Surprising Gaeta, Italy; You Haven’t Heard of It But You Should

Featured

Tags

, , ,


castellogaeta

 “Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.”  Nicola Tarallo

 Nicola Tarallo is very passionate about his hometown of Gaeta.  Acting as the town ambassador, Nicola not only knows everyone but also little secrets that guide books don’t tell you.

Just south of Rome by 86 miles and 59 miles north of Naples, Gaeta is a stunning seaside village with golden sandy beaches. It is still a bit undiscovered, but if you find Nicola there it won’t remain a mystery for long. On his website, he has a long list of fans that have visited him in Gaeta.  His authentic friendship and helpfulness are highly regarded. His enthusiasm and warm-hearted friendliness will convince you that you have a solid friend that you can depend on.

Have you ever heard of tiella? I never had, until I “met” Nicola on Twitter. He was excited to discover not only my passion for Italy but that my hometown of Portland, Oregon is where he spent a year attending college.

Nicola has learned the secrets of traditional family meals handed down through many generations. His nonna, mother and aunts cooked over a wood fired oven, teaching him their recipes for traditional local cuisine. One popular specialty in particular is called the tiella. This is a pie shaped dish made of thin layers of dough crimped around the edges to enclose a seafood or vegetable filing. They have become so popular that Nicola has written an e-book, Mangia Tiella, complete with photos and instructional videos. Tiella can be found in almost every bakery and pizzeria in Gaeta. It can be eaten hot or cold and always eaten with one’s hands. Nicola teaches cooking classes on the fine art of making tiella in his home.

zucchinitiellasptylemetti

Born in a family committed to high standards and a deep love for their hometown of Gaeta, it is no wonder Nicola fosters the same passion and talent for creative cooking and writing. His grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, wrote several books about the traditions of Gaeta and about the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” He received the gold medal from the President of the Republic for good service in the public school system.

Nicola's nonna makes a mean tiella!

Nicola’s nonna makes a mean tiella!

Enjoy the following interview I had just recently with Nicola Tarallo.

Were you born in Gaeta? If so, what was it like growing up in Gaeta? Do you have a particular memory about it?

I was born and raised in Gaeta. It is a safe place to grow up. Gaeta is a very small city with a population of 22,000. You can walk the streets and beaches freely. I finished school through high school. I have good memories of when Gaeta was less populated, and there was more space in the town and on the beaches.

metti5sgosto20132013

What inspired you to carry on your family’s tradition of writing books, teaching how to make tiella, and promoting Gaeta?

My lifelong passion for cooking has developed throughout my life while watching and helping my grandmother Maria and my mother Nives prepare delicious Italian dishes in the family’s kitchens. All of my books originate from my love of Gaeta and of my family: I helped my grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, draft and prepare several books about the traditions and history of Gaeta and on the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” I also published a book of my grandmother’s poems written about their beloved Gaeta.

DSC08160crop-700x650

Nicola and a happy tiella class…now they get to taste them!

Your grandfather Nicola and grandmother played a big role in your life. What more do you remember about them?

While my Grandfather and Grandmother were writing their books they did not have a computer, everything was finished with a typewriter, after everything was written by hand.

What are the regional foods of Gaeta?

La Tiella is the most distinctive dish in the city of Gaeta –  kind of a double crusted deep pizza or pie. Traditionally is made with seafood (squid, anchovies or catch of the day) or vegetable. Any seasonal vegetable is suitable for la tiella: zucchini, escarole and spinach are popular favorites. Also Olives of Gaeta are very popular all over the world. Easter Cake (Tortano) and traditional Christmas Cookies (Mostaccioli, Roccocò, Susamieglie, Sciuscèlle)

When you aren’t busy teaching and promoting Gaeta, what other passions do you have?

I enjoy riding my beach bike, and walking on the beach, or up the Regional Park of Monte Orlando.

What is your definition of authentic Italian cuisine?

Using fresh products in every dish you make.

Do you teach tiella making in your home?

I teach Tiella making in my home, and I share my grandmother’s wonderful tiella making tips and techniques. I teach how to prepare the different fillings (zucchini, cheese, anchovy, onion etc.). how to knead the dough; how to roll out the dough; how to seal the two layers of dough in the shape of waves of the ocean.

What brought you to Portland for a year?

I was in Portland to attend College to study English and to practice at a Hospital for the Sleep Disorder Technician program.

What are the local wines and do they play a big part in the everyday life of the people?

Local wines do play a big part in the everyday life of the people. A small amount is usually served at the lunch and dinner hour every day.

nicvista

What is the dialect of Gaeta?

The dialect of Gaeta is similar to the dialect of Naples area.

Why should one visit Gaeta ~ what makes it stand out from other cities in Italy?

The weather is always nice all year round, it never gets too cold during the winter, and not to hot or humid during the summer. You are able to get fresh fish everyday from the local fish market. There is much history steeped between the narrow streets and churches to discover. One can be easily enticed into wanting to spend an extended amount of time basking on the golden, sunlit beaches and swimming in the warm summer waters. Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.

*Visit Nicola’s website for exciting articles and information about his beautiful Gaeta and family traditions at ladolcegaeta.com

*E-books by Nicola, including how to make tiella, sweets, touring Gaeta and the history at ladolcegaeta.com

Click on Nicola Tarallo to follow on Facebook

Tuscany’s Villa Vignamaggio ~Much Ado About Mona Lisa

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,


Villa Vignamaggio in Greve in Chianti

Mona Lisa was born here…..or was she?

Considered to be one of the oldest and most enchanting wine estates in Tuscany, the vast 14th century Renaissance Villa Vignamaggio contains all of 85 rooms on a 400 acre wine estate in the Chianti region. Hills, vineyards, castles and cypress trees create a mythical landscape appropriate to the mysterious shroud that surrounds the villa.

Much debate exists concerning Mona Lisa’s place of birth. A noblewoman by the name of Lisa Gherardini and wife of rich silk merchant Francisco Giocondo, she is famous for her portrait by Renaissance painter Leonardo di Vinci. It was her husband who commissioned Leonardo to paint his wife, yet Leonardo refused to part with the painting. He took it into France and kept it with him until his death when it became part of the French royal collection.

Those of the Villa Vignamaggio claim that she was born within its walls in 1479. It has been noted by some that if one looks closely at the background of the painting, they will see the same view as that from the Villa terrace, suggesting that the picture was painted from there.

Leonardo scholar Giuseppe Palanti, after studying the city of Florence’s archives for decades, is convinced that Mona Lisa was born in a house on the side street of Via Maggio in Florence. Later, Mona Lisa lived very close to Leonardo in San Lorenzo as a young married woman.
DSC01056

Much Ado About Nothing, a 1993 adaption of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, was filmed at Villa Vignamaggio in Chianti. In the movie, Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves duke it out as the one accuses the other of infidelity just prior to her wedding day. However, merriment and love eventually find their way into the elegant Italian gardens surrounding the estate with much singing and dancing.

It is interesting to note that both Leonardo and Shakespeare came from insignificant backgrounds but rose to universal acclaim.

Enter through the door

Enter through the door

Passing through the entrance gate on a visit last September was like walking into a pristine medieval realm. Tall stately trees lined the side of the stairs, reminding me of attentive soldiers. At the top a vast garden spread out before the long and palatial villa. I ran my hand over the prickly forest green hedges trimmed with care. Bright red geraniums and pink impatients brought splashes of color against the variegated foliage. A young couple conversing softly in a corner nook is all I could hear in the surrounding silence.

DSC01034

Fine gravel walkways crunched under my feet and rambled all throughout the grounds, accentuated with occasional terracotta pots of flowering geraniums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Copy of the Mona Lisa ~ Vasari, art historian of the Renaissance, notes that Leonardo hired jesters and singers to keep a smile on her face while he painted her.

DSC01041

Rolling vineyards at the estate

Vineyards of the Vignamaggio estate

The winery at the Villa is a major supplier to the Quirinal, or Presidential Palace in Rome as well as to the Senate of the Italian Republic. Vignamaggio produces 230,000 bottles of wine each year. After over 500 years of winemaking, the winery has gained prominent standing. The harvested grapes are processed through a strict regiment of fermentation which afterwards leaves the wine in oak barrels for 4 years. It is then divided between Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva I.G.T., and Vinsanto del Chianti Classico DOC. Roughly two-thirds of the bottles are exported, while the remaining third are sold within Italy and at the estate.

A host of amenities include swimming pools, horseback riding, bicycling, cooking classes, a spa center, and meandering walks among vineyards and olive groves.

Castello Verrazzano, another Renaissance wine estate and the birthplace of seafaring explorer Captain Verrazzano, can be seen on the neighboring hilltop.

Castello Verrazzano in Chianti

Castello Verrazzano in Chianti

My previous posts, “Captain Verrazzano’s Castle Wine Tour,” and “Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy” will reveal some exciting aspects that many are not aware of. Take a look, and understand the deeper spirit of Chianti.

*Villa Vignamaggio Accomodations 

 

Verona’s ‘Faire Old Castle’ ~ Lords of Foul Play?

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Castelvecchio, 'old castle', was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages

Castelvecchio, ‘old castle’, was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages

Mystery surrounds Lord Cangrande I (1291 to 1329), early Lord of Verona, like a dark shadow. Historical documents claimed he expired suddenly from polluted drinking water but doubt remained among scholars. Shocking results from a recent exhumation revealed toxic levels of digitalis, a strong poison from the Foxglove family, discovered throughout his liver and colon. It appears that he was likely poisoned under the cloak of medical treatment in the midst of his astounding military victories. One of his physicians was hung afterwards by his successor, Mastino II. Foul play? One would think so.

Lord Cangrande I was the most celebrated of the Scaliger family, the Lords of Verona, who ruled from 1260 to 1387. A noble ruler who was a warrior, prince and patron of Giotto, Dante and Petrarch, he didn’t live to set foot inside Castelvecchio.

Lord Cangrande II della Scala had the castle and bridge built in 1355 for his protection and that of his ruling family. With a reputation opposite that of his predecessor, he was a cruel and tyrannical governor who needed a safe escape route from his abundance of enemies. Venice, the Sforza family and the Gonzaga were a constant threat. He had no lack of forceful neighbors who surrounded his keep in Verona. If needed, the bridge would allow him to escape northwards to relatives in Tyrol.

DSC01349

William Shakespeare was smitten by the walls of Verona and immortalized them through the words of his Romeo ~

“There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence “banished” is banished from the world. And world’s exile is death.”  Romeo and Juliette, Act 3, Scene 3

The Adige River in Verona passes gently beneath the red brick segmental arches of the Scaliger Bridge. Graceful in bearing, it was the world’s largest span at the time of its medieval construction. White marble lines the lower sections of the nearly 49 meter length, which connects to the powerful fortress of Castelvecchio.

The day I visited the Castle was grey and chilly, making this imposing Gothic structure all the more real. As I crossed the bridge toward the castle, I passed striking M-shaped merlons (see in photo above) that ran along the top of the walls.  The brickwork opened regularly to offer a view of the river and surrounding countryside. Peace and tranquility permeated the ambience of this visually romantic castle fortress.

DSC01368

 

According to records, a tiny little church existed on this site prior to the castle’s construction. It’s name, San Martino in Acquaro, was adopted by the castle. It became known as Castello di San Martino in Acquaro. In 1404 it was renamed Castelvecchio, Old Castle, and became part of the Venetian Republic as their military compound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seven towers in a pentagonal shape give a magnificent character to the castle, which is divided into four buildings. The super lofty castle keep has four main buildings inside. And, a castle is rarely without a moat that surrounds it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The castle moat is no longer flowing with water from the Adige River, but is full of lush greenery. Notice the equestrian statue of Cangrande I Della Scala at the top center.

 

Lord Cangrande I Equestrian Statue of Cangrande I della Scalla, sandstone sculpture from the early 14th century housed in the Castle museum. 

DSC01360
The castle remained steeped in historical events. It was brutalized by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars of 1796 when the population reacted violently to the anti-French revolt. During WWII, the retreating Germans destroyed the bridge and tower (Ponte Pietra), which was rebuilt by dredging the river for the original mortar and bricks.

Carlos Scarpa, famous architect of his time, implemented a final restoration of the castle in 1958. Born in Venice, he was an artist very sensitive to historical times. As a result, the Castelvecchio was carefully repaired to its original design.

Castelvecchio_Verona-Castelvecchio_Bridge-Verona

Castelvecchio at night, photo credits by Google

 

 

A Village Stroll through Chianti

Featured

Tags

, , , , , ,


Panzano in Chianti

Panzano in Chianti

The early Fall morning in Chianti is crisp and quiet. My first night at the Castello Verrazzano (yes, the bridge in New York is named after Captain Verrazzano) in Greve leaves me refreshed and eager to explore the new surroundings. I hike up the half mile to the castle from my farmhouse lodgings and eat an early breakfast of artisan cheese and rustic bread washed down with a rich brew of fresh coffee. My fellow lodgers and I share our plans for the day, from winery tours to B&B shopping. Gazing off the deck high above the valley, rows of vineyards swell gently over the landscape. Every row is straight and precise. Another castle sits like a crown jewel on the next tall hill a short distance away.

Back at my car, I head south through Greve on Via Chiantigana. This route cuts through the middle of the famously picturesque Chianti Classico wine zone. With no itinerary, I lean back and absorb the fresh green ambience.  No radio, just me and Chianti. Only 20 minutes down the winding road I come upon the town of Panzano. The brickwork framed with bright flowers and towering church on the main square entice me to stop and take a look around. Following are some of the highlights of my village stroll.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Someone with an obviously incredible green thumb lives here. The clay pots on the steps and across the wall sprout colorful flowers which add a rich texture to a stately entryway. If only I could make my doorway at home look like this.

DSC00988
Churches in Italy fascinate me. Santa Maria Assunta adorns the piazza with old world charm. However, unlike many churches in Italy, this one is not very old. It was constructed between 1890 and 1903.

DSC00990

Door Panels on the church built in 1964 depict scenes from church history. At the top is Pope John XXIII.

DSC01020
The village streets bring out the shopper in me. To the right are rows of shirts with a cartoon wild boar on the front. Of course, I have to buy one. Chianti has its share of wild boar, called cinghiale, and they are hunted for their tasty meat that often accompanies a pasta sauce or hearty stew.
DSC00999
Intrigued by a green door outside an old medieval aristocratic residence, I enter into this wine cellar run by three entrepreneurs. Although I did not eat here, the food is traditional Tuscan with a modern twist. I was taken by the rustic atmosphere with a stone terrace that offers both indoor and outdoor dining.

DSC00995
I stop here for a cappuccino at II Vinaio, an enoteca and bar. Covered completely overhead with a thick green canopy of leaves, the lively chatter of people below entice me to linger. Afterwards, I find some stairs straight ahead that lead down to the lower part of town.
DSC01021
Most of the doorways are clean and tidy with lots of greenery. Today the village is very quiet except for some tourists roaming the streets.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Poor old Mr. Boar has been reduced to only a head. Yet he symbolizes an important landmark for tourists. Inside, the famously winsome owner Stefano will let you try some of Chianti’s most remarkable wines. He also offers samples of local honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

DSC01022
Shallow doorways in rustic brickwork are around almost every corner. Small and pristine, village life in Chianti is the perfect week away for anyone seeking impeccable streets, medieval ambience, tasty authentic Tuscan cuisine and panoramic vistas.

Why I Love Southern Italy

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , ,


Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with the modern

Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with modern

When I dream of Italy, i’m wandering along the shimmering Bay of Naples. The mountainous backdrop rises up to meet a baby blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. A faint smell of citrus drifts on the breeze and tugs at my hair as I watch several white boats skim the water’s surface, leaving a bubbling trail behind them. An old castle fortress stands high on a hilltop, its many levels adding dimension to the landscape.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My life has been blessed with the good fortune to travel to Italy several times, and I am passionate about every region. Italy never ceases to fascinate me and each time I visit, I feel myself pulled deeper into its history, culture, exotic beauty and friendly people. A return visit is always on my mind.

Although the south of Italy is poorer than the north, to me it is the real Italy. It is true that transportation by train or bus is slower and sometimes undependable, but to really see Italy and experience the culture it is essential to leave oneself a bit vulnerable. Who knows what kind of adventures await you at a bus stop when the bus shows up late? A slow train provides the opportunity to meet the locals and strike up a conversation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is the people who I have met along the way in the south that have put heart and soul into my experience in Italy. This young woman and her son run a tiny restaurant next to my hotel in Naples. The hotel manager personally walked me over to her and introduced us. She wined and dined us with delicious home-made food and charged only a couple of euros. Of course we couldn’t allow it, but she staunchly refused to take any more. After the meal, she took out a laptop and brought up her Facebook photos. We had a wonderful evening even though it wasn’t easy to communicate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This young lady is the educational director aboard the glass-bottom boat Cymba, which takes people out onto the shallow waters of the bay in Baia to see the underground ruins of the palatial palaces and statues of the rich and wealthy of the first centuries. When I arrived and found no excursion was leaving for the day due to murky water conditions, she brought me aboard and spent an hour educating me on the ancient luxury resort of Baia.

Happy Tummies, Great Company!
After we spend a morning walking through the wonder and grandeur of Naples, we stop for pizza. This young couple, who are attorneys in Naples, sat next to us. They encouraged us to order Margherita with extra cheese which we did. I never imagined pizza could be so delicious. As you can see by our plates, not much was left. They were delightful to meet and spend time with. Now, when I order pizza, it must have extra cheese!

Surrounded by Giovanni and his two brothers

 

Three brothers who own a cameo shop in San Martino, a neighborhood just above Naples, welcome me like I’m the Queen of Sheba. Warm and talkative, they graciously let me observe them hard at work bent over lovely pieces of mother-of-pearl while they carve them into delicate cameo’s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I love the passeggiata on the waterfront in Naples during the early evening hours. Families, friends, lovers, kids, all kinds of people from every walk of life enjoy themselves as they intermingle with the crowd. It is warm, friendly and full of life. It signifies the beginning of a slower pace before mealtime, which is typically after 7:30pm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Where else can you join a Sunday crowd of locals and take part in rooting for the teams playing water polo? The splashing and fast action is thrilling, and I am welcomed into the group. We all pack together tightly and cheer on the players.

DSC00758
The shops and street markets are abundant and colorful

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Crazy street markets sell everything you can imagine….at the most amazing bargain prices. I bring my bag and fill it up with fruits and vegetables. I love learning the ropes of bargaining.

DSC00628
Morning street below my hotel balcony in Naples

This next Spring of 2015 I plan to return to southern Italy and the culture I have come to understand and love. But this time I’m excited to push further south and discover the ancient regions of Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and forgotten Molise. They, too, have stories to tell, ones that go back to the early beginnings and developed a culture. Genuine, authentic travel among real people doing what they have done for centuries; simply live.

Our ‘Passed-Over’ Easter

Featured

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


St. Peters Basilica in Rome

St. Peters Basilica rises majestically in Rome

How is it possible to miss the yearly Easter celebration, you may ask. Quite easily, we found, if one’s mind is preoccupied with other matters. Let me tell you just how we temporarily ‘fell off the grid.

Throwing caution to the wind and taking temporary retirements, my husband and I backpacked through western Europe for three months in the Spring of 2004. With only 25 pounds each, which allowed us two changes of clothing and our basics, we embarked upon the adventure of our lives. Flying out of Portland International Airport on March 9th, we found ourselves in Amsterdam the following day. From there we took a flight to Athens and spent the remainder of March exploring the wonderfully diverse landscape of southern Greece.

Monastery on Pelopennese

Monastery clings to a mountainside on the Peloponnese

On March 27th, Easter Sunday for the western world, we were curiously investigating all the nooks, crannies and tiny chapels of a monastery, Eloni-Chynuria, north of Kosmas on the Peloponnese. Sitting on a mountainside shelf, it was nearly hidden from a distance. A winding road through desert country took us up to the monastery, where I donned a skirt over my jeans (requirement for modesty) and absorbed the Greek Orthodox ornate Byzantine decor. Panoramic vistas of low valleys and rugged mountains dominated the landscape from the rock walls above.Taverna in KosmosTaverna in Kosmas

Continuing our drive down the rocky Peloponnese, we had lunch in a lively, down-home taverna in Kosmas run by a local family. We enjoyed a simple but tasty dish of chicken and spaghetti, cooked spinach and rose wine. Next to us an elderly woman sat at a table in a traditional black Greek dress, quietly enjoying her own thoughts. The warm open friendliness of these local people transformed a simple lunch into fond memories.

Throughout the day we enjoyed the panoramic and visually stunning view of the Aegean Sea. Thoughts of Easter day back home were far from us. EUROPE04 152

A few weeks later we were at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when it dawned on us that Easter had come and gone while we were in Greece. What a surprise! On May 5th, while dining on the glistening sun streaked water of Lake Como, it never occurred to us that Easter was happening in the East.

Easter had ‘passed over’ us unnoticed. Explorations of the multi-layered Peloponnese with its Byzantine fortresses, mystic monasteries and homey tavernas kept our thoughts far from home. Italy intoxicated us with the ruins of Pompeii, vineyards of Campania serving ancient wines of the Greeks and Romans, the Eternal City with its multiple layers of history, and the richness of the north. Although surprised and a bit saddened by it, we knew it was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence. At least we hope so. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Taste of Trastevere

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,


Trastevere

Trastevere~Village Rome

I had just arrived in Trastevere from the ancient forum across the Tiber River in Rome. Dodging traffic and keeping my sense of direction paid off. Trastevere, with a past reputation of that ‘seedy, wrong-side-of-the-river’ village Rome. But I found it anything but seedy. With my back to the river, I began my journey into the depths of this ancient and colorful neighborhood.

Trastevere is still a busy place, but it has hummed with human activity since 750 BC. Beginning with the Etruscans, it eventually developed a large Jewish population and grew into a multi-cultural community. The inhabitants were called “Trasteverini.” Trastevere is Latin for Trans Tiberim, meaning ‘beyond the Tiber River.’

After stopping by a cafe for a cappuccino and cornetto, I passed ivy-colored trattorias and weathering apartments. Umbrella-shaded outdoor cafes lined the alleyways filled with tatoo shops and alimentari (a small market selling fresh produce, cold cuts and dry goods.) It was in an alimentari that I had my first experience on local manners.

Alimentari, produce shop in Trastevere

Alimentari, produce shop

“Non toccare, mi metterò che,” “Don’t touch, I will get it.” the young man chided as I picked up a banana. Taking it out of my hands he took it to the front counter. I paid my due and left, a little wiser on local protocol.

I set off to find the famous old church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. Following a few twists and turns, I was standing in the small grassed courtyard before the church.

St. Cecilia Church

St. Cecilia Church, Trastevere

Mosaic inside St. Cecilia Church

Mosaic of Christ and Mary above the nave dated around 1140 inside Santa Cecilia Church

St. Cecilia was a young woman who lived here during the 2nd century when Christianity was sporadically persecuted. As the legend goes, she was martyred by beheading (three attempts) for her faith. A white life-size marble replica of her lies under the altar in the main church.

An archaeological dig below the church is believed to be the remains Cecilia’s home. I was eager to go exploring. After entering the church, I found a small office to the left where a friendly Italian speaking nun with a huge smile let me descend the stairs to the house ruins for a small fee.

St. Cecilia's first century home underneath the church

St. Cecilia’s 2nd century home underneath the church

The air grew damp and earthy as I stepped onto the ancient turf. I was experiencing an Indiana Jones moment. It was more spacious than I thought it would be, leading me to believe that Cecilia belonged to a wealthy family. A main hallway ran straight back with rooms on each side. Some original marble pieces, floor tiles and columns were left to be viewed.

House ruins of St. Cecilia

House ruins of St. Cecilia

After I left the church of St. Cecilia, I discovered the oldest fountain in Rome. It was located in the center of the nearby piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Traced back to the 8th century, it was restored during the late Renaissance by the architect Donato Bramante. This piazza is the neighborhoods most important one with the steps of the fountain designed to be the so-called ‘sofa’ of the neighborhood. During important soccer games, a huge screen is set up in the piazza for everyone to watch and share in the excitement.

Fountain in piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

Fountain in piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

This fountain is not without a legend. As it goes, on the night of the birth of Christ a stream of oil burst forth miraculously on this same spot in front of the church. Who can say for sure, but it certainly put this piazza on the map.

As I sat on the steps of the fountain and watched the hustle of people crossing the piazza against a backdrop of cramped and peeling buildings, I wondered if anything had really changed all that much over the centuries.

I crossed the piazza and onto the portico of the landmark church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Trastevere

Church of Santa Maria piazza and the old fountain

The church of Santa Maria was founded in the 4th century, making it one of the oldest churches in Rome. Inside are exquisite Cavallini mosaics dating from the 13th century. The portico (covered area just outside the door) is covered with bits of old stone with Christian symbols. Many are believed to be parts of lids to early catacomb burial niches. The entire front of the columns are lit up at night, casting a golden glow onto the piazza.

Evening was quickly descending. The narrow cobbled alleyways lined with medieval houses gave way to a throbbing Roman nightlife as twilight slid into darkness. Pubs, cafes and restaurants faced the crowded streets, beckoning to me as I passed. Waiters stood advertising their menus to the din of a nearby guitar.

Trastevere

Trastevere

Outdoor restaurant in Trastevere

Outdoor restaurant “Grazia & Graziella,” where I enjoyed dinner

“Madame abbiamo un tavolo per uno!” “Madam, I have a table for one.” A handsome waiter had just tapped my elbow and motioned toward a seat. His smile and touch convinced me. “Perché sì, grazie,” I buckled.

Evening in Trastevere

Evening in Trastevere

As the evening wore on, I made my way slowly back toward my room. Bands of musicians played along the streets while diners enjoyed good food and friends with indiscreet enthusiasm. Scruffy poets stood in corners quoting in reckless abandon. Trastevere hasn’t changed much over the centuries in appearance. The streets still attract crowds of locals and tourists alike. But today, it is becoming an upscale neighborhood, far removed from the pain and poverty of the distant past.

‘Cave Canem,’ The Wild Dogs of Pompeii

Tags

, , , , , , , ,


Wild dog “A dog has the soul of a philosopher.”   Plato

In 2008, the Italian government declared a state of emergency for Pompeii, Italy. The situation hasn’t improved since then and more deterioration has occurred due to embezzlement of funds appointed for restoration projects. Among the disintegrating ruins are wild or abandoned dogs. Many are seen lying about in the shade of ancient walls and ditches.

During my time in Pompeii, my heart was captivated by these forgotten dogs that seemed to want human companionship but were so afraid to trust. So they stayed in the shadows, the only visible inhabitants among the ancient rubble. In today’s ancient ruins of Pompeii, the result of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD., most of these dogs are callously dumped off by people who no longer want them. Few of them have been spayed or neutered so puppies add to the homeless population.

“Bless the beasts and the children, for the world can never be the world they see.” CarpentersPompyPompeii relaxation dog Why do they stay? Potential food dispensers, the tourists, often provide tasty treats and attention that keep these dogs here among the ruins. With more than two million visitors to Pompeii each year, their chances of finding morsels are very good. (C)Ave Canem, meaning “Hail Dog,” is an organization that began in November of 2010, geared toward promoting dog adoption. Originally funded by the government, it is now run by volunteers. The idea is to control the stray dog population while keeping the dogs well-being in mind. The program is essential as new strays appear regularly.

Nearly 132,000 euros was allocated to the (C)ave Canem project by the Italian government to gather the dogs, sterilize them, provide them with veterinary care and promote their adoption. Dog houses were scattered around the site. The project found homes for 26 of the 55 stray dogs in Pompeii. Sadly, most of the money was embezzled by the then-Commissioner for Pompeii, Marcello Fiori, now under indictment for corruption. Marcello had been given charge of the 2010 restoration campaign known as Pompeii Viva, which means Living Pompeii.

Front Door Floor Mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii

Cave Canem ~ Front Door Floor Mosaic from the House of the Tragic Poet, Ancient Pompeii

Dogs have been an integral part of family life for centuries, including Pompeii, as can be seen by this uniquely well-preserved floor mosaic found in the Pompeii excavations.

My New Home! And I have a buddy....

My New Home! And I have a buddy….

Fortunately, a portion of these dogs find loving homes and people who nourish their bodies, minds and spirits. It is with hard work and dedication that the volunteers of (C)Ave Canem keep up their never-ending quest to find good homes for these orphaned dogs.

Sweet Lilli

Sweet Lilli Found Love

“There is honor in being a dog.”  Aristotle

Italy ~ Explore New Discoveries Down a Country Road

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,


Veneto Countryside

Veneto Countryside

Discovery the secrets of the Italian countryside on bicycle, foot or horseback. Get close up and personal on ancient lands dotted with walled medieval villages, wineries, and thermal spas.  Fertile plains of orchards and vineyards blend smoothly among the rolling hills of the Padova countryside, providing a wealth of paths that intermingle throughout the Regional park of the Euganean Hills. The series of 81 extinct volcanoes clustered together have created a paradise of thermal waters and mild weather that have attracted populations here since ancient times. Located just south of Padova, the abundant natural beauty plays a major theme.

m.danesina9IMG_1614

Cycling the Euganean Hills, photo courtesy of padovainbici.turismopadova.it/

Pass through walled cities that date back to the 1100’s. Among them are the villages of Este, where the great dynasty of the Estense family ruled and built a wealth of historical villas, and Montagnana, encircled by a 6,500 ft. wall built during the middle ages, with 24 exquisite towers that rise as high as 62 ft. tall. Stroll through mystic castle gardens with climbing roses and fabled statues entwined in greenery. Take a bench seat and imagine the troubadours of the Renaissance saunter through the gardens as they compose their melodies.

Castle Garden

Castle Gardens

The famed poet Francesco Petrarch lived an inspired life on his winery in Arqua Petrarca, a village named after him, during the 1300’s. He often sailed the waterways on his boat to Padova, writing his poems as he experienced the countryside. “A pleasant place in the Euganean Hills, in a delightful and healthy position,” he wrote. His house, now a museum, sits just above the village. Inside, the medieval interior is decorated with scenes of Petrarch’s work. In a corner is his study, where he died in front of an open manuscript at age 70. His embellished tomb can be seen in front of the church in the main square of town.

As you familiarize yourself with Arqua, notice the wild pomegranate and jujube trees. The olive-like jujube’s, called giuggioli, taste much like un-ripe granny smiths. The fruit is made into a tasty liquor in the Enotecca II Giuggiolo (mostly in Italian, but nice photos).

Benedictine Abbey of Praglia

Benedictine Abbey of Praglia

Nestled in the nearby town of Teolo is the charming old Benedictine Abbey of Praglia. These impressive monks cultivate a vineyard and honeybees as well as vegetables and herb gardens. Inside the monastery shop are rows of delicious wines made from the harvested grapes. The herbs are used as ingredients for secret recipes handed down among the monks since the medieval ages to create medicinal elixirs that effectively cure indigestion. I found this to be true after indulging in too much rich Italian antipasti one evening.

Villa winery in the Euganean Hills

Villa winery in the Euganean Hills

Local wineries are numerous and produce thirteen varieties of wine granted the D.O.C. entitlement. Among them are the bold red wines Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, the white Chardonnay, and the sparkling wines Serprino and Moscato Fior d’Arancio.

Meadow near Arqua Petrarca

Meadow near Arqua Petrarca

Take a look at this website, Walking and Cycling the Wine Roads of the Euganean Hills. The presence of hot springs in the Euganean Hills have produce famous spas throughout the area that offer aesthetic and therapeutic treatments. The Regional Park of the Euganean Hills has much to offer and a wealth of history, wineries, and many natural country paths to walk.

*Hiking routes through the Euganean hills

*Euganean Hills Bike Path Padova Province

And the Winner of the 62nd Giraglia Regatta Is……

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,


“Vananty felt things were going well, until the final moments….” Valencia Sailing

2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup in full swing

2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup in full swing, photo credit ~ nssrivieraholidays.co.uk

The Mediterranean’s top offshore race, the 62nd Giraglia Rolex Cup, finished this year with flying colors. From Sanremo, yachts sprinted across the churning waters to Sant-Tropez harbor for inshore racing before the offshore competition that set them circling the Giraglia rock on the island of Corsica, with the finish line at Monte-Carlo this year. 206 yachts, including some 12 double-headers ~ a first time event ~ competed in this highly respected race that brings crews from different parts of the world. This years race began with some difficult winds, but 189 yachts remained undaunted and finished the course.

Bernard Vanaty's Tixwave from Great Britain ~ Overall winner of the 2014 Giraglia

Bernard Vananty’s Tixwave from Great Britain ~ Overall winner of the 2014 Giraglia ~ Photos-by-Rolex-Carlo-Borlengh

Bernard Vananty and Tixwave landed the main prize as overall winner of the offshore race. He came in second last year and was pleased to have come up one better this year.

“We arrived in windy conditions, but 20 to 30 metres from the finish line there was hole and we were in trouble. We started to check the time, thinking that all our efforts had been ruined in these last metres… it took us 14 minutes to cross the finish line!”

Prince Albert II of Monaco and the crew of the Tixwave

Prince Albert II of Monaco with the crew of the Tixwave

Esmit Europa comes to the finish line

Esmit Europa 2 approaches the finish line to win the Line Honors

Slovenian Igor Simcic, a member of the Yacht Club de Monaco and owner of Esmit Europa 2 were first through the finish line for the 4th time.

“The race was perfect. In the beginning we had some light wind, which made it a little tricky in deciding which tactic to follow. Then it became much easier when the fresh breeze came in during the night and we were really fast. For me it was the best finish in my life. It was a unique idea to finish in Monte-Carlo.”

Lucca Locatelli's Thetis nears the finish for second place

Lucca Locatelli’s Thetis nears the finish for second place

Thetis, owned by Italy’s Lucca Locatelli, was Tixwave’s nearest rival coming in at second place. They won the Trofeo Challenge Marco Paleari for the Combined Classification of Sanremo to Saint-Tropez Race + Saint-Tropez Inshore Series + Offshore Race. Not too bad!

62ND-GIRAGLIA-THE-GULF-OF-SAINT-TROPEZ-Photo-by-Rolex-Carlo-Borlengh

62ND-GIRAGLIA-THE-GULF-OF-SAINT-TROPEZ-Photo-by-Rolex-Carlo-Borlengh

 

Dolphins swim with the sailboats!

Dolphins swim with the sailboats!

Peaceful Sailing!**

Italy’s Annual Sailing Regatta is Underway.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,


Sanremo is the start of the La Giraglia 2014

Sanremo begins the La Giraglia 2014~ Photos credit of regattanews.com,Giraglia Rolex Cup

The 62nd annual Giraglia Rolex Cup prelude race began at midnight last Friday, June 13th, sending 107 Yachts sprinting across the dark waters from Sanremo to Saint-Tropez. A French yacht piloted by former Whitebread Round the World Race winner, Lionel Pean, was first to cross the finish line Saturday morning. The following three days will consist of inshore racing in Saint-Tropez harbor, leading up to the most challenging race of the event.

 

Map of the Giraglia Race 2014

Map of the Giraglia Race 2014

Wednesday, June 18th will set some 214 yachts in motion as the renowned 2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup begins. Leaving the harbor of Saint-Tropez, the 241 nautical mile offshore race will circle the traditional landmark Giraglia Rock on the northern tip of Corsica before ending in Monte-Carlo.

The crew members are a mixture of nationalities predominately from Europe. Italy is best represented, followed by France, the UK, and Russia, with more exotic flagged yachts from the British Virgin Islands, the USA, and New Zealand. Holding a longstanding reputation of close comradeship and spirited competition among the opposing crews, the annual regatta is highly respected.

The fleet is mixed, from small 30 ft. family run boats up to 100 ft. professional crews, all of whom dig deep within themselves to deliver their best seafaring skills. Each team must work together as a single mechanism, adhering highly to the core values of camaraderie and adventure. Strong character is built by adverse sea conditions.

The Giraglia Rock

The Giraglia Rock on the tip of Corsica has long been a landmark for Mediterranean boats crossing from the Ligurian to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

How did it begin?

In January of 1953, a small number of Italian and French sailors convened in Paris to create an event that would foster a highly esteemed sailing competition in the Mediterranean and draw European countries closer together after the effects of a war-torn world. It only took five months to bring about the first La Giraglia, which was exclusively off-shore racing. Traditionally, Italy and France alternated in starting the race, but now it generally begins in Genoa or Sanremo.

Italy and Great Britain reach Giraglia Rock in 2013 race

Italy and Great Britain reach Giraglia Rock in 2013 race

What’s most exciting about this years race?

Slovakian Igor Simcic, the 2012 winner and new course record setter, will return this year with his 100 ft Maxi Esimit Europa 2. He finished with a time of 14 hours 56 minutes and 16 seconds, taking over 3 hours off the previous best. He will be accompanied by his pan-European crew led by German Olympic hero Jochen Schümann. Will he beat his time this year?

So far it looks tame doesn’t it? Smooth sailing, glide with the tide. Not so….take a look!

Photographer Carlo Borlenghi was out on the water during the 2013 Girgalia Rolex Cup to capture this gallery of images. Enjoy some Sanremo fast action!

 Sail n: ITA65000, Owner: ALESSANDRO ROMBELLI, Group 0 (IRC >18.29 mt) - 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup'

STIG, Sail n: ITALY, Owner: ALESSANDRO ROMBELLI, 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup

 

BELLA MENTE, Sail n: USA, Owner: HAP FAUTH, 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup -  Marcel Mochet / Route des Princes  BELLA MENTE, Sail n: USA, Owner: HAP FAUTH, 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup 

 ALEGRE, Sail n: GBR8728R, Owner: OLLY CAMERON, Group 0 (IRC >18.29 mt)- 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup -  Marcel Mochet / Route des Princes
ALEGRE, Sail n: Great Britain, Owner: OLLY CAMERON, 2013 Giraglia Rolex Cup 

It all boils down to the finish line. The winner will arrive, followed by the others as they skillfully man their crafts toward the shore. Electrified excitement will dominate the scene and continue into the celebration activities.

Stay tuned for the final results next Monday

 

 

Cycling Italy in the Shadow of the ‘Giro’

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Giro d’Italia is a cycling road race in Italy equivalent to the Tour de France. Top professional cyclists from around the world gather to compete in one of the most grueling road races, covering every region of Italy. The three-week competition began May 4th, which sent the competitors on a designated route of 2,116 miles.  Diverse terrain through valleys and mountains in cold and wet weather conditions made this year’s event one of the more brutal in recent memory. This 96th edition of the race began in Naples and finished in Brescia.

Adnan on the Passo Campolongo

Adnan on the Passo Campolongo

Adnan Kadir, an avid cyclist and friend from my own hometown of Portland, Oregon, just returned from Italy. Accompanied by his fellow cycling athletes and his French-made Cyfac bicycle, he had planned this trip to overlap with the Giro d’Italia. As anticipated, they observed two days of the race while also cycling through Italy along some of the same designated routes, passing through the rolling hills and vineyards of Tuscany and up into the mountains of northern Italy. The first two weeks of his trip were handled by what he describes as a ‘stellar’ outfitter called InGamba.

Adnan's Cycling Gang

Adnan’s Cycling Friends

Giro d'Italia racing through town

Giro d’Italia whips through a village-the 4th guy back is the race leader, and eventually winner, Vincenzo Nibali, wearing the Maglia Rosa (pink winning jersey)

Adnan described the Giro d’Italia as one big cultural event. The cyclists in the Giro rode in a rolling enclosure between official vehicles while police kept cars off the road. He saw people pack themselves along the roadside as the racers came through. Several actually broke rank and ran beside the riders. This year’s route took the competitors up the steep ascent through the mountains of northern Italy to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the highest point at an altitude of 7,550 feet. On the final stages of the climb, the road was surrounded by huge banks of snow. Last year’s racing route took the cyclists to the top of Mt. Vesuvius and on to Sicily for a couple of days.

Adnan and the Sella

Adnan with the Sella behind him

One of Adnan’s favorite rides while in Italy was around the Sella Ronda. This ride is about 90 km and takes in the Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordio, Passo Sella, and finishes on the pass where his hotel was located, the Passo Pinei. They started in sunshine but encountered snow while climbing the Sella.

Snow Zone

Snow Zone-Adnan with friend Christoph from Munich

Is competing in the Giro d’Italia a goal of Adnans? Not at this point in his life, he assured me. “After spending a year racing in Europe, I liked racing but I didn’t love it. I wanted to use my brain, so I came back home and went to grad school.” Good choice! Adnan has raced in Guam, competed in a 7-day mountain bike race in the TransRockies in Canada as well as a 7-day road race, the TransAlp, in Europe (2008). Today he races 2-3 times a week around home.

Spiazzi

Cyclist resting in Spiazzi

Caprese

Caprese, an easy favorite

Adnan is his own boss. Not only does he live adventurously, but he is an entrepreneur as well. He organizes training camps and cycling trips and works as a cycling/triathlon coach through his company Aeolus Endurance Sport. But not all of his fellow athletes are in the same country. With the help of a power meter, specifically the QuarQ power meter, he can utilize remote coaching. Adnan is also a partner in LifeCycle Adventures cycling tours, which operates in California, Oregon and Hawaii. Here is a great short promo video where Adnan explains what he does- https://vimeo.com/66683243

Piazza Pastrengo

Piazza Pastrengo

There are loads of hotels around Italy that cater to riders. One that Adnan stayed in and recommends was the Enjoy Hotel Garda, but there is a whole network of them all around Italy (bikehotels.it).

Adnan and pals on ridge

Adnan and pals on ridge

“The ride to Asciano was on a magnificent ridgetop. The fog cleared and the sun came out, revealing amazing views in every direction. After Asciano, I rode through the sunny valley back to Lecchi, stopping for coffee in the sunshine in Castelnuovo Berardenga.”

Group heads out together
Alpt de Suisi

Adnan’s good friend Christoph from Munich at  Alpe de Suisi

Gate at Asciano

Heading for the Gate at Asciano, photo taken by fellow athlete Jenn Reither

*Promo from Giro d’Italia

Streets of San Gimignano

Streets of San Gimignano

Adnan left me with this one final off-bike experience that he had during his visit to Castello di Ama winery. Originally a walled fortress, wine is now produced and artists hosted who are required to produce one installation while they stay there. Adnan was impressed by how they integrated artwork into the winery spaces. After viewing the art, a gourmet dinner made by the resident chef awaited him and his friends. The food, he emphatically states, like his cycling trip, was unforgettable.

Morning in Chianti

Morning in Chianti

Assisi’s Stormy Farewell

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,


EUROPE04 015The Feast of St. Francis was just ending the day I arrive in Assisi. Games and merrymaking brought many pilgrims from far and near to take part in the celebration of their most beloved saint. Francis’ basilica flows with heavenly music as choirs and orchestras let lose their poetic melodies. souvenir booths line the streets selling mementos while costumed revelers stroll the piazzas in medieval attire. This Feast commemorates the saint’s transition from this life to the afterlife. It is Assisi’s biggest day of the year.

The October weather is pleasant as I step off the train from Rome. The surrounding hills and valleys of Assisi bask in a golden autumn glow that looks surreal. Pilgrims who made the trek to the party begin to disperse as early morning fog dissipates from the valley floor. Little Assisi becomes its normal self once again. I haul my pull-bag and nap sack up the brick alleyway to a tall medieval house. A small room awaits me in the home of this private residence, complete with a little cot, a dresser, and a chair with desk. Enchanted with St. Francis since I was a small child, I’m eager to discover more about him during the week of my stay.

EUROPE04 020 Medieval Assisi’s brickwork architecture and clean wooden doorways cause me to feel as if I’ve stepped through a portal into the 13th century. Shops line the streets with local tradespeople at work making their pottery, shoes, breads and oils. Wine shops, aromatic trattorias, clothing boutiques, well-stocked book shops, gift shops and bakeries beckon to those passing by. Espresso and fresh-baked croissants infuse the early morning air. EUROPE04 024

Bright Frescoes inside St. Francis Basilica-Some by Giotto

Bright frescoes painted by Giotto inside St. Francis Basilica

Assisi keeps me fully engaged as I immerse myself in walking the path of Francis.

San Damiano

San Damiano

San Damiano Chapel

Chapel inside San Damiano

Birdsong trills through the air as I hike down the trail from the medieval village to San Damiano, the church St. Francis restored in 1205. Olive groves accentuate the countryside and the air is fresh and sweet. It is early Sunday morning and the church service begins inside the medieval chapel. Old and untouched, I almost expect to see Francis and his brothers walk through the door and take part in the humble service.

” All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  St. Francis

My week in Assisi flits by all too quickly. On the eve of my departure, harmoniously angelic music plays inside St. Francis Basilica. An orchestra fills the entrance accompanied by candlelight which flickers and illuminates Giotto’s colorful frescoes. Women in black dresses and high heels accompany men in suits. I’m caught up in the sublimity of class and elegance on this warm enchanted evening. Little did I know that the following morning would temporarily quench the spell.

Night Time Assisi

Early morning in Assisi

Rain hammers against my windowpane as flashes of lightning illuminate the tiny room. It is 4:30 am. Oh fun…twenty minutes to be out the door and down the hill to catch my bus from medieval Assisi to the train station. I stumble and shiver in the dark while gathering my things together into one small malfunctioning pull-bag.

It doesn’t take me long to be on my way. St. Francis and his brothers come to mind as I turn the corner from my front door and drag my bag behind me down the wet cobblestone streets under a relentless downpour of rain. Their resolve to live in poverty causes me to wonder, in the midst of these miserable elements, how they did it. Dressed in only a habit and no shoes, they endured all kinds of weather, begging for their next meal. During my stay, I thoroughly enjoyed walking, in shoes and sunlight, where his twelfth century bare feet had trod.

Only a few lamps from small windows illuminate the darkness. As I brace myself against the pelting rain, I seek temporary refuge in a doorway. But the thresholds are shallow and provide no shelter. By the time I reach the bus stop, I’m drenched to the bone. My jeans and jacket cling to me like skin. Water runs off the ends of my disheveled hair.

The bus takes me to the station where I board my train to Florence. By the time I step out into the Renaissance city’s promising streaks of sunshine a few hours later, I’m beginning to dry out and warm up. Cradling a warm cappuccino, I take a moment to ponder my week in Assisi. It was magical. St. Francis and his friends are where I left them ~ dwelling within their cobbled medieval hometown of Assisi, virtually untouched by time. setting_sun Assisi

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,391 other followers