunny and we feel very “Venetian” walking next to the canal and over the bridge to do our shopping.
On our first day in Venice we have some chores to do before we can start our sightseeing program in earnest. First we do a laundry, trying to figure out the right settings on Norberto’s washing machine. We have some difficulty because the cycle doesn’t seem to want to complete so we fiddle with some buttons and finally we can open the door. However, we did something wrong because the spin cycle didn’t work and the clothes are still soaked. We have to wring them out before we can hang them up on the line outside the apartment’s windows.
Once the laundry is hung out, we walk over to the vaporetto ticket office at the Fondamente Nuove to apply for our monthly vaporetto pass. An individual ticket on the water buses (for non-Venetians) is now Euro 6.00 per ride (almost $9.00 US) and the daily and three day passes are still pretty expensive. However, for travelers staying for a week or more, it is possible to apply for a “tessera di abbonamento” which gets you a unlimited monthly pass for Euro 26.00. However, nothing can be that simple. First, you have to “buy” an application form for Euro 10.00 and submit it filled out, with a passport picture and a copy of the identification page of your passport. We have our pictures and copies so we sit at a bar and fill out the applications. When we go back to the ticket office to submit it, the woman checks it and tells us that we can only get a monthly pass for November. It is too late to get the October pass; the machine is already set for November.

We must look pretty dismayed because when we ask whether there is any way to get a pass for October, she continues to review the applications, makes a phone call, comes back and issues our temporary papers with the necessary monthly pass for October. We are very relieved…..(The “tessera” is actually valid for three years and enables one to buy either monthly passes or individual tickets at the Venetian price of Euro 1.00–a pretty good deal.)
I have arranged to have lunch today with friends from the Department of Labor so we head to the designated meeting point near the Rialto. We walk through the narrow streets that get more and more commercial and crowded as we approach the main shopping area. I stop to take some obligatory pictures of gondolas on the canals…after all, we are in Venice.
We meet up with Gerri Fiala, Ray and Sue Bramucci and their friend Nancy at the appointed place. Sue Bramucci has fallen in love with Venice and they now come back to visit every year. We cross the the Rialto Bridge to get to the restaurant–Alla Madonna–where we are eating lunch. Alla Madonna is a busy old-style Venetian restaurant, known to tourists but also popular with Venetians, especially for lunch. We are given a good table over in a corner, our waiter is very attentive and we have a very enjoyable lunch– the food, the wine and the company.

Ray is wearing his Boston Red Sox baseball cap but doesn’t know that the Red Sox had won the game the previous night to stay alive in the playoffs. I tell him that the Red Sox had won and show him the story from the New York Times that I have on my Treo…which makes him very happy. He tells us that he has been stopped frequently by Americans in Venice who want to know how the Sox were doing.
After lunch, we say our goodbyes and hop on the vaporetto–our first ride using our newly acquired passes–to go back to the apartment. We stop to buy some groceries. I do some work and then go out for a late afternoon exploration of the neighborhood. While out walking, I do get a picture of Tiepolo-like clouds in the sunset.
We go out for a light dinner to a neighborhood trattoria–Antica Mola–where we have eaten on previous trips . It is very crowded and the only available tables are out in the garden. The meal is pleasant and the people are very nice… clam soup is excellent, Diana’s lasagna and mixed salad is okay and we are able to drink a half-liter of white wine.
It is only a short stroll back to the apartment….tomorrow we are planning to go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 17: Belluno-Venice

Before leaving Belluno, we take a short stroll through town and stop in at the Museo Civico for a quick look around. It turns out tobe a very well organized and interesting museum with rooms devoted to local archaeology, a picture gallery featuring local artists, a sculpture gallery and collections of local furniture, jewelry and clothing.
It takes a lot longer than I expect to take “a quick look” and we spend almost an hour there before heading back to the hotel.
We pack up, leave Belluno (another overcast day) and get on the road back to Feltre. Since we know exactly where we are going, we drive right into the “centro storico” and park in front of the museum. La Galleria dArte Moderna “Carlo Rizzarda” di Feltre is the former home of the Feltre native and early 20th century wrought iron master, Carlo Rizzarda. The collection includes a couple of floors of modern paintings and two floors of wrought iron art pieces.

We are the only visitors today and we have the place to ourselves. Some of the pictures on the first two floors are very good but our main interest is the iron work so we move through the paintings quickly. There are more than 100 pieces on display–some lamps, some stair railings, some representational–and they are, for the most part, pretty sensational. Some are large and powerful, others are more delicate. They are displayed beautifully in the high-ceilinged rooms and we take our time moving through the collection.
Here area fewpictures of the pieces that we liked the most.
We slowly wend our way back through the modern pictures before starting out for Venice. What a surprise to find such a impressive collection of modern iron art in a small provincial city in the Veneto, but that’s Italy for you.
The drive to Venice should take just over an hour but we get stuck in a massive traffic jam just outside of Venice and get held up for about 45 minutes at the merge of two autostradas. We pull into the gas station at the Piazzale Roma to fill up before returning the car but the attendant is at lunch and I don’t want to risk using self-service to top off the tank. So we drive back across the causeway to the mainland to the closest open gas station. I drop Diana and the luggage at the water taxi stand and return the car.

There is a lot of discussion among the taxi drivers and dispatchers about the location of our apartment and finally we are on our way. It is raining by now so we are sitting in the covered cabin of the boat. We are not sure that the driver knows exactly where he is going but we finally head into the back canals close to the apartment. He quickly pulls up, motions for us to get out, unloads the luggage, tells us that the apartment is just a few meters up the street, turns the boat around and pulls away. It turns out that the address is more like 100 meters down the street so we have to wrangle our five pieces of luggage in the rain down to the apartment. Thankfully there were no bridges that we have to negotiate but I am pretty annoyed that we are dumped so far away.
We are renting the apartment of a glass designer named Norberto Moretti
who is a friend of Nan McElroy’s–a fellow Slow Travel member who lives in Venice. This is the first time that he has rented it out and it is being handled by Marta, who manages a few apartments and who is another friend of Nan’s. Marta arrives a few minutes after us, opens the doors and gets us settled. The apartment is located in the northwest section of Venice–the sestiere of Cannaregio–very near the Ghetto. It is far from most of the tourist attractions and is still quite Venetian in character.
The apartment is located in a cul-de-sac off the canal. There is a well in the middle (which is being repaired) and workmen are also constructing scaffolding on the building next door so we can expect some noise during our stay. There are two stores…one sells boating equipment and the other has children’s clothes, dolls and puppets. The apartment is very spacious by any standard with a large living room, large bedroom, separate dining room and large entrance hall which also houses the office area and the high speed internet access–one of the big attractions of the apartment.
Marta shows us around, explains how the appliances work and how to turn the heat on and off. The only downside is the strong smell of cigarette smoke…we had never asked whether Norberto was a smoker. But we open the windows and hope to air it out quickly.
One piece of kitchen equipment that is missing is an American coffee maker so after we unpack and try out the internet access, I make a shopping expedition (in the rain) to find a coffee maker. After a fairly long search, I find a store that sells a French press coffeemaker which I buy and then head back to the apartment.

We meet Nan at 6:30 and head out to a favorite neighborhoodhaunt of hers–La Cantina–for some good red wine and ciccheti (Venetian tapas). We don’t fill up on the cichetti so Nan heads back to her house (just down the street from our apartment) and we head over to the Ghetto to have some pizza at Al Faro, a place that we liked onour last trip to Venice. The pizza is actually quite good–Diana has a “diavolo” and I have a white pizza with sausage and rucola. It is a pleasant walk back through the ghetto to the apartment.

Tomorrow, we have to do laundry and get our monthly vaparetto passes before we start sightseeing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 16: Belluno

After a breakfast with some more of the delicious Belluno cornetti, we get in the car to drive to Feltre, a town about 20 miles to the south and west of Belluno. Today the sky is completely overcast and there are no signs of the Dolomites that usually dominate the views from Belluno.
Feltre is a another one of the seemingly endless small to medium-sized Italian cities with an attractive, intact historical center and a sense of style. The center is still enclosed by the medieval walls (there is even a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel that is dug under the town and allows access to both sides of the “modern” town without climbing into the “centro.”) The “modern” town is not particularly modern but it is a bit newer than the orginal walled town….it is quite commerical but the streets are cobblestoned and the buildings share a lot of the charming attributes of those inside the walls.
We park outside the walls, enter the center through the lower “porta” and walk up the gentle slope of the main street–the Via Mezzaterra. There are large “palazzi” lining the main street, many of them still displaying the designs of the mediveal painted walls.
The main piazza is also quite attractive with statues–one of the Venetian lion on top of a column–the town hall and a large church on each side.
As attractive as the “centro storico” is, it is strikingly quiet…there are few stores and fewer people, quite a contrast to the business district in the “modern” town outside the walls. When we pay to enter the Feltre Civic Museum, we are greeted warmly by the staff and made to feel very welcome. We are the only visitors. The museum contains the usual array of displays which are found in most museums of the type–some Roman statuary and inscriptions, representative pieces of furniture from old houses in the town, a Gentile Bellini portrait and some very nice paintings by local artists, some from the 15th and 16th centuries.
We spend a very pleasant, leisurely hour in the museum but that means that we won’t be able to get into the Modern Art Museum (Museo Rizzarda) before it closes midday, which features a collection of wrought iron (ferro battuto) by a local master, Carlo Rizzarda. However, since Diana is such a fan of wrought iron work, we may well decide to stop in Feltre tomorrow on our way to Venice.
We finish our circuit of the “centro storico”, stopping to admire a handsome iron gate in front of one house -maybe the work of Rizzarda.
At the bottom of the hill, we see a small sign for an “osteria” and a menu posted outside. It looks very appealing and, since it is lunch time, we peek inside. It is just before 1 pm but almost all of the tables are filled with locals, some eating and some drinking small glasses of wine. We later see that the name is “CRASH Osteria”.
We are seated at the only remaining table which we share with another couple. Lunch is terrific–pizzoccheri (a thick tagliatelle from the mountains north of Lake Como) with mushrooms for me and some very tasty pork ribs with roast potatoes for Diana. We share a half-liter of a very pleasant local cabernet. Sometimes the spur of moment dining decisions work out very well.
After lunch, we head back to the Strada del Prosecco for a look at another of the wine trails and we make a short stop in Conegliano, another small Veneto city with a lovely historical center and an attractive vibe. There are arcaded sidewalks and buildings with flowers hanging from pots and biblical scenes painted on walls.
We walk around the main street, make a short visit to the Duomo and admire an altarpiece by the famous local Renaissance painter, Cima di Conegliano, have a gelato and leave town but we would happily come back for another visit on our next trip to the Veneto.
The road to Vittorio Veneto takes us through more beautiful prosecco vineyards
but we don’t stop in town, instead heading directly back to Belluno on the autostrada.
On our last night in Belluno, we decide to try Ristorante Terracotta. It had been recommended by the hotel desk clerk but we don’t know anything about the place. While looking at the menu outside the door, a young woman comes out and tells us–in Italian–that Terracotta has the best food in Belluno. The menu is in fact a little bit on the “creative side” and slightly more expensive than the other places where we had eaten in town.

But we decide to go in and take our chances. The room is striking and austere and the tables and place settings are very stylish. There aren’t a lot of choices that appeal to us but there are enough. Diana has a caprese salad followed by a grilled shrimp dish, served on a skewer of lemongrass with a side of crunchy black rice. I have a pasta dish–maccheroni with swordfish, lemon and capers (a bit heavy on the capers but pretty good) and then grilled pieces of tuna steak, very rare and delicious. Since it is our last day in the home of prosecco, we order a bottle and easily finish it.
We have our final stroll through the quiet streets of Belluno. Tomorrow to Venice.
NOTE: Why do we find the menu offerings in Belluno so limiting? First, they seem to offer a lot of heartier pasta types and there is a lot of polenta. Even though it is an hour or more from the sea, there is a lot of seafood but the emphasis is on octopus and squid. Pumpkin is often on the menu which neither of us like and many dishes have mushrooms which I like but Diana doesn’t. Many places featured goat, horsemeat, donkey, deer, speck (smoked ham) and snails, which don’t appeal to us. There is a definite Austrian influence in the cooking style and the combinations of ingredients sometimes are off-putting to us. In any case, we both had the same reaction to the restaurant menus and to the food in Belluno. We certainly didn’t starve but it is not our favorite cuisine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day 15: Belluno

A little overcast today in Belluno…we are glad that we made our trip to the mountains yesterday when it was bright and clear.
Today we follow the red carpet that leads to the Tiziano exhibition which is installed in the Palazzo Crepadona which is the Belluno library. The exhibit has taken over the entire building which been transformed into a large art gallery. The show features the last twenty years of Tiziano’s career when he spent a great deal of time in the area–both painting and tending to his family’s lumber business. In addition to paintings by Tiziano and his workshop–which have been gathered from museums and private collections all over the world — there are works by his contemporaries who were influenced by him and letters, books, documents and other materials relating to his career.

Although there are a number of powerful paintings with religious themes on display, we are most impressed with some of the very strong portraits that Tiziano painted–
and some of his drawings.
The final room of the show is a large, very dramatic space designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta and holds three of Tiziano’s masterpieces……the portrait of Pope Paul III (above), a portrait of St. James and–particularly pleasing to me–a Last Supper from a private collection.
We have a coffee at the bar with the panoramic terrace overlooking the Piave Valley
and then buy some supplies for a picnic at a store that sells Pugliese specialties–bread from Altamura and mozzarella cheese from Andria.
We get in the car and head for a ski area called Nevegal which is to the south of Belluno, and find a picnic grove (though with no view) where we have a great lunch which is curtailed because–even though the sun is shining — it is a little chilly. After lunch, we drive to the top of the mountain but it is so hazy that the dramatic wall of mountains north of Belluno are barely visible.
We then head off to find the Strada del Prosecco (the Prosecco Road). This area is the center of production for prosecco, the sparkling wine that is the apertivo of choice all over Italy. We are stymied for a while because the main road from Feltre to Valdobbiadene is closed so we have to backtrack and find an alternate route on the other side of the Piave. This road is quite dramatic….running along the river and heading straight through a heavily wooded narrow valley.

We make the obligatory prosecco stop at a bar on the main piazza in Valdobbiadene and then follow the Strada del Prosecco out of town. As we drive out of Valdobbiadene, there are vines covering the hillsides for as far as you can see….it is quite a striking sight.
(not my picture)
We drive on the old road between Vittorio Veneto and Belluno and it is quite interesting to be driving back and forth under the autostrada which towers above the state highway. The views of the countryside are quite different that we had seen two days earlier when we took the autostrada into Belluno.
Dinner is at a pleasant trattoria called La Taverna….and there are enough choices for us on the “difficult” menu. I have a plate of tagliolini with porcini and a local dish called “schiz pastin”–which is grilled cheese (good), wet polenta (not as good) and a pork/beef meat patty that was very reminiscent of the chopped meat kebab that we get at Persian restaurants. Diana has parpardelle with a duck ragu and an excellent fillet- but finishes off with a soggy apple strudel.

Belluno is very quiet as we walk back to the hotel.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 14: Belluno

The day is clear and bright–a perfect day for a drive in the mountains. Breakfast at the delle Alpi is noteworthy because we have some of the best cornetti we have ever had in Italy. The plan is to first drive north to Cortina d’Ampezzo, a big ski resort and then head east towards Bolzano to Canazei on the Great Dolomites Road, which crosses a number of the high mountain passes (over 6,000 feet high). We had done the western part of the drive two years ago and are looking forward to completing it.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is about an hour north of Belluno…a high-end ski resort that became world-famous when it was host for the 1956 Winter Olympics. We pull over at one point in the drive for a photo opportunity….a large herd of sheep and goats are spread out in an Alpine meadow right next to the road.
The road to Cortina is noteworthy–in addition to the spectacular views–
for the well maintained bike and pedestrian path that parallels the road for much of the way.
We make a brief stop in Cortina. In October–which is off-season–the town is pretty dead; most of the stores and restaurants are closed and there are few people walking on the streets. But it is very attractive in a very highly manicured way and we enjoy our stroll down the main street.
The one store that is open is La Cooperativa, which is really an indoor shopping mall. Everyone we see on the street is carrying a shopping bag from there and they are doing a brisk business when we go inside to take a look.

Once back on the road, we are continually climbing and descending…the road is indeed an engineering marvel and has more hairpin turns and switchbacks than any other road we know. The views are amazing…the Dolomites are very distinctive with their rocky, treeless tops above thick pine forests and green Alpine meadows dotted with ski chalets and farms.
Many of the pine trees at the higher elevation seem to be yellow or orange instead of green, perhaps due to the drought that is affecting much of Italy.
We make a stop at the Passo Falzarego, which is almost at 7,000 feet.
There is a cable car that climbs up even higher and we wait until we can see the two tiny cars glide up and down supported by very thin and insubstantial looking cables.

We stop for lunch in the small ski resort town of Livinallongo at one of the few places that are open at this time, the Albergo Alpino. We have a very pleasant lunch in the pretty sun-filled dining room. Diana has spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and hot peppers and a plate of grilled cheese with polenta, potatoes and cauliflower–very filling and very tasty. I have a bowl of orzo soup–a little bland–and some excellent sausage and lots of polenta. No wine for lunch today…..I need to stay alert driving the mountain roads.
The spectacular scenery continues as we keep driving west. As we are descending, we look up and see about a half dozen dot of color suspended over and in front one of the rocky crags. It slowly becomes apparent that we are watching people hanging from paragliders floating a couple of thousand feet above us.
In these pictures, the paragliders look like white spots in the blue sky but it was quite amazing for us to see.
The road back–past the a mountain lake and the highest peak in the Dolomites…Marmolada—is less striking but still dramatic.
Back in Belluno, we have a drink–prosecco, the local specialty– at a cafe which has a panoramic view of the Piave River valley. We plan to eat a light dinner at the Pizzeria Cibo but it is closed on Mondays so we eat at the restaurant at the hotel which specializes in seafood. I have a very good fish risotto and a nicely done frittura mista; Diana’s cheese risotto is a little rich and the baked orata is just okay. We have a carafe of the house prosecco which goes down very easily.

The trip home involves only a elevator ride to our room. Tomorrow we will visit the neighboring town of Feltre and drive on the Strada del Prosecco.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day 13: Bologna-Belluno

We pack up and check out of the Hotel Porta San Mamolo. We have really enjoyed our stay…the room was comfortable (if a bit small), the bathroom was large and there was plenty of water pressure and hot water, the breakfasts were good and the staff were very friendly and helpful They even promised to have high speed internet access in the rooms next time we stay there.

We make one final stop in Bologna–at the hilltop church of San Luca that overlooks both the city and the autostrada. We inadvertently take the back way up the hill so we miss one of the significant features of the church…a 3.5 kilometer (2 miles) long portico that leads from town up to the church. But we see it on the way down and there are lot of people taking advantage of the route…as well as many others either walking, jogging or biking in the vicinity.

(this is not my picture)
The drive to Belluno is uneventful….it is all on the autostrada and there is little traffic. The weather turns overcast as we leave Bologna and stays that way until we get closer to the higher elevations around Belluno. At this point, the sun is shining on the hillsides to the north.

Belluno is almost entirely ringed with high mountains - the Dolomites…the city itself is on a low plateau that sits above the junction of the Ardo and Piave Rivers. The mountains to the north and east seem to start at the city limits and are very imposing. There are pretty but gentler views to the south and west over the Piave valley.
(this is not my picture either)
We find the hotel–the Hotel delle Alpi–easily (it is a few blocks away from the center of town) and check in to a very large room with a desk, a couch a table
(this is also not my picture -but it is of our room)
…..but no high speed internet access as was advertised.
The first order of business is to find a place for lunch. The desk clerk directs us to a restaurant–La Buca–a couple of blocks away. We walk in and are seated but are then studiously ignored for about ten minutes. The restaurant is pretty full (we later learn that many of the patrons have been to the Tiziano exhibit) and other people are seated and orders are taken while we wait, not so patiently. When we finally get our menus, we barely have a chance to look at them when the waiter is there asking if we are ready to order. Since we don’t want him to disappear, we order quickly even though we haven’t a chance to really make up our minds.

In fact, there is not a lot on the menu that is appealing. (I am still trying to figure out exactly how to describe the menus in Belluno to get across how limited we feel in finding things to order. Maybe in the next few days I will be able to explain it better.) Since there is little to choose from, Diana quickly orders a “carpaccio of piovra” which the waiter says is “fish” followed by spaghetti alle vongole…one of my favorite dishes but not usually something Diana orders. I also have the spaghetti with clams followed by a mushroom “frittata”.
The food is actually okay and the service improves during the meal…the frittata is in fact a freshly prepared omelet with mushrooms and ham, the clams are not bad and the “piovra”–which is octopus - also something she would never normally order–gets eaten, washed down with a half liter of very drinkable white wine.

After lunch, we walk through the main piazza…really a very long oval shaped, mostly pedestrian area with a park in the middle and a large number of stores and cafes. It is very attractive and one of the more distinctive piazzas that we have seen in Italy.
There is a kiddie attraction that is very popular…a combination trampoline/bungee cord mechanism that all the local children are lined up to try.

I continue my exploration of Belluno and walk through the extensive historic district and down the hill to the riverfront.
where there is a large parking lot and scala mobile (an escalator) to bring visitors to the main part of town.
Here I also encounter some of the “Tizianomania” that is gripping Belluno….large posters everywhere advertising the show “Tiziano–L’Ultimo Atto (Titian, the Last Act) which is taking place in Belluno and Pieve di Cadore–Titian’s birthplace–about 30 km north of Belluno.
Almost every store window has a sign promoting the show and many local merchants are offering discounts for meals and services to people who have attended the show. There is a red carpet leading from the main piazza and from the top of the escalator to the entrance to the exhibit.
Back at the hotel, I “struggle” with the dialup modem connection, which is actually reasonably fast, as I do some work.
For dinner, we decide to go a very informal and very fanciful pizzeria just steps from the hotel….Pizzeria Cibo. The tables are sort of “industrial nursery school furniture” and the benches that line the windows are backed with brightly colored foam cutouts. However the menu is very straightforward and the service is prompt and friendly. We share a plate of salumi and cheese, Diana has a spaghetti carbonara, which she finds too eggy and I have penne with sausage and mushrooms which is very tasty. The red wine goes down easily and we note–for future reference–that the pizza also looks good.

A few steps and we are back at the hotel. Tomorrow–if the weather is good–we will head for Cortina d’Ampezzo and drive the “Great Dolomite Road” through the high mountains.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Day 12: Bologna

Our first destination this morning is the Museo Civico Medioevale e del Rinascimento (the Civic Museum of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance) which is housed in a handsome old palazzo–the Palazzo Fava-Ghisliardi. We retrace our now familar route from the hotel to the center of Bologna. The museum–except for the first room with its hodegpodge of oddities–is beautifully laid out and the displays are wonderful. As part of our Jewish places theme, there are three very distinctive headstones from the old Jewish cemetery in Bologna. These headstones are untraditional from a Jewish point of view because of the angels, lions and other decorations…certainly an indication of how the Jewish community was affected by the standards of the Renaissance.
In addition to lots of Roman stuff, the museum features tombs of professors at the university in the 15th and 16th centuries. These tombs are carved with wonderful reliefs of the professor teaching and on either side, the students — some of them are sleeping, looking perplexed or just talking among themselves.
There is a striking group of statues of the patron saints of Bologna
a very pretty mosaic of a Byzantine Madonna from the 11th century
a very tall, Egyptian looking statue of the infamous Pope Boniface VIII
and a wonderful Bernini bust of Pope Gregory XV.
In addition, there is a myriad of miscellaneous stuff like ostrich eggs, 18 inch heeled shoes of Venetian courtesans, lots of armor, ceramics and Murano glass. We spend a couple of hours in the museum and enjoy it very much.
We have another social engagement today. We are meeting our friend Jane Nyhan (who is a guide in Florence), her husband Carlo and her sister Cathy for lunch. While we are waiting for her, Diana sits in a sidewalk cafe in the Piazza San Martino and I do a little exploring in the northern section of Bologna. This is the area where we had spent much of our time on our previous trips and it is much more commercial and less appealing than the areas that we have found on this trip. I do find one of the last remaining canals in the center of Bologna. The city used to have many canals criss-crossing the downtown area but all the others have been paved over.
We have lunch at a nice osteria in the same square where we have been waiting for Jane and company–no advance research, just an attractive restaurant in a convenient location. We have a nice reunion and a nice lunch. The Il Rosso San Martino has an appealing menu and a very good Euro 10.00 fixed price lunch. In addition to being convenient, the food is very good and the wine is not only good but extremely reasonably priced. Jane is very impressed with the food and price (the five of us eat for Euro 62.00), especially compared to places in Florence.

Even though Jane and Carlo live between Bologna and Florence, they are much more oriented to Florence and have spent very little time in Bologna and don’t know it very well. I serve as their guide as we walk around the “centro storico”. Jane, Carlo and I climb to the top of the Asinelli Tower, the taller of the two 12th century leaning towers in the very center of Bologna. The tower is 391 feet high and there are 500 steps but the climb is not that difficult. The view from the top is quite spectacular and it is said that on a clear day, you can see the Adriatic. Today we couldn’t see that far, but the view over Bologna and into the hills is well worth the climb.
After the climb, we walk through the ghetto, do some shopping in the market,
cross the Piazza Maggiore and a couple of people stop for some gelato at GROM.
We say goodbye to our friends in the next to statue of Luigi Galvani
in the Piazza Galvani–a nice spot for Carlo, a chemistry teacher–Galvani was the Bologna doctor and physicist who discovered that dead frogs’ legs twitch when touched by a spark and has given his name to galvanized iron - - and head back to the hotel while they continue to tour Bologna.
For dinner, we don’t want to venture too far from the hotel so we return to Al Sangiovese where we had eaten our first night. I have a very good risotto made with sangiovese wine, a vegetable tart and some sauteed mushrooms and Diana has the gramigna with sausage and a filet with a balsamic sauce, rucola and cheese….it is a little heavy on the balsamic. We have the same delicious Sangiovese that we drank the first night.

We make a short detour so that I can have an unnecessary gelato and head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we reluctantly leave Bologna and head north to Belluno.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day 11: Bologna

Another sunny day in Bologna…a little cool in the morning, but still pleasant.
We set out for the center, planning to visit some churches and some of the Jewish places in Bologna. Our first stop is a church that we have passed numerous times in the past two days–San Domenico. It is located on a large piazza, set back from the street with two large tombs of Bolognese law professors standing alone in the piazza.
The church is grander inside than it appears from its exterior, which has been modified frequently over the years.. It dates from the 13th century and houses the relics of the saint. The most striking tomb inside is that of San Domenico and has attractive statues, bas reliefs of scenes from the life of Domenico and an intricate carved sarcophagus.
It even boasts a few statues sculpted by a very young Michelangelo, who had to flee Florence when his patron Lorenzo de’ Medici died.
Other highlights in the church are the amazing intarsia doors that lead to the sacristy. How the artists can get such beautiful results from pieces of inlaid wood is always a surprise to us.
We head for one of the oldest and most famous churches in Bologna…the church of San Stefano. On the way, we walk through another beautiful area of the city–even climbing one of the few hills in Bologna–and make a stop at an art exhibition–high style photographs from Sardinia–being held in the courtyard of one of the university buildings
and briefly visit the church of San Giovanni in Monte which sits on top of the hill. The interior of the church is Gothic with lots of pointed arches and has a painting of the Last Supper on the altar which is distinctive–it is set in the desert and several of the apostles are wearing what appear to be Arab headresses.
The Church of San Stefano stands in one of the most attractive piazzas in a town filled with attractive piazzas. It is actually a complex of seven churches (only four still exist) and is one of the oldest churches in Bologna dating from the 5th century. It is built on the site of a Temple of Isis and incorporates columns from that temple in one of the churches. The churches are all quite austere and all the more appealing (to us) for that austerity.
There are two curious “attractions” in the church….a large urn/basin that is reputed to be the basin where Pilate washed his hands and a statue of a chicken called “Il Gallo di San Pietro”–a tribute to the chicken that woke up St. Peter and allowed him to evade his pursuers at one stage of his life.
Continuing our exploration of Jewish places in Bologna, on the same piazza is the Casa Sforno, which was the home of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in the 16th century and–a few blocks away–the location of the original synagogue in Bologna. Now it is just a storefront and there is no plaque marking the spot.

On the other side of the ghetto, there is another “Jewish place”–the Palazzo Bocchi. The owner was a Renaissance scholar and studied both Latin and Hebrew. On the front of his palazzo, he commissioned two sets of carvings–one in Hebrew which was from one of the Psalms and one in Latin from Horace’s book of Epistles.
After a full morning of sightseeing, we stop across the street from the Palazzo Bocchi and have a light lunch in a bar…..a farro salad for Diana and a bowl of lentil soup for me. We then take a bus back to the hotel, get the car and drive over to the laundromat to wash our dirty clothes.

The laundry expedition is a snap….in just over an hour, we are done and return to the hotel with a suitcase full of clean clothes. However, we were unhappy to find out that the Onda Blu “key” that we purchased last year which still has about Euro 20.00 of credit is not longer accepted. I have to write to the company and see if I can get my money back.
While I am out exploring another part of this terrific city, I get a call from Livio Misgur, our friend from Alessandria in Piemonte. He has arranged to come to Bologna to visit his daughter (who is an architect here) at the same time we are in town and we have made plans to have dinner with him and Valentina. We agree to meet at the Neptune Fountain at 5:30 (in 90 minutes) so I finish my walk and head back to the hotel.

Livio and Valentina suggest that we go for a “giro”–a walk–that takes us to some new and some familiar places, before stopping for a drink before dinner, and we make a long circuit around the center before ending up at the most popular cafe (for Bolognese) in the next square, Piazza Galvani. Zannarini is a very stylish bar on one of the most attractive squares in town. We sit at one of the outdoor tables and have drinks–Valentina has a margarita–and nibble on some of the snacks from the apertivo buffet table.
We then take the scenic route to the restaurant and see some of the smaller medieval towers that still remain in the city but can’t be seen unless you are either right in front of them or on top of the tallest tower–Asinelli–with a panoramic view over the city. One of them has been turned into a b&b that rents out the roof for events….but there is a warning that guests should be “fit” since it is 11 flights up to the top.
Dinner is at a sleek, somewhat upscale restaurant called Caminetto d’Oro–the Golden Hearth. Their logo features the name in six languages including Russian. Our food is excellent—I have a fresh mushroom salad followed by tagliatelle with fresh porcini, Diana has the tortellini in brodo and a cheese plate, Livo has a potato mushroom torte followed by tagliatelle with Bolognese ragu and Valentina has chicken liver pate and the tagliatelle with porcini. For dessert, I have a very good panna cotta, Diana has an almost too beautiful to eat fruit tart and Valentina has a “biscotto” with chocolate sauce. The wine–a white from Campania called Fiano d’Avellino–is delicious.
We walk back together to the center of town where we say our goodbyes……
So far this has been a very social trip for us and having these connections in Italy adds so much to the pleasures of the trip.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day 10: Bologna

The breakfast room at the hotel is very attractive–a freestanding building in the garden with lots of windows–and the breakfast is also very good.
Our first stop in the center of town is the very large Basilica of San Petronio, the patron saint of Bologna, which is set on one side of the Piazza Maggiore. Supposedly the Bolognese had plans to expand the building and make it bigger than St. Peter’s in Rome but the Pope disapproved and instead built a building for the university next door that made it impossible for the Bolognese to complete their plans. The building is very distinctive because they never finished the marble on the facade–probably because they ran out of money (or because they were miffed at the Pope)–so the bottom is covered in striped marble and the top is unfinished rough brick.
The inside of the church is relatively light and airy. There is a long meridian on the floor placed there in 1665 that traces the progress of the sun depending on where the shadow is cast along its length.
There is one very distinctive painting–a Last Judgement which has a particularly nasty two mouthed devil devouring two men–Brutus and Judas ??–at the same time.
We make a quick circuit around the market and admire the produce being displayed for sale.
We stop at a chocolate store and buy some very delicious (and very expensive) chocolate.
The Museo Ebraico is not far away and we spend about an hour in the museum. They have set up a very interesting permanent display that includes explanations about the history of the Jewish people and the Jewish experience in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna. The displays include large text posters and pictures (in Italian and English) as well as computer displays of additional information in Italian only. There are also very well produced and informative films in each of the six rooms that play continuously and alternate the English and Italian soundtrack.
Emilia-Romagna was relatively hospitable to the Jews since they first arrived in the 13th century and there was a Jewish presence in 37 communities in the region. The community in Bologna now numbers about 200 and, although there is a synagogue, we were told that it was not open for visiting.
The web site of the Museo Ebraico is also very informative and provides a lot of the information that is displayed in the museum.
As we walked in the Ghetto, we heard Jewish music in the air. It was being played through speakers mounted on the sides of buildings. This is part of a local project called Bologna risuona, where music appropriate to certain neighborhoods is played continuously to reflect some of the different cultures that were a part of Bologna’s history.
Lunch is at a famous old Bologna restaurant called da Gianni. The clientele is a mixture of tourists and local businessmen; the gentleman at the table next to us was a regular, didn’t even have to order, had his osso buco with polenta and wine brought immediately and was finished in about 20 minutes. The food was excellent…we shared a plate of salumi and prosciutto–mortadella at its source is exceptionally delicious–and the pastas were also terrific–tagliolini with prosciutto crudo for Diana and tagliatelle with meat sauce (ragu) for me. With a half bottle of Sangiovese, we were very satisfied.
After lunch, Diana rested in the hotel room and I went out exploring. I found the nearest laundromat and walked through some unexplored neighborhoods and saw some more churches, like San Francesco.
All over Bologna the streets are covered with porticos…some simple, some grand….which–in addition to providing shelter from the rain and sun–enabled the Bolognese to add additional living space to buildings above the porticos.
We’d always heard that Bologna was an exceptionally “civilized” place - the home of the university founded in the 11th century and still full of students and their energy, the elegant buildings, the extensive porticos, the wonderful food - and in this visit, we certainly are very taken with the city.
We are having dinner with Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is in Bologna finishing up research for an article on Bolognese ragu. We meet her at her hotel for a drink, meet her friend Paolo Lima–who is in the truffle business–and take a cab to Antica Trattoria da Gigina, a well-known Bologna trattoria famous for its ragu. Dinner is a lot of fun, although the famous ragu doesn’t live up to its reputation.

It is late by the time we take a cab back into the city, say goodnight to Nancy and Paolo and get back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will explore more of Bologna, which has quickly vaulted to the top of our list of favorite Italian cities.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day 9: Cortona-Bologna

Before we leave Cortona, I spend a half hour at the Internet shop just down the street from the hotel…we had only noticed it yesterday when we drove up the Via Guelfa–nice fast connection and pleasant people. I am able to send off some work e-mails and download some material quickly…a pleasure after struggling with the slow dialup connection at the San Michele.

We stop at Il Girasole to say goodbye to Alessandra and then walk down the hill to get the car, drive back to the hotel and pick up the luggage. Before we leave Cortona, we visit the Franciscan hermitage of Le Celle, one of St. Francis’s country retreats. Set on a steep hillside above Cortona, it is yet another of the peaceful and spiritual retreats that St. Francis favored. The buildings of the hermitage cling to the steep hillside and make an imposing and beautiful sight.
On our two previous visits to Bologna–an overnight stay 13 years ago and a quick visit for dinner 4 years ago– Bologna hadn’t made much of an impression on us. It only takes this thirty minute stroll to the center to convince us that we had somehow been in the wrong parts of Bologna or had been unduly affected by the rainy weather on our earlier trips.
Our walk through the Piazza Cavour, the Piazza Galvani and into the Piazza Maggiore is very striking. There are lots of trees on the street, the Piazza Cavour is an attractive park surrounded by handsome palazzos and the everpresent porticoes are very appealing.
We stop for a prosecco at one of the tourist cafes on the Piazza Maggiore and enjoy the view of the massive Basilica of San Petronius, the Neptune Fountain and the people strolling past.

We make a quick stop in the ghetto and locate the Museo Ebraico, walk past the site of one of the old synagogues
and walk through the mouth-watering market area on the way back to the hotel.
We are having dinner with our friend and my old boss at Great Travels, Patti Absher, who is in town for a night en route to a travel trade fair in Rimini. I walk back to the center to guide her back to our hotel; we are having dinner at a place just down the street from the hotel, Al Sangiovese. Patti has much the same reaction to Bologna that we have….she is finding it much more appealing than she had on her previous visit.
Dinner is very pleasant….we have a nice time with Patti, the food is mostly fine and the owners of Al Sangiovese are very pleasant. We share a plate of very good salumi and cheese, I have a terrific gramigna (thick pasta) with a sausage topping, Patti has tortellini in brodo–one of Bologna’s signature dishes–and Diana has the other Bolognese signature dish–tagliatelle with ragu, which is pretty good. The wine–a Sangiovese from the restaurant’s own vineyard–is excellent–rich and smooth. Diana’s cotoletta Bolognese (a piece of fried veal with ham and cheese) is okay and Patti likes her filet. The off-the-menu dessert–a torta Sangiovese–a sort of fruit cake with Sangiovese wine sauce–is a bit weird.
After dinner, I walk Patti back to her hotel, say goodbye, stop for a gelato on the way back at GROM–the famous Torino chain (the fior di latte and stracciatella are both excellent). Back at the hotel, I do a little internet work before calling it a day.
Tomorrow we will go to St. Petronius and to the Museo Ebraico in the morning.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Day 8: Cortona

A bit about the Hotel San Michele… is handsome palazzo located just below the main piazza in Cortona…..our room is quite large and the light is not too bad. It has a tiled floor and a beamed ceiling and two windows that look out over the narrow Via Guelfa and the roofs of the buildings across the street. The bed is very comfortable, the bathroom is good-sized and the shower is excellent–lots of pressure and hot water. The breakfast room is large and the bread, pastries, fruit, yogurt, etc. are fine. There is a large, ornate sitting room on the second floor with a large fireplace but no one seems to use it…the light is certainly inadequate for reading. There are also a couple of outside areas–balconies and an interior court, but the sun doesn’t reach those areas and it is mostly too cool to sit outside. The staff is not particularly friendly or solicitous but on the whole, we are happy staying here.
Today we are going to Lake Trasimeno, a large, shallow lake just to the south of Cortona in the southwestern corner of Umbria. Before heading out, we stop at Alessandra’s shop and Diana has fun choosing a wedding present for a couple whose wedding we’ll be attending in November.
We take a roundabout route out of Cortona that takes to the east through very scenic mountain scenery–the forested hills are dotted with castles and small towns. The roads bends back to the west and suddenly the lake appears over the edge of the hill. The lake is almost circular and there are several islands in the middle. The entire lake shore is ringed with green woods and it looks very inviting. (When we report this to our son Seth–who, along with his brother Michael, once bicycled around the lake from Perugia on a hot, humid day in August on delapidated rented bikes– his only comment is “Lake Trasimeno is a mosquito-ridden swamp.” We don’t share his opinion on this slighly overcast day in October.)
Our first stop is the beach in Tuoro sul Trasimeno….it is just about deserted on a Tuesday morning in early October, but the beach looks nice, the water looks clean, there are bars and restaurants, playgrounds, a ferry dock, and a park with modern statues on the shore.
We walk out on the long ferry pier, survey the lake, have a coffee and move on–in search of the site of Hannibal’s victory over the Romans in 217 BC. There is supposedly a driving itinerary that guides you through the valley where the battle took place but the “percorso” is poorly signed and the newly built observation platforms along the route have no explanatory material–only blank signboards.
In any case, we get a picture of what it was like on the day of the battle–the Roman army trapped in the low-lying terrain and hemmed in by the lake and Hannibal’s army swooping down on them from the hills above to defeat them soundly. Sanguinetto–one of the hamlets on the route–refers to the bloody battle and the name Annibale frequently appears in the names of agriturismi and B&Bs.
After surveying the battlefield, it is time for lunch so we drive to Castiglione del Lago, a very pretty village set on a small hill overlooking the west shore of the lake. Castiglione del Lago is a member of the association called “I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia” and, in fact, it is quite “bello”. There is a castle, a palazzo and very well kept main street; the village sits on a peninsula jutting out into the lake so there are views on both sides.
The weather has improved since the morning and we choose a restaurant with an outdoor dining terrace though we notice all the non-Italians sit out there and the Italian customers sit inside -no doubt they think it’s too cool outdoors.
Lunch is very pleasant and the food is very good. I have the Trasimeno menu–carp roe spread on toast, a tasty spaghetti with a fish sauce and a delicious piece of roast carp. Diana has an unmemorable first course and a beautifully prepared lake trout. A half liter of local white wine goes down very easily.
Back in Cortona, we spend an hour in the Etruscan Museum. There is an extensive collection of Etruscan and Roman finds from the area that are beautifully displayed in the grand palazzo…lots of glass cases and innovative presentations. The highlights of the collection are the Tabula Cortonensis–bronze plaques from the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., that is inscribed with a legal text written in the Etruscan language– and an extremely elaborate and intricate Etruscan bronze candlelabra from the 5th century B.C.
On the upper floors, there is one room devoted to the 20th century painter, Cortona-born Gino Severini, which has some of his Futurist works and some more representational pictures, and some very nice paintings by Signorelli, da Cortona and Pinturicchio.
Our only complaint with the museum is the difficult to follow explanatory material; much of it appears in English but is displayed in a hard to read format and is translated with a heavy hand.
We meet Alessandra in the Piazza Signorelli (in front of her shop) and go to the Osteria del Teatro a few blocks up the hill. Dinner is both very tasty and a lot of fun…Alessandra is great company. The restaurant is nearly full on this Tuesday night (Note: whenever you go to Cortona, make reservations for dinner.) but it is pleasantly full…not too noisy. I have a farro soup with mushrooms and a lamb shank–both very good, Diana has a stuffed pasta with pear and walnut sauce to start and she and Alessandra have a very good filet with pepper sauce and parmesan cheese. They have charlotte russe for dessert and we drink an excellent bottle of a local syrah.

We say good night promising to stop by her shop in the morning before we leave for Bologna.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Day 7: Cortona

The day starts out a little overcast, cool and breezy as we head down the hill and get in the car. Our first stop is for gas and, since various warning lights have been flashing intermittently, to check the oil. We fill up (I notice later that the charge comes to over $100.00 US on the on-line credit card statement) and put in a liter of oil–$17.00. I will ask Europcar to reimburse for that charge.
Our first destination is the hill town of Castiglion Fiorentino, located between Cortona and Arezzo. It is another steep hill town and we drive through the narrow town gates and park in the lot in the main piazza almost at the top of the town. This piazza has very lovely “loggia with a view”–it was designed by Vasari and the arches frame a beautiful view of the countryside.
After admiring the view, we climb up to the top of the town where a medieval tower overlooks the Val di Chiana and there is a nice tree lined park with benches and a playing field.
There are some Etruscan excavations, a small museum and an picture gallery in the hilltop complex but they are only open on weekends. We buy some fruit is the “fruttaverdura” in the piazza and head down the hill. We cross the valley which is heavily cultivated–many of the fields have just been tilled but we don’t know if they will be planting anything at this season.

We pull into the parking lot of Monte San Savino, a pretty little town set on a small hill. The main street is lined with large “palazzi” and in the town hall, we see a big crowd and everyone is speaking English….not a Italian in sight. We figure that they are there for a wedding which had taken place in the garden in back of the town hall.

One of the signs outside of the town said that there was an “ex-sinagoga” in Monte San Savino so we set out in search of it. Since it is lunch time, there are not many San Savinese around and the tourist office is closed. We don’t find the “ex-sinagoga” but walk down some back streets and peek into the church of Sant’Agostino which has some nice 16th century frescoes on the walls.
Our plan for lunch is to eat at a place above Cortona, where we had eaten on our first trip to the area. We take the faster route on the autostrada, climb the hill beyond Cortona, pull into the parking lot and… is closed. Although I had looked up their closing day before we went, they have apparently changed it. Lesson learned–call before making a long trip (just in case).
We drive back into the center of Cortona (from the top this time) and I park at a legal space near the Duomo. Our second choice for lunch is also closed and since it is about 2 pm by now, we sit down at an empty table in the sun outside the Trattoria Antica. Lunch is mixed…the mixed antipasto that we share is fine and my fritto misto (fish, calamari and shrimp) is tasty but Diana’s lasagne is bit heavy–too much bechamel.

After lunch, I move the car and drive up to the top of the town to look at the Sancturio of Santa Margherita, which is set in a wonderful position under the Fortezza. I take the opportunity to drive back down through the narrow and winding streets of the “centro storico”. The drive is a lot of fun and I get to see parts of the town that we hadn’t yet reached on foot.
For dinner that night, we walk around the corner to an attractivelittle trattoria La Grotta, set at the end of dead end street right off the main piazza. But, without a reservation, we are turned away—they are completely booked on a Monday night in October. The next place we try is half way down the hill, La Buccaccia. It is also very crowded but the boss points us to one of the empty tables on the street that are set up in multi-level enclosure.
The menu is slightly creative but we are happy to be seated. The proprietor is very flamboyant–in English and Italian–and the clientele is mostly English-speaking. It turns out that the experience is very mixed. My antipasto–crostini with lardo is excellent–and Diana’s crostini are pretty good. But service is extremely slow and Diana’s bistecca fiorentina is nowhere near as good as the one everyone shared the day before at Locanda Acquaviva and my “pasta dish” called a “nastrine”–slices of pasta made with potatoes with black pepper and pecorino (like a cacio e pepe) is a bit weird. The small portion of fresh porcini are tasty but hardly worth the Euro 8.50 that they cost. The wine–a Rosso di Montalcino–is excellent however. This is not one of our better restaurant meals - we now know that in heavily touristed Cortona, you need to make reservations.

We walk back up the hill with the couple who had been at the next table–they were also taken aback by the price of the meal–and call it a night.

Tomorrow we are planning to explore Lake Trasimeno and the site of Hannibal’s victory over the Romans.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Day 6: Cortona

Despite a lot of noise from the street during the night, we sleep pretty well. The weather has definitely changed–it is sunny this morning but much cooler than it has been. Breakfast at the hotel is quite good; the cornetti are especially nice.

After breakfast, we walk through the piazza to the Duomo for a quick look around and then go to see the paintings in the Museo Diocesano across the way. We first admire the spectacular view over the valley and back into the heavily forested hillsides. Cortona being in the far southeast corner of Tuscany, the countryside has a definite Umbrian look.
We play hide and seek in the museum with a large Italian tour group….at one point, they are asked to move from in front the “piece de resistance” of the collection–Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. We remember being blown away by the painting when we first saw it….however this time, it makes less of an impact on us - don’t know why. The museum has a number of paintings by Signorelli, da Cortona and other local artists, but for me, the highlight this time are the very striking frescoes in the chapel–mostly of Old Testament scenes and an ornate ceiling fresco of the Apostles. On the staircase, there are reproductions of the Stations of the Cross, a series of mosaics done by the local Futurist artist Gino Sevirini that line the street that leads to the Sanctuario of Santa Margherita at the top of the town. They were commissioned by the citizens of Cortona to give thanks because the town wasn’t destroyed during the Second World War.
After the museum, we stop at Il Girasole, the shop owned by Alessandra Federici whom we “know” through the internet (the Slow Travel message board) but have never met in person. We have a nice get together over a cup of coffee; she is a vivacious person and her English is excellent–very idiomatic which she attributes to her hanging out with the American students who studied Italian at the language program run by the University of Georgia in Cortona. We make plans to have dinner together on Tuesday.
We go down the steep hill to the parking lot and head off to meet Maureen and Franco for lunch in the country near the Umbrian border. The weather has turned overcast as we drive through spectacular scenery–green forested hillsides punctuated with stunning views. We find the restaurant–part of the Agriturismo Acquaviva–and wait for a few minutes until Maureen, Franco and their friends Bob, Bonnie and Nancy arrive. Nancy Harmon Jenkins is food journalist and lives nearby; she knows the family that run the restaurant and we get a warm welcome.

The lunch is another quintessential Italian dining experience….a long, leisurely Sunday afternoon meal…course after course of delicious things to eat, good local wine and good conversation. We start off with a local flat bread–warm from the stove–called ‘caccia that accompanies platters of prosciutto and salumi–all delicious. Pastas include fettucine with fresh porcini or a meat ragu and a wonderful lasagne–thin sheets of pasta and a great meat sauce. This is followed by a bistecca fiorentina and an arrosto of maiale (pork roast) and various vegetables–sauteed cabbage and greens, cardoons (a celery like vegetable) parmigiano (a meat sauce) and wonderful fried porcini that Nancy had brought and Maria (the cook) had prepared.
[Franco with the “remains” of the fiorentina] [Nancy and Maureen–after lunch]
[Maria, the cook]
After three hours of non-stop eating and talking, we say our goodbyes. Nancy tells us that she is planning to be in Bologna later in the week to do some research for a story and invites us to have dinner with her. We exchange phone numbers so that we can make the arrangements.
When we get back, I take a short walk around the town with my computer, looking for a wireless signal that I can use (I am getting a little impatient with the dialup connection) but the quest is unsuccessful. But I do take some pictures of the Cortona “centro storico” with the Cortonese hanging out in the square.
It is hard to believe that we will want to eat dinner but, at 8:30, after a rest, we decide to head out for a light supper of pizza. The pizza that they we are served seems to be very much in the Roman tradition–very light and crispy crust, but it is just what we are looking for. The toppings–prosciutto, tomatoes and arugula for me, spicy salami and cheese for Diana—are tasty and–as long as we didn’t think of it as pizza–it was fine.
By 10 pm, we are pretty tired so we walk back to the hotel with no detours.
Tomorrow we plan to explore some of the towns on the west side of the Val di Chiana.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Day 5: Soriano nel Cimino-Cortona

Another nice day in Soriano. This morning we pack up and get ready to leave. Michael brings his car up and we load the luggage. While he is waiting for us, a car pulls in back of him (the road is too narrow for a car to get past) and Michael asks him to wait a few minutes. While waiting, the driver (who Michael doesn’t know at all) pulls out two cell phones and asks if Michael can help him switch the SIM card from one to the other. That mission accomplished, we load his car and take the luggage to our car in the parking lot.

Before leaving Soriano, we go back to the piazza for a last coffee at Caffe Centrale and say goodbye to all our “friends” in Soriano. The piazza here is sort of like the Champs d’Elysee…if you sit long enough, it is said you will eventually meet everyone you know. Michael offers to drive us back to the parking lot, which is only a few hundred yards away from the piazza. But since he is parked just below the piazza, the one-way traffic patterns force him to make a complete circuit of the town on the “ring road” (maybe 2 miles) in order to get back to the piazza going the right way to get to the parking lot.
We say our final goodbyes and as I begin to pull out of my space, a young Italian man comes up and courteously asks if we can wait before pulling out while he calls his friends who are circling Soriano in their car looking for a parking space. We happily agree and they are very appreciative.
We are meeting our friends Franco and Maureen in Orvieto just before noon, where will eat “lunch” (which will last all day) at the Slow Food sponsored event called “Orvieto con Gusto”. The event is an Italian progressive meal “A spasso con gusto” where you have appetizers at one location in town, walk to another for the pasta course, then to a third place for the secondo and to a fourth setting for dessert. You are given a wine glass and bag on a string to carry around your neck, and you present the glass at each location for more wine. Diana thinks this is the quintessential Italian event…combining eating, drinking, socializing and walking and making a meal last all day.
It is an easy drive to Orvieto on the autostrada and we park in our “regular” parking lot on the far side of town where we then take the escalator into the centro. We hook up with Franco and Maureen and their friends Joel and Trish in front of the town hall where Franco is meeting the mayor who is accompanying us on the food expedition. (Franco does a lot of consulting with Orvieto on traffic issues and, in fact, the mayor officiated at Maureen and Franco’s wedding.)

En route to the “antipasto”, we are joined by the Mayor’s wife and his five year old son. The antipasto course is held in an old army barracks on the other side of the town so we are able to do some sightseeing and build up an appetite on the way. The antipasto plate is excellent (guanciale, soft salami, cheese, etc.)–it turns out to be the best course–and the Orvieto white wine is a nice accompaniment. The second course–a chickpea and chestnut soup–requires a walk across Orvieto back to the opposite side of the city.
More wine and then a march past the magnificent Duomo.
to the Underground Orvieto park where we have some tasty “beef stew” and polenta made of farro (we both think that corn is better for polenta), drink some local red wine and enjoy the gorgeous view over the countryside.
Thankfully the rain that is threatening holds off (after a few drops) and we make our way back to the Piazza del Popolo for dessert–chocolate cake, candied orange peel coated in chocolate and some dessert wine. Four hours later, lunch is finished. We say goodbye to everyone and head back down to the parking lot. We will see Maureen and Franco tomorrow for lunch near Cortona.
We arrive in Cortona - over the border in Tuscany - about 6:30 pm and drive up a very steep street to the centro. Our hotel–the San Michele–is just below the main piazza and we have to unload quickly because we don’t want to block traffic. Diana checks in and I drive back down the hill, park in the lot outside the walls and climb back up to the center. After unpacking and getting settled, we take a quick stroll down the main street–the Via Nazionale–which is jammed on this Saturday evening with mostly English-speakers, in the roadway and in the cafes.
We decide that we want a light dinner (after the full afternoon of eating) and head for a place–Pane e Vino–where they serve light meals. However, it is Saturday night and they are fully booked. We try two other places before getting seated at the Trattoria Dardano, which turns out to be a good choice. My small plate of salami is delicious, Diana’s caprese has good cheese but so-so tomatoes. The pastas–ravioli with sage and butter for Diana and fettucine with mushrooms for me–were both good, and the service–after a slow start since the place was so crowded–was very good. It was also very reasonably priced ….Euro 28.00 (about $40.00 US).
We stop for a quick gelato on the way back to the hotel…..the crowds have disappeared for the most part and the town is now pretty quiet.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Day 4: Soriano nel Cimino

We have another satisfying breakfast in our apartment. I do love my large cups of strong drip coffee;Michael has the coffee blended and ground specifically to his taste by a local coffee shop. Today we are going to visit a villa near Orte (20 minutes away) with Mary Jane Cryan–an ex-pat American living in Vetralla whom we met through the internet. Her web site
is full of information on the area of northern Lazio. We meet Michael, Mary Jane and her friend Fulvio in the piazza for coffee and then we take a tour of the three apartments that Michael rents in Soriano…all in the Rocca rione and all very nicely designed. We make a quick stop at Michael’s house in the country; the farm house is from Paola’s family and they are in the midst of a major renovation which will enlarge it and make it quite spectacular.
The villa outside of Orte is owned by a Belgian woman–Elisabetta–married to an Italian. She is a practicing medical doctor with a family but she rents the house out during the summer and sometimes takes guests for bed and breakfast. The villa is beautifully sited with a pool, terrace and plenty of space to stretch out in. We get a tour of the house and enjoy a late morning “snack” of coffee, fruit, cheese and prosecco while talking and enjoying the sunny day and the view.
We had planned to go to lunch in Orte but Mary Jane has to get back to Vetralla, so we head back to Soriano and have a light lunch in one of the trattorie just off the piazza. The pasta is a local specialty–gnocchi col di ferro–which is more like a lighter version of pici –and the sauces–al funghi for me and arrabiata (spicy) for them–is very good.
After lunch, we head back up the hill to the apartment to work and rest—tonight there is a big ceremony in the piazza…the benediction of the participants in the festival’s contests….followed by dinners served in the tavernas of each of the rione.

I take a quick walk around town….up to the Castello that crowns the town and down to the Palazzo Chigi-Albano and the Fontana Papacqua which was one of the noble palaces but has been left to deteriorate and just now is being fixed up. The Castello used to be a prison and they haven’t done much to spruce it up. The views are very nice and they have some art exhibitions in some of the rooms. They are setting up for a market during the festival weekend but most of the vast space is empty.
The Palazzo Chigi-Albani is down some steep streets and steps below the piazza….there is a lot of construction equipment and scaffolding set up but the main gate is slightly ajar so I go in. According to the Cadogan Guide, “the 16th century Palazzo Chigi-Albani, a Mannerist confection designed by Vignola, consists of two wings united by the extraordinary Fontana Papacqua, decorated with eleven “mascherone” and other figures, and a sculptural group featuring Moses in the central niche.” There are many broken windows and the interiors seem to be in very bad shape. Michael told us that only twenty years ago the place was a showpiece but the city has let it slip into ruin and only now are they making an attempt to restore it.
There are two buildings that are connected by a very ornate fountain–the Papacqua decorated with large carvings, statues and bas-reliefs on two faces. There is no water flowing at the time but it is still very impressive.
I stop to buy a porchetta sandwich from the butcher shop that we pass everyday… is very good…..a very tasty late afternoon snack.
The weather is beginning to threaten…the wind is blowing and rain appears imminent….but as we leave for the opening ceremonies, the threat has disappeared and the evening is very pleasant. The grandstands that have been set up in the piazza are filled when we arrive and there are people several deep standing around the square. We stake out a position opposite the duomo to watch as each of the four “rione” march in–drummers, trumpeters, flag-bearers, an archer and finally, the horse and rider that will represent the neighborhood in the weekend’s competitions. There are speeches and the horses and riders are blessed by the priest – and the rione are assigned starting positions for the competitions later in the weekend.
The person in the white shirt and shorts is Michael Kovnick, who is photographing the event.
The audience is very involved in the ceremony, cheering loudly when their “rione” enters the square. This type of Italian sagra is definitely not staged for the tourists (there are hardly any except for us) but is an important part of the town tradition.
As we are watching the ceremony, I see a familiar face walk past …a person we know from Washington D.C. who used to handle the coffee bar at Casa Italiana (our language school), worked for Alitalia at Dulles and whom we would meet at Italian movies in D.C. Antonio is also very surprised and pleased to see us…it turns out that his family is from Soriano and he was born here, moved to Rome when he was five but used to spend summers in Soriano with his grandparents. He is here for the Sagra and is visiting his brother who still lives in Soriano. It is a small world…..
After the ceremony, we go to the rione dinner in Papacqua with Michael, his family and friends. The dinner is held in the large vaulted room that is the rione headquarters. Dinner is loud and lots of fun—bruschetta, polenta with ragu, steaks, sausages, good Marche wine. At the dinner, we meet all the people that we know in Soriano….Carla, Rita, Maurizio, Tiziana, even Antonio is there… we feel quite connected, and very comfortable.

After dinner, we go to the piazza with our table and have a goodnight coffee before heading up the hill to the apartment. The partying in town continues and we hear the music from a concert being held in the Trinita neighborhood.
Tomorrow we leave Soriano (somewhat reluctantly) for Cortona.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Day 3: Soriano nel Cimino

Another bright and sunny morning in Soriano nel Cimino. I walk down to town for breakfast supplies, today stopping in both the bakery (for rolls) and the pasticceria (for cornetti)--both are delicious---again.

A word about our is very comfortable with a bedroom with a comfortable bed, bathroom, and a combination living-room, dining-room kitchen--all very well equipped with television (satellite with English channels), dvd player, full stove, dishwasher, washing machine, all necessary kitchen utensils and dishes, American drip coffee machine and sophisticated espresso machine. Arriving guests find fresh flowers, a bottle of wine and one of olive oil, pastries, rolls, fruit, drinks in the refrigerator, fresh vegetables with seasoned oil for dipping. Michael and Paola really go all out. The apartment is in a small courtyard off the street to the castle and has a killer view from the bedroom window and out of the dining room french doors and off the small balcony. The bathroom is in fact a little tight but is manageable. It's a very steep climb from the piazza to the apartment, but also manageable. Here is a picture of the steps leading to the apartment and a planter (not Michael's, but reflecting the town's politics) in the courtyard.

For a better view of the apartment, take a look at the web site at the La Campana apartment.

And a word about the Sagra del Castagne, the big festival that is taking place during part of our stay. This is a big party built around the chestnut harvest and the traditional rivalries of the four rione (neighborhoods) of Soriano--Rocca (where we are staying), Papacqua, Trinita' and San Giorgio. The four neighborhoods meet at the central piazza but each is distinctively decorated and getting ready for the parades, feasts and competitions (jousting, archery, etc.) that make up the Sagra.

Here is the web site (in Italian) that will give you an idea about the activities.

After breakfast, we head out for the short drive north to Bomarzo. Bomarzo is a small hill town with a dramatic setting perched high above the countryside but its most famous attraction is the "Monster Park" or "Parco del Mostro"...a very kitch creation of an Orsini lord in the 16th century. Instead of creating a lush, manicured garden (like the Villa Lante), this noblemen commissioned scores of fantastic sculptures and a couple of buildings and set them in a park like setting under his castle. Today the park is a private attraction and is set up like a roadside themepark...albeit with the attractions 400 years old. Some people love the park, others hate it--the writers of the Cadogan Guide call it "dreary and over-rated" and criticize the picnic groves, gift shop, video games that you have to go through to get to the park.

Me, I liked the "Sacro Bosco"--or the Sacred Wood as it was called--I found the statuary very appealing in a quirky way. The structures range from the house that is built off-kilter (on purpose) to the Tempietto that calls to mind something from Palladio

you never know what to expect next.

You encounter large monstrous faces ready to devour passers-by

elephants and bears

giants struggling and ladies reclining

to say nothing of fierce dragons....

and all while taking a nice stroll in the woods.

After our experience in the Monster Park, we have worked up an appetite, so we drive back to Soriano, buy some sandwich fixings and fruit - local pomegranates and grapes - and drive up to the top of the nearby mountain--Monte Cimino--and have a picnic lunch in the beautiful forest called the Faggeta that covers the mountain. We have almost the entire mountain to ourselves...there are hiking trails and picnic tables and a big restaurant/bar close to the top.

Later in the afternoon, we take a quick trip to Viterbo, the provincial capital and one-time home of the Papacy on one of their enforced absences from Rome. By luck, we park in the old medieval neighborhood of San Pellegrino and spend about an hour strolling through the very austere streets dotted with pretty squares, fountains and lively shopping areas. We spend a few minutes admiring the Piazza Duomo and the Papal Palace, a very Gothic looking building from the 13th century.

We get stuck in Viterbo rush hour traffic as we head back to Soriano. Arriving back around 7:30 we find a parking space right next to the place where we plan on eating--the Taverna dei Fratti. Since it has been a full day, we decide to have an early dinner even though the restaurant is mostly empty. Dinner is excellent--we share an antipasto plate, we share a local pici-like thick pasta with a ragu and a fettucine with porcini and sausage--both are very good. Diana enjoys her lamb chops and roast potatoes and I like my grilled sausage and sauteed chicory. We finish off a bottle of red from southern Tuscany and neither of us have room for dessert.

The walk back through the piazza and up to our apartment is pleasant. We can see the neighborhoods getting ready for the festival activities that begin tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day 2: Soriano nel Cimino

We sleep through the night (very soundly) and wake up to the sounds of the church bells in the steeple right next door ringing at 7:30 a.m. The sky is bright and sunny out as I head down the hill to pick up supplies for breakfast--tea, rolls, butter, cheese, etc. We have a leisurely breakfast and I enjoy the "luxury" (in Italy) of three cups of strong drip coffee with my breakfast. Michael and Paola have outfitted their apartments with features appealing to Americans including coffee ground for an American-style drip coffee maker, and wi-fi and a computer.

We don't head out until about 11 a.m. (we try to do a laundry--the clothes we wore on the airplane--but we can't get the washer to start, so we will have to wait until we return when someone can come up and tell us what we are doing wrong). We are heading first to Farfa (a town we had visited on our Spring trip) on a shopping expedition....Diana had bought some dish towels there and wished she had bought more. She tried to buy them on-line but the shipping cost was prohibitive so we decided to return to buy more. The drive takes about an hour--partly on the autostrada and partly on pretty country roads.

While Diana makes her purchases, I wander around the very picturesque little village and revisit the beautiful little church with its striking stone floors and attractive frescoes.

By the time we leave Farfa, it is almost lunch time so we stop in the town of Montopoli in Sabina (just up the road) at an alimentari to buy sandwiches, fruit and water. We find a bench under a tree with a view over the countryside and enjoy our lunch.

After lunch, we stroll through the "borgo mediovale" which turns out to be a very pleasant "mostly" pedestrian only "centro" with wide streets and attractive squares.

We climb up to the top of the town where there is a "belvedere" with broad views over the Tiber Valley towards Rome.

There are also a few very large "Mexican" style murals that are bright but seem a bit out of place in this Italian hill town. We wonder about their provenance.

Driving back towards Soriano, we decide to take a detour to Civita Castellana and see if the town looks as nice in the daytime as it did last night. We take back roads that meander up and down the hills through the Tiber Valley, passing a number of fortified villages en route. One large hill town that I had never heard of--Sant'Oreste--is set dramatically on the side of Monte Soratte.

When we drive through Civita Castellana in the full light of day, it turns out that it is more like we remember it from our stay there four years ago.....the warm lighting of the street lamps gave it a much more attractive appearance in the night time.

We make a brief stop at the Roman city of Falerii Novi, which has a good amount of Roman walls left standing, a Romanesque church, some dense patches of blackberry bushes and not much else.

Our last stop on this excursion is in Bagnaia--the Villa Lante, one of the large gardens established by the ruling families of the area in the 16th century. First, we stop for an excellent gelato in the main piazza (Diana particularly likes the nocciola made from local hazelnuts). The gardens are dramatically sited on a slope overlooking Bagnaia....the lowest level is an intricate manicured formal garden with a large fountain in the middle.

The rest of the garden climbs up the hill and features long water courses and basins and fantastic statuary. While we are there, we see several gardeners hard at work to keep the gardens looking well groomed.


When we get back to the apartment in Soriano, Rita (one of the people who takes care of the apartments) comes up to check on the washing machine. It turns out that we didn't have one of the control dials in the right position so the "problem" is resolved in a minute and the machine is working. Then Michael calls to invite us to accompany him to dinner at friends of his--Romans who have a house and farm near Soriano. They are building a new b&b on their property, where they also grow hazelnuts, grapes and olives--"the three important food groups". We drive out with him to a place only a few miles from the "centro storico" and meet Maurizio and Tiziana and some of their friends and family for a "informal dinner". They have a fantastic house in a beautiful setting and before dinner, Maurizio invites us into his "cantina" to sample the newly made grape "mosto" which has just begun to ferment.

We really hit it off with them and have a wonderful evening and a terrific dinner--fettucine with freshly gathered mushrooms brought by Michael's brother-in-law Sergio, roast pork and roast potatoes, salad and ice cream, washed down with Maurizio's wine. After dinner, we tour the soon to open bed and breakfast which is quite spectacular....Michael will help with the promotion of the b&b on the internet as well as providing some management assistance.

We finally head back to Soriano about midnight - it's been a full day.

Tomorrow we are planning to visit the "Monster Park" at Bomarzo.

Day 1: Soriano nel Cimino

The flight over is, in fact, one of our better ones. Using frequent flyer miles, we are on Iberia--Dulles to Madrid and on to Rome. The trans-Atlantic trip is not exactly comfortable--the seats are very narrow--but I have a bulkhead seat and Diana has no one next to her. The food is palatable and the plane arrives on time--not too bad. The connection in Madrid is smooth--the airport is sleek and new, but the walk (even with moving sidewalks) from the arrival gate to the gate from the Rome flight seems endless. The flight to Rome is delayed while we wait for 30 people arriving from Mexico but, as per usual, the seats on the intra-European flights are more comfortable than the ones on the trans-Atlantic ones.

Baggage arrives fairly promptly and the car rental is uneventful. We take the back roads to Soriano nel Cimino--our first stop--driving through the rolling hills of central Lazio, past the beautiful volcanic Lake Vico set in a dark green wood, past hazelnut groves and then through chestnut forests on the slopes of Monte Cimino, where we see people on the sides of the roads picking up fallen chestnuts.

Soriano nel Cimino suddenly appears in front of us, a dense hill town topped with a large fortified castle.

We drive into town--with a slight detour when we drive the wrong way down a one way street--and meet Michael Kovnick (our "landlord", who is a frequent poster on the Slow Travel message board) in the Caffe Centrale. Since parking is limited and the apartment is located on a narrow, winding street in the hilly quarter under the Orsini castle, we convoy to the parking lot and then he ferries us (and our luggage) up to the apartment.

The apartment is quite nice with a great view out of the window over the town.

After he shows us around the apartment, we unpack, get the computer connected (there is a wi-fi connection) and take showers. I go out for a short exploration of the town to get my bearings. Soriano is very lively and larger than I expected--lots of traffic which is exacerbated by the arrangements for the big chestnut festival that will take place on the weekend.

Michael invites us to come with him to Civita Castellana (about 30 minutes away) for dinner with a friend of his who has an apartment in the center of town. Even though we are afraid that jet lag will hit us on our first day, we decide to go. After a rest, we take a little stroll in town before he picks us up for the drive to Civita Castellana. We had actually stayed there for a week four years ago so I am able to give him driving directions into the centro storico. We had liked staying in Civita Castellana but had not thought it was a particularly attractive town...however, under the streetlights, the town looked a lot nicer than we remembered.

Michael's friend Alison--who also sometimes posts on Slow Travel--lives in a spectacular apartment right across from the Duomo...high ceilings with wooden carvings, large rooms...which she had remodelled and fixed up herself. We meet some of her ex-pat friends and end up going out to dinner. The first place we head for is closed but we have a very pleasant meal at an informal trattoria called Mignolo....I have a lasagna-like dish which is both delicate and tasty and Diana's ravioli-like pasta is also very good.

Dinner goes on for a while and we don't leave Civita Castellana until almost 11 and don't get to bed in Soriano until after 11:30 pm...a very long first day. We hope it means that we will have no trouble sleeping through the night and avoiding any effects of jet lag.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Itinerary for Fall 2007

Here is the itinerary for this trip.

Oct. 2-6: Soriano nel Cimino (a small town just north of Rome)
Oct. 6-10: Cortona
Oct. 10-14: Bologna
Oct. 14-18: Belluno (a city between Venice and the Dolomites)
Oct. 18-28: Venice
Oct. 28-Nov. 1: Rome

Here is a link to a Google map that shows the itinerary on the map of Italy.

Zurer: Italy - October 2007