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Arriving in Bozen/Balzano in the South Tyrol is difficult on a weekend when you want to rent a car. This is a different place for many reasons. Time moves more slowly here and German is predominant, even though this is Italy. Being a weekend, the car rental agencies close by 3:30 on Friday and do not open again until Monday morning. This is a traditional place and weekends are for family. Since we arrived by train, we needed to quickly hop a taxi to the regional airport, since this is the only place where a car can be rented. That meant we needed to find a place to garage the cars (we needed two–no large cars or minivans or SUV’s–for our Sunday drive). Furthermore, since this was the weekend of a large bicycle tour/race, spaces were limited. We managed to get everything done, with some effort.
It was worth it! Our drive into the Dolomites was relaxing, and the scenery was “lovely and dramatic.” The kelly green hills reached up to heavy forests which pushed up against jagged mountain peaks. The Dolomites are noted for these jagged peaks and are a UNESCO world heritage site. Small mountain villages with gabled tile roofs abounding, with yellow and white plaster buildings–some painted with imagery–were situated on sloping hillsides underneath those jagged peaks. But it is the flowers and the church buildings and steeples that steal the attention. Flowers were everywhere, in window boxes, in gardens, in street pottery and hanging from antique light posts. There were bridges with cascading flowers. Round abouts had centers with huge carved wooden imagery and flowers, flowers, flowers. Reds, yellows, purples everywhere. What a refreshing sight! The church steeples were tall and slender or onion-domed. Some had decorative tile roofs. All in all, it was more than the eyes could capture, but the overall effect was magical, especially when the clouds and midsts blew in between those jagged peaks on this cool late summer day. WEG – Sunday, September 13, 2015
Leaving the beautiful Italian lake country behind, we trained to “Fair Verona” for a stroll through the streets to see the Arena, the second largest Roman amphitheater after Rome’s Coliseum. I have seen the arena on television many times since it is featured in musical and theater productions frequently. It is not, therefore, a ruin, since it is in rather good shape after these thousands of years of use. Verona is a very nice city, clean, easy to navigate and with many historical sites. Of course, we had to go by Juliet’s balcony made famous by Shakespeare in his soliloquy for Juliet on that balcony–“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo.” Naturally, the tourist balcony is not the real one; however, thousands flock to it and leave love messages on the walls around it. While in the city, Charlotte could not pass up a pair of Italian shoes that she spotted in a shop window. Dan thought that she had brought along enough pairs of shoes–totally missing the point, that these were Italian shoes, and this was a special vacation purchase. Everyone cheered Charlotte on to buy the shoes, which she beautifully wore the rest of the day.
We then trained on to Bozen (German) / Bolzano (Italian) in Italy’s South Tyrol, formerly a part of Austria. Most people here still speak German, and the region has a unique atmosphere with distinctive foods and architecture–not Italian and yet, not quite Austrian either. We were surprised that, as we strolled the wonderful streets in the crisp air, we heard the strains of music. Happily, this evening a concert of several bands was playing in the Walther Platz (piazza/square). With South Tyrollean Alps looming overhead and the cathedral bells pealing, we sat to eat in an outdoor cafe where we could both see and hear the bands play. Dressed in native South Tyrollean dress as they marched and played, we experienced a true unexpected travel experience. I approached a band member who spoke English, and he explained that each valley in the region has similar unique traditional clothing with important distinctions that characterize each region; each region also supports a band. How blessed we were for this great evening of fine music! WEG – September 12, 2015
Allen and Rhonda hung back for a relaxing day in Sirmione. They explored the third century Roman villa ruins (built upon ruins from the BC period) that overlooked Lake Garda. The home of a very wealthy unknown family, the huge ruin is known for its grotto bathhouse that had heated water by running water over a marble floor with fires built underneath.
The rest of us headed out for a day on the lake. The waters were calm as our “fast” boats, one a hydrofoil, sailed from one beautiful lake town to another. Most had castles and tall steepled churches with wide walking promonades and sail or wooden boats bobbing in the harbors.
Dan and I debarked at Malcesine for our trek up Mt. Baldo. We rode the cable car up. It is the only cable car in the world that rotates as it ascends, giving everyone a wonderful view of the lake and mountains below and beyond. Once at the top, we did some hiking toward the hang-glide departure point. We watched as the riders ran forward until the wind caught their sails and up they swooped and then out over the edge of the mountain and over the lake about 10,000 feet below. Such a wondrous sight as one after another went over the edge sporting brightly colored sails.
While we did our mountain climb day, Charlotte and Kathy went on to Limone, a picturesque lake town that is narrow and long since the cliffs of the mountain behind it left no room but for several streets. Strewn with flowers and fountains, Limone is know for the enormous lemons that grow in orchards on the slopes of the mountains around it. It is especially known for its limoncello liqueur sold in bottles of every shape and size imaginable.
Allen and Rhonda met us at the Sirmione port, and we shared stories of the day over another wonderful meal. We all pronounced our various adventures “just right.” WEG – September 11, 2015
I sit outside in 60 degree Fahrenheit temperature with a light breeze on a balcony outside our hotel room looking out over Lake Garda in Italy’s north lake district. This is Italy’s largest lake, and it stretches from a flat plain to the Italian Alps. The water is light blue and clear. We stayed the day in Sirmione, known as the Pearl of the Italian Lakes. It lies on a narrow peninsula on the southern part of the lake and is surrounded on three sides with water. Entry into the town is through the gates of a medieval castle.
Since Sirmione is a pedestrian zone, we walk the streets easily. They are cobblestoned and narrow. Lining the streets are blue, orange and yellow plaster-coated buildings interspersed with stone buildings. Archways and pergolas abound. Bouganvillas are in bloom and climb walls and arbors. Other flowers fill flower boxes. Marble piazzas break the pattern of the narrow streets and church bell peals bounce from wall to wall. The lake is easily in view from either direction and small boats and sail boats slowly ply the waters. Ducks meander in the streets near the water. It is a refreshing and relaxing day in this cozy beauty as we go from one unique shop to another. Organic and natural are key words here.
Once again, our evening ends with a meal–this time on the piazza looking out at the castle. Food choices include parma ham and melon, salmon and sautéed spinach, pumpkin and sage ravioli, grilled white fish with grilled vegetables and fried calamari, sardines and shrimp. A good red wine from the region added depth and richness. With the sun setting, we “moseyed” home, and I walked out onto the balcony to write this blog. WEG – Thursday, September 10, 2015
Taking the ferry out of Lerici along the Mediterranean coast to the Cinque Terra (five lands/cities that time forgot) we were immediately impressed with how clear and clean and blue the waters of the sea were. The five cities with their pastel buildings scrunched together along the crags of the cliffs above the water stood out like jewels above the deep blue. The water was calm and the ferry could dock at port–not always a possibility. We were blessed.
The day was one of relaxing. We took time to eat our wonderful breakfast at our hotel before heading out. It was a bountiful buffet, displayed with elegance. My favorites were the salamis and cheeses and the puff pastry filled with Nutella. I took time to use the unusual orange juice machine that was filled with fresh oranges that rolled down a shoot to be squeezed automatically–truly a work of mechanical expertise, and the fresh juice was fantastic. The tables were covered with linen and fine utensils and the balcony looked over the bay that was bobbing with sail boats. Lunch was taken at our favorite Cinque Terra restaurant, the Belvedere, in the village of Monterroso. Because we had eaten there previously on other visits, the waitress recognized me. That was cool! We ordered our favorite, pesto fettuccine–it is still fabulous!
One of the reasons we return here and to Italy, in fact, is that friends want to go, and they know we “know the ropes” and the sites. We enjoy seeing sites we love through the eyes of others. Today, the Berg’s and the Krahn’s declared it to be a grand day! WEG – September 7, 2015
This was cooking class day in Tuscany for the six travelers from Tomball, Texas. We took a morning stroll through Florence learning about the food history and food traditions in Tuscany. Our American stereotypes are so wrong. “Less is more” is the Italian thinking when it comes to food ingredients. Oregano is rarely used in Italian cuisine. Rosemary is more prevalent. Chicken is not used with pasta, ever. Coffee is not “to go” since you are served a small amount in a glass cup strongly brewed, and you drink it at the counter. Mozzarella that is sold in America grated in a bag is not Italian mozzarella and is a fake reproduction, since real mozzarella is fresh and too soft to be grated. Pumpkin and zucchini flowers are used in many Italian food preparations. We walked the central market and learned about Italian cuts of meat and why rabbit is preferred to chicken on menus.
Later, we took a bus to a beautiful Tuscan hillside and entered a wonderful professional kitchen–the entire cookstove had the burners over a well, in which hot water could flow to keep it clean while cooking and to prevent spills and burning that needed to be cleaned later–all the mess simply washed away down a drain in the rear. We all helped prepare our meal from the food purchased on our tour of the market–bruschetta (pronounced broo-skett-uh); pizza cooked in a large outdoor oven for 90 seconds at 800 degrees F; the correct dough for ovens that heat to 500 degrees; tagliatelle with ragu–no salt on the meat until the end and the holy trilogy of onion, celery and carrot sautéed in extra virgin olive oil as the foundation base; Tuscan potatoes and two desserts that we also made–tiramisu and gelato.
We ate our meal overlooking the Tuscan hills chatting with the new acquaintances we had made from Australia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Maryland. It was a great experience, and we have recipes. — September 3, 2015 — WEG
As soon as the train pulled into Florence, Kathy and I felt comfortable and relaxed. We had spent over six weeks here a few years ago, mostly in an apartment in the old town. It is a place we love.
We walked the city old town and shopped the San Lorenzo market. We noticed that it was remarkably clean. Later, we saw the new electric vacuums on wheels that one person operates by walking with the nozzle followed by the large electric bag machine that is manipulated by the electronic handle in the other hand. Several streets are overtaken by the market, selling leather goods, wood products, scarves, and souvenir items. We entered the new central market that sells fresh food products of every kind, fish, foul, pork, beef and the wonderful cheese and bread vendors, along side spice shops and organic food products. A new high end Italian food area has been added to the second floor, and we will eat a lunch there.
Everything was great until Rhonda took a spill. Too much to see and many hidden steps. After she recovered and realized that her “bad knee” did not take a direct hit, we resumed the day. Rhonda and Allen went to the hotel for Rhonda to check everything out. She is fine. This is Rhonda’s second spill–the first one was in Bologna. We ran upon a bronze statue of a lady in a hammock, and I suggested that Rhonda lay down on the pedestal under the lady and imitate the statue. For those of you who know Rhonda–she is up to anything fun. Allen and Kathy were not encouraging at all. Unfortunately, as I snapped away, Rhonda’s lace sweater got caught in the bronze hammock and as she tried to undo it, she simply rolled off the pedestal and onto the ground…only a foot drop, but scary, none the less. I have some good pictures, but Rhonda has threatened harm if I publish them, but they are on sale to the highest bidder.
We spent a relaxing afternoon walking the Ponte Vecchio, the famous gold sellers’ bridge, and going into the Cathedral with is magnificent dome–both inside and out. Designed and engineered by Brunelleschi, it was and still is a masterpiece of architecture. The interior dome, painted by Vasari, is resplendent.
All of us went to a favorite Florence restaurant of Kathy & me for a delightful evening laughing and visiting in a brick and plaster-vaulted bit of Italian heaven.
WEG – September 1, 2015
This day took us to the premier Umbrian hill town, Orvieto. We arrived in the train station, walked across the small city park and boarded a funicular (hill-side tram) for the several hundred foot ascent of the rock formation upon which sits the beautiful hill town of Orvieto. The rich brown tones of the homes and businesses that lined the narrow streets of this medieval bastion blended well with the golds, blues and yellows of the pottery that filled the shops and flowed out into the streets. All along the way trattorias and osterias invited one to linger under large canopies for a cool drink and a bite to eat.
The pre-Roman Etruscans started the city and left behind some ruins. Today, however, the beautiful cathedral on the highest point of the hill draws visitors from around the world to view the richly decorated exterior, considered by many to be the most beautiful building exterior in the country. That is not to imply that the interior is of less importance. Frau Angelico and Lucca Signorelli, among others, painted marvelous frescoes within. The pipe organ is also breathtaking in gold and white with wondrous carved angels.
I wish we had more time to stay in this charming, romantic, idyllic Italian locale. Perhaps we can return another day to walk the walls and view the wide expanse of country with vineyards that lay out from this high hill. Tomorrow we head into Rome to greet additional friends, the Berg’s, who will join the Krahn’s and us on our sojourn. WEG
In our previous travels to Italy, Kathy and I had never been to central Italy above Florence. That is why we chose Bologna as a central location from which to take day trips to the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Many popular Italian foods originated from this region, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, tortellini, tortelloni, tagliatelle, Ragu sauce, Parma ham, mortadella and prosciutto. The area is rich in farmland and old cities, including Bologna, Parma, and Modena. Today we spent a relaxing and enjoyable day in Parma.
The city of Parma is known for its university, one of the world’s oldest, for three beautiful churches in close proximity, and for its multi-storied baptistery. Inside the stunning Italian Romanesque Cathedral (Duomo) is the Assumption of Mary ceiling fresco. Painted by Correggio, the fresco is considered the world’s finest Renaissance fresco work and was radical in design. It changed the techniques used in painting and was studied by all the great painters who followed. It was one of my bucket list works of art. To stand in the stunning building and gaze upward at the swirl of three-dimensional movement as Christ descends, feet downward, to meet His mother as she ascends to heaven, surrounded by angels, was inspiring. I was transported into the scene, and that was Correggio’s intent. Outside the cathedral was the multi-storied baptistery, a building of great significance and architecturally one of Europe’s great monuments. Used for Christian baptisms, the building signified the architectural movement from Romanesque to Gothic design. We viewed the richly painted interior and stood before the ancient baptismal in the center of the octagonal structure with reverent awe.
Obviously, Parma is more than the ham for which it is also famous.
Thursday, August 27, 2015 – WEG