Magical Menorca – Menorca, Spain

After dropping our little car at Pisa Airport we caught the PisaMover back to Pisa Central station. From here we caught three trains to Malpensa Airport in Milan. We were headed for Menorca which is one of the Balearic Islands off Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. We were going to stay with our Scottish friends David & Audrey who have a place in Son Parc on the northern part of the island.

After travelling most of the day and getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare our flight was then delayed. There had been a flash storm which had caused some surface flooding on the runway so our inbound plane couldn’t land – it was diverted to Turin about 150km away. The EasyJet staff were doing their best but really they had no idea what the state of play was – the storm had passed, so theoretically they could land and then get us on our way.

This eventually happened and instead of departing at 4.15pm we eventually left at 7.30pm. Meanwhile I had misplaced my hat somewhere in the airport. This hat was purchased in Portugal in 2014 for 5 Euro and was well used during that nine months we were over this side of the world. We had left the hat in Switzerland at Karin & Elvis’s when we came home in January 2015 and didn’t expect them to keep it for 3.5 years but they did so I was reunited with my hat when we visited in July.

I was a bit sad but it wasn’t life changing. I had a thought that I might see someone else wearing my hat in the airport and when we went to our new departure gate there it was on the head of a little girl. She looked so happy that I didn’t want to spoil her joy so I was happy to let her keep it. Next minute her Dad was wearing the hat too so the joy was spreading 😂. Cest la vie 😊 🎩.

We arrived in Menorca at about 9pm and David was there to greet us 👍🏻. It was about half an hour to Son Parc where Audrey had prepared some solid as well as liquid 🍷 refreshments for us. We had left the hotel in Tuscany at 5.30am that morning but rather than crashing we got a second wind and next minute it was 2am! We had last seen David & Audrey in late 2014 so it was a good old catch up. It seems that all houses in Spain have a name and David & Audrey’s place is called Las Amapolas or The Poppies 🌺. We were looking forward to our few days at Las Amapolas 😊.

As you can imagine it was a bit of a slow start the next day before we took a drive to Mahon which is the capital of Menorca. Because we had arrived in the dark we didn’t see much on our drive to Son Parc so we could now get a feel for the landscape. It reminded us of our time in the Algarve in Portugal and then in the south of Spain in 2014.

Mahon is also where the Port is and that area reminded me of the Caribbean. It was a Sunday but there a few things open and a cruise ship in. We wandered around and then decided on a lovely little place called Bar a vins for lunch – we took the set menu option for 10 Euro each – bread, main, desert and a drink 😊. We went back to the car and headed for the supermarket – enroute some muppet realised he had left his phone behind at the restaurant 😬. David turned the car around and then was kind enough to walk back up all the steps with said muppet to the restaurant where said phone was retrieved. I really shouldn’t be so mean 😜.

That night Steve and David fired up the coal BBQ and cooked some steaks – not as successful as Steve had hoped but it was nice to have a home cooked meal. A case of déjà vu followed and the 🍷 flowed. It wasn’t quite as late as the previous night but it wasn’t far off.

On Monday we went for a walk along the cliff top overlooking some of the bays on the northern side of the island. It was quite windy which is unusual for this time of the year. The colour of the water was amazing. We had a nice lunch at a cafe at the beach before walking back via the touristic side of Son Parc.

That evening we caught the bus into Fornells which is a quaint little town with a marina – very picturesque. We had a drink at Es Tap and the boys enjoyed a little tapa each that had a quails egg on top.

Dinner was booked for 8.30pm at Sa Proa which was amazing 😉. For my entree I had their take on the Menorcan Bomb – little roast potatoes with black and red sausage covered with scrambled eggs and some basil pesto – 😋. The traditional ‘bomb’ is similar but has a fried egg on top with a runny yolk so when you cut into it the yolk gets mixed in with the potatoes and sausage. I couldn’t resist the desert either – a chocolate coulant (soft centred moist chocolate cake) and tangerine sorbet. Heaven 😇.

On Tuesday we dusted off the golf clubs (it had been about 15 days since they were last used) and went to have a game at Golf Son Parc Menorca which is about 5 minutes from Las Amapolas.

The course was opened in 1977 with 9 holes and today it has 18 holes a high quality competition course redesigned by the late well known course architect Dave Thomas (creator of many prestigious courses such as San Roque and Brabazon, where the Ryder Cup was held at The Belfry). The Par of the course is 69 and is comprised of 6 Par 3’s, 9 Par 4’s and 3 Par 5’s.

The golfing rivalry started in Scotland in 2014 carried over to Menorca – David had won the Scotland game and Steve wanted to even the score. It was a close game with the lead bouncing back and forth. David had a two shot lead at one stage but Steve bounced back to win one up until they revisited the shot holes – Steve was to give David one shot so it turned out that they had halved the match. Steve had originally said that there shouldn’t be any shots as David had home course advantage. Technically they halved but David said that Steve could take a moral victory out of it 🙄.

That evening we visited another great restaurant called Cann Marga – they specialise in steak, cooking them the Argentinian way over hot coals. Given Steve’s fascination with this cooking methodology he made himself known to the chef who was a jolly Spanish man. David & Steve shared a Menorcan ‘bomb’ to start. Again the food was exceptional and we finished off with a chocolate texture desert which was amazing but a quarter of it would have been ample. There is no doubt that our visit to Menorca was a culinary delight. It is great to be able to benefit from inside information from the ‘locals’.

Wednesday morning came around and it was time to leave David & Audrey in peace and to give their livers a break 😂. I revisited the cliff top walk we had done on Monday – it was much calmer and the sun was just rising over another beautiful day. Menorca is a beautiful island and we can see why David & Audrey have chosen it as their second home. We feel very privileged to have spent a few days in their company and to share some of their favourite spots around the island 🙏.

Menorca

Menorca or Minorca is one of the Balearic Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to Spain. Its name derives from its size, contrasting it with nearby Majorca – Insula Minor, later Minorica “smaller island”.

Menorca has a population of approximately 91,170 (at 1 January 2017). Its highest point, called El Toro or Monte Toro, is 358 metres (1,175 feet) above sea level.

The island is known for its collection of megalithic stone monuments which indicate very early prehistoric human activity. Some of the earliest culture on Menorca was influenced by other Mediterranean cultures, including the Greek Minoans of ancient Crete.

Invaded by Britain’s Royal Navy in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession, Minorca temporarily became a British possession. Great Britain took possession in 1713, under the terms of Article XI of the Treaty of Utrecht. Under the governorship of General Richard Kane, this period saw the island’s capital moved to Port Mahon and a naval base established in that town’s harbour.

In 1756, during the Seven Years’ War, France captured the island after the Siege of Fort St Philip and a failed British relief attempt. Thanks to the Treaty of Paris of 1763, the British returned to the island again following Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War. In 1781, during the American War of Independence, the British were defeated for a second time, in this instance by a combination of French and Spanish forces, and on 5 January 1782 the Spanish regained control of the island, after a long siege of St. Philip’s Castle in Port Mahon. On the feast of the Epiphany, as an expression of joy, King Charles III of Spain ordered the viceroys, captains general, governors, and military commanders to bring together the garrisons and to extend his greetings to army commanders on the so-called Pascua Militar. The British ceded the island back to Spain the next year in the Treaty of Versailles. Menorca was invaded by the British once again in 1798, during the French Revolutionary Wars, but it was finally and permanently repossessed by Spain by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. The British influence can still be seen in local architecture, with elements such as sash windows.

As with the rest of the Balearic Islands, Menorca was not occupied by the French during the Peninsular War, as it was successfully protected by the Royal Navy, this time allied to Spain.

In October 1993, Minorca was designated by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve.

Wine production has been known on the island since ancient times, but it went into a heavy decline over the last century. Now, several new, small wineries have started up, producing wines locally.

Lingering British influence is seen in the Menorcans’ taste for gin, which during local festes honoring towns’ patron saints is mixed with lemonade (or bitter lemon) to make a golden liquid known as Pomada. Gin from Menorca is not derived from grain alcohol but from wine alcohol (eau de vie de vin), making it more akin to brandy. It has the distinction to have geographical identity protection. Probably the best known gin is Gin Xoriguer which is named after the typical Menorcan windmill which was used to make the first gin. One of the reasons it is also known as Gin de Minorca or Gin de Mahón.

Also famous is Mahón cheese, a cheese typical of the island.

One origin story of mayonnaise is that it was brought back to France from Mahon, Menorca, after Louis-François-Armand du Plessis de Richelieu’s victory over the British at the city’s port in 1756. The story goes that Richelieu stopped to eat in a tavern in Mahon. He was served this sauce which he liked so much he took the recipe back to France, where it became known as mayonnaise or is that mahonnaise 😜.

Cami de Cavalls

The Cami de Cavalls is a walking route which goes around the island’s coast. It stretches for more than 160 kilometres and was originally used to connect Menorca’s watch towers and fortresses. The island is about 48 kilometres long and 16 kilometres wide. There are seven lighthouses on the island.

Wooden Gates

I kept spotting these funky wooden gates on our travels – they are traditionally made from olive wood.

Avarcas

Menorca is well known for producing high quality leather shoes and they still manufacture an individually styled sandal called the Avarcas or Menorcan sandal.

Avarca is a traditional sandal originally developed in Menorca. They were originally made from a leather upper and with the sole made from a recycled car tyre. Nowadays however the soles are made in the style of a car tire but from a purpose made mould. These are hard wearing and much lighter in weight than the original car tire sole. Only original avarca manufacturers are granted with the label ” Avarca de Menorca “. This label is granted by local Government and guarantees that avarcas accomplishes minimum quality standards and avarcas are really manufactured in Menorca island.

Posted in Menorca, Spain | Leave a comment

Under the Tuscan Sun – Tuscany, Italy

We re traced our steps back across the 2000 year old cobble stones dragging our golf bags and suitcase behind us. Today’s train trip would take us to Pisa in the heart of Tuscany.

There was not a lot of room for our golf bags so we commandeered a single seat at the back of the carriage and hoped like hell no one had booked that seat. We had window seats facing each other – Steve had a good view of the bags so could keep an eye on them. Unfortunately half way through the trip someone got on that had booked that seat. The conductor told us we could lie the golf bags by the doors to exit the train – no problem when we were moving but every time we stopped at a station Steve had to get up and make sure people could get out! Not the most relaxing journey we have had.

We had booked the second class tickets back in NZ and after our experience in first class on our trip from Switzerland to Rome and then our experience to Pisa we would recommend booking first class going forward – a lot more space for you and your bags!

We arrived into Pisa at about 3pm and caught the PisaMover to the airport which took about 6 minutes. We then followed the signs to the car rental depot to pick up our little car 🚗 and little it was. I did wonder how we were going to fit all our luggage in but once we put the seats down it was surprisingly easy.

We had booked a hotel off the Luxury Escapes website called Renaissance Tuscany IL Ciocco Resort which was in the Garfagnana and Serchio Valley region. It was about an hour and a quarter to the hotel during which time we got our first introduction to Italian drivers! Generally they drive very fast (the speed limit signs are a mere decoration), love to cut corners, tailgate, overtake at any opportunity and beep at you if you’re not going fast enough for their liking and can’t get past. Even with all this crazy driving, cyclists still choose to share the road with these maniacs – they must be crazy Italians too. We encountered a lot of cyclists and if they are coming towards you at the same time as a car is coming towards you the driver of the car will overtake the cyclist without any regard for you coming the other way so it is up to you to take evasive action. It was a harrowing first trip in our little car.

Our hotel was a couple of kilometres up a windy and steep road so our next challenge was to get our little car full of luggage up there. Our poor little car was working hard but coped admirably.

The resort was lovely and set high up above the valley so we decided to take the weekend to chill and relax – it was hot and the pool was a welcome way to keep cool. On Sunday night we took a drive to Barga which was about 6km away. They had a festival over the weekend and had some food trucks in the piazza so we enjoyed a few different dishes from those.

Barga is a medieval town with a population of 10,000. Pania della Croce, a mountain of the Apuan Alps, dominates the surrounding chestnut trees, grape vines and olive groves. Chestnuts are a local speciality although they aren’t in season at the moment.

img_20691

This Red telephone box was a gift to Barga from retired fish and chip shop owner Mauro Cecchini – who’s family were originally from Barga but who has been living and working in Edinburgh Scotland for many years.

Mauro bought the K6 cast iron telephone box in an auction back in 1986 and installed it in his garden where he had a working telephone connected to his house so that he could make and receive calls in the comfort of his own home. When he moved to a smaller house without a garden a few years ago he was forced to leave the box behind.

A chance meeting with the Mayor of Barga, Umberto Sereni and connections with an export/import company in Scotland who moved the 750kgs box for free was enough for the idea of donating the box to the city to pass from just an idea to being a concrete reality.

The iconic cast iron red painted box with its distinctive small window design, crown and telephone panel, was the idea of noted architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. He was commissioned to design the box in order to commemorate George V’s Silver Jubilee Year, which heralded a policy to install the so called ‘jubilee kiosks’ into every town or village with a post office. The design, which built upon various prototypes from the 1920s became known as the ‘K6’ and soon became a welcome sight at the roadside across the United Kingdom.

However, it is not used as a telephone box but a book exchange – the smallest library in Tuscany.

On Monday we decided to go and do a wine tasting at a family owned winery near Lucca in the hills of Mataraia. The winery was called Fattoria Colleverde. The drive down to the winery was interesting and we hoped we wouldn’t meet anybody coming the other way. There were olive trees everywhere and it was a beautiful setting.

We got set up for our wine tasting outside – we had opted for the five wines tasting – the pours were very generous so we took our time and enjoyed each one. Our hostess told us a lot about the winery and methodologies.

The land on which the vines are planted was originally in olives and although they still have 2000 olive trees they planted some vines about 35 years ago. The land was part of the wife’s heritage and when her and her husband moved onto the land they decided to plants grapes 🍇 – neither of them had any wine making experience but they have made a success of it over the years. The vineyard is certified organic and they use organic and biodynamic principals in growing and making the wine.

They have 4,500 vines per hectare and produce about 40,000 bottles annually. A lot of it is sold locally with some exports via people visiting the winery. The wine is made in oak or stainless steel vats but they don’t add any additional yeast – it is all fermented naturally. All the grapes are hand harvested.

A lot of the buildings were from the 16th century and they have been restored to their original state.

The main white grape varietal in the region is the Trebbiano. Their red blends were made with a high percentage of Sangiovese. They also make a 100% Chardonnay and their flagship wine called Sinopia is 100% Cabernet Franc.

They don’t have any irrigation so rely on nature. They have a twenty year cycle where they dig up the vines to uncover the soil that retains water – this is compressed and the vines replanted. The vines then take about five years to get back to full production.

It was a wine sort of day so after a lovely few hours at Colleverde we headed back to the hotel to join the complimentary wine tasting we had been invited to. We tasted a local red and a local white wine which were very nice. A lot of the wineries just produce for local consumption.

Although we didn’t taste any prosecco the sommelier gave us some background information. I find I am enjoying the sweeter wines more these days so am tending to go for a prosecco rather than a champagne so I was quite interested in what he had to say.

Prosecco is an Italian white wine. Prosecco controlled designation of origin can be spumante (“sparkling wine”), frizzante (“semi-sparkling wine”), or tranquillo (“still wine”). It is made from Glera grapes, formerly known also as Prosecco, but other grape varieties may be included. The following varieties are traditionally used with Glera up to a maximum of 15% of the total: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

The name is derived from that of the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste, where the grape and wine originated.

Prosecco DOC is produced in nine provinces spanning the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Prosecco Superiore DOCG comes in two varieties: Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, which can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (north of Treviso), and the smaller Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, produced near the town of Asolo. DOC and DOCG refer to the designated origin of control with the G standing for Government meaning that a wine with this label not only comes from the area but meets the quality standards as set by the Government.

Prosecco is the main ingredient of the Bellini cocktail and can be a less expensive substitute for Champagne. It is also a key ingredient of spritz, a cocktail popular in northern Italy.

I woke up very early on Tuesday morning to the sound of thunder and I could see lightening flashes through the curtains – it wasn’t a nightmare just a blip in our time under the Tuscan sun. It was definitely cooler with a bit of rain forecast throughout the day so we changed our plans to visit San Gimignano until the Wednesday and had a relaxing day at the hotel.

It actually came out quite nice in the afternoon so we enjoyed some sunshine before our complimentary cooking class at 4pm.

There were 9 of us and we all participated in making the dough for gnocchi, ravioli and tagliatelle. The chef did speak a little english but when he realised we had an Italian speaking guy in the class he deferred to him to translate. Luckily Matteo was a nice guy and enjoyed translating for us.

The chef and his assistant then took our finished products away to cook and add the sauces so I’m not really sure if that qualifies for a cooking class but a raw pasta making class. It was fun never the less.

We all enjoyed the local wines while we waited for our food to be cooked. Matteo and his wife Rosbella were from Torino in the north and although Rosbella didn’t speak english she could understand it. A bridge had collapsed a couple of hundred kilometres north of where we were so that was the big news of the day – Matteo uses this particular bridge regularly so was very interested in how the tragedy was unfolding.

We talked to Matteo about the Italian economy and it was very interesting. He said that if you work for the Government or a Government agency you can retire after 20 years of service and continue to be paid your full salary which is adjusted upwards annually for inflation. What a deal but what an unsustainable situation that the country finds themselves in. I had heard on the news that morning that Italy was looking to lower their retirement age which was going against what other countries around the world are doing. They too have an ageing population and issues with growth due to the reduced labour force.

After World War II, Italy was transformed from an agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of the World Wars, into one of the world’s most advanced nations and a leading country in world trade and exports. It has an industrious and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the largest wine producer in the world), is known for its creative and high quality automobile, naval, industrial, appliance and fashion design – it is the largest hub for luxury goods in the world and the country’s private wealth is one of the largest in the world.

Despite these important achievements, the country’s economy today suffers from structural and non structural problems. The late 2000’s recession hit Italy hard and the Government spent massive amounts of money to revive it which produced a severe rise in public debt. In 2017 debt was 133% of GDP. In comparison NZ’s debt was only 22.2% in 2017. There is a considerable divide in living standards between the north and the south with the south being the poorer cousin.

After our discussion on the Italian economy we enjoyed the pasta that we had helped prepare – it was delicious 😋. We enjoyed the company of our fellow pasta makers – Brian and Kerry from Australia, John from the UK and Matteo and Rosbella from Italy.

Wednesday the 15th of August was Ferragosto which is a public holiday in Italy, Ticino (the Italian speaking part of Switzerland) and San Marino. It coincides with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.

The Roman Catholics celebrate the Assumption of the virgin Mary into Heaven – the day when Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven “body and soul” after the end of her life on earth. However, it was a holiday in Italy long before it took on a religious significance.

Ferragosto, the Italian name for the holiday, comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti (the festivals of the Emperor Augustus) which were introduced back in 18 BC, probably to celebrate a battle victory, and were celebrated alongside other ancient Roman summer festivals. These festivities were linked to the longer Augustali period – intended to be a period of rest after months of hard labour.

In Roman times, the celebrations included horse races, and the Siena Palio dell’Assunta, which takes place on August 16th, keeps these traditions alive.

Today, the holiday combines both its ancient Roman and Catholic roots; it also marks the semi-official start of Italy’s summer holiday season.

We took a trip to check out San Gimignano which is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena, Tuscany, north-central Italy. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls, form “an unforgettable skyline”. Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture, with outstanding examples of secular buildings as well as churches. The Palazzo Comunale, the Collegiate Church and Church of Sant’ Agostino contain frescos, including cycles dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. The “Historic Centre of San Gimignano” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is also known for saffron, the Golden Ham, and its white wine, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, produced from the ancient variety of Vernaccia grape which is grown on the sandstone hillsides of the area.

At the height of its glory, San Gimignano’s patrician families had built around 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power. Although only 14 have survived, San Gimignano still retains its feudal atmosphere and appearance.

We enjoyed wandering around the many shops and art galleries. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant outside the walls that had a great view over the valley. The landscape in this area was more like what we had been expecting in Tuscany – gently rolling fields full of sunflowers and grapes. The area where we are staying is much more mountainous but equally as picturesque.

img_21191img_21201img_2121img_21221img_21231img_21241img_21251

When we were planning our trip to Italy we had checked out staying at a golf resort called Castelfalfi but decided against it. Enroute back to the hotel we came across Castelfalfi so had to stop in to check it out – it looked Ike a great course with lovely scenery albeit a bit hilly.

The plan for Thursday was to visit the Cinque Terra which was a couple of hours from where we were staying. I had seen the pictures and it looked beautiful.

The Cinque Terre (five towns) is a string of five fishing villages perched high on the Italian Riviera (region Liguria) which until recently were linked only by mule tracks and accessible only by rail or water. An ancient system of footpaths is still the best way to visit the five villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

The Cinque Terre is noted for its beauty. Over centuries, people have carefully built terraces to cultivate grapes and olives on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea.

The breathtaking views of harbours far below the wild but hospitable coastline along with the medieval fortresses and plentiful vines and vibrant colours make this a memorable holiday spot.

The Cinque Terre, recognized in 1997 by the Unesco Mankind’s World Heritage, are today a National Park and Protected Marine Area with the aim of protecting this great cultural heritage and natural environment.

I did some research and decided it was best to park at La Spezia Migliarina and catch the train to the main La Spezia station which is the gateway from the south to the Cinque Terra. When we got to the main station at La Spezia we were greeted by hundreds of people everywhere and a big queue to get tickets for the Cinque Terra. You can buy a day ticket or a multi day ticket that lets you access the trains, toilets, hiking trails and wifi hotspots. I joined the queue and about an hour later I had two Cinque Terra day passes. Next mission was to get on a train – it was crazy busy but with a bit of jostling and sprinting down the platform we got on.

Due to how busy it was we decided just to go to a couple of the villages to get a taste of the place. We went to the furtherest village first – Monterosso.

Monterosso is the largest of the five coastal villages. The village is located on hills cultivated with vines and olives. The vegetation surrounds the built-up area like an embrace; its amazing beaches, its beautiful reefs and the sea’s crystal clear waters make this small village one of the most hospitable of the Ligurian Riviera.

The village is divided in two parts marked by the medieval tower of Aurora. The new part of town, Fegina, is full of life, it is the reflection of an area that tourism has made rich, as the great quantity and excellent quality of hotels and restaurants give evidence.

Fegina is dominated by the famous concrete statue of the Giant, built beside the terrace of a local villa. This statue was created at the beginning of the XX century by Levacher and Minerbi, an architect and a sculptor, and represents Neptune, the god of the sea. Now it has become the symbol of Monterosso.

The old town of Monterosso is dominated by the ruins of the castle and characterized by typical narrow medieval streets carruggi with multi-coloured terraced houses. The beach is the only extensive sand beach in the Cinque Terre and runs along most of the coast line and is well used by tourists and locals.

The beach was jam packed and the water looked so inviting. We strolled along the coastal path enjoying a gelato stop. We have become gelato snobs though after our Roman Food Tour in Rome looking for signs that the gelato is real and not fake – it is not as easy as you may think 🤔, especially in the tourist hot spots.

We then carried on to the Aurora Tower which is in the style of the 1500’s although it has been added to and renovated over the centuries. There is a really nice restaurant up there and we decided to treat ourselves to a Hugo. Everyone has their take on cocktails and today’s Hugo was quite sweet with minimal bubbles – I really enjoyed it and it was such a gorgeous spot.

img_21291img_21301img_21311img_21321img_21341

img_2477

We decided to make our way back to the train station to check out the next village – we had chosen Vernazza but spoke to a couple at the station who were staying at Manarola who said they found it was the quietest of the five villages. I am not sure what planet they were on because when we arrived it was also jam packed. There is no beach here so people just lie on the rocks and jump into the water from there. We walked up to the high point and again the views were gorgeous.

We sat in the shade and ended up chatting to a lovely young French couple – the guy spoke english and told us that his english teacher was from Auckland, NZ. They were fun to talk to and I so love the way they translate English phrases. We discussed the fact that no one checks the tickets on the trains so you could easily ride them for free which they had done on a couple of occasions – they were staying at Monterosso for a few days so had been visiting the different villages. He was laughing and said ‘but I don’t want to be burnt by the fire’ – his take on ‘if you play with fire you could get burnt’.

Manarola, built on a high rock 70 metres above sea level, is one of the most charming and romantic of the Cinque Terre villages.The tiny harbor features a boat ramp, picturesque multicoloured houses facing the sea and a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants.

Along the main road the boats are pulled onto dry land every time the sea is rough. The Main Street down to the sea was lined with small boats. Although there is no real beach here, it has some of the best deep-water swimming around.

The village is all ups and downs, with steep narrow alleys carrugi, leading to the sea. Today the church serves as a religious and community meeting place, but in more ancient times, the bell tower was used as a post to watch for potential pirate raids.

Another peculiarity of Manarola is a pyramid in white cement whose peak can be seen rising between the taller houses and is used as a navigational reference point for all those at sea.

img_2136img_2137img_2139img_2140

We decided we had done our dash with the crowds so headed back to the train station to catch the train to La Spezia and another train back to our car at La Spezia Migliarina. We then had a couple of hours to endure with the crazy Italians on the road before reaching our sanctuary at Renaissance.

It was a worthwhile trip but I would recommend going when it is quieter so you could enjoy the villages without the crowds and the searing heat.

On our travels south we had spotted a cool stone bridge that I wanted to check out – the bridge at Borgo a Mozzano, called “The Devil’s Bridge” or the “Maddalena Bridge” is certainly the most beautiful bridge in the province of Lucca, and one of the most suggestive in Italy. Many legends were born from its myterious construction and its singular design, with one large arch flanked by three smaller ones, inspired the works of many artists. The bridge’s slimming profile, which continues to strike its admirers, must have been even more impressive in the past before a dam was built, in the years after the Second World War, which raised the level of the water in the surrounding area.

According to legend, the bridge was built by Saint Julian who, unable to complete the hard project, asked the Devil for help, offering him in return the soul of the first living being who would have crossed the finished bridge. Once the bridge was finished, Saint Julian threw a piece of bread onto the bridge, luring a dog to cross it, cheating the Devil.

There is little historical information about the building of the bridge. Nicolau Tegrimi, in the biography of Castruccio Castracani, attributes the bridge to Matilde di Canossa (1046-1125) and mentions a restoration made by Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328.) According to the hypothesis of Massimo Betti, during the Castruccio government the minor arches were constructed in stone, replacing previous structure in wood. This would explain the difference between the major arch and the minor ones.

In the 16th century the Hermitage of Maddalena was built on the left bank, providing a name for the bridge. In the following centuries the right bank was built up with factories. In 1889 the structure of the bridge, on the Borgo a Mozzano side, was modified to allow the passage of the train line which runs from Lucca to Aulla. A part of the bridge was demolished and a ramp was built over the train tracks.

We arrived at the bridge about 8.15am and the sun hadn’t risen above the hills so it was rather chilly with quite a wind which we hadn’t really encountered anywhere else. Our visit was short lived.

img_2155img_2157img_2159img_2160

Next stop was Pisa which is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower (the bell tower of the city’s cathedral), the city of over 91,104 residents (around 200,000 with the metropolitan area) contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces and various bridges across the Arno River which empties out into the Mediterranean. Much of the city’s architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics.

The city is also home of the University of Pisa, which has a history going back to the 12th century and also has the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, founded by Napoleon in 1810, and its offshoot, the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies as the best sanctioned Superior Graduate Schools in Italy.

The Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa, the Square of Miracles in English, was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. The square is not located right smack in the center of the city as you might imagine but along the north western edge along the city’s fortified wall, almost out of the center. This is where space was available back in 1094 when construction was first started on the cathedral.

Since the times of the Etruscans, the three structures found in the piazza have been considered central to religious life, symbolizing the main stages of a human life: the Baptistery represents birth, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta life and the Camposanto, of course, alludes to death. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually considered a part of the cathedral since it is really its bell tower.

The square is surrounded by a beautiful green lawn which you are not allowed to walk on. As in most cities, the square was called Piazza del Duomo until Italian writer and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio described the square as the “prato dei Miracoli,” or “meadow of miracles” in his novel Forse che sì forse che no (1910). The square is now simply known as the Campo dei Miracoli, which is literally the “Field of Miracles”.

Construction of the Duomo began in the 11th century and, after many changes, was actually only completed in the 19th century when the architect Alessandro Gherardesca gave the square its final present appearance.

The Square first started taking shape in 1064 with the creation of the centerpiece of the entire complex: the Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. The cathedral symbolizes the maximum expression of Pisan Romanesque architecture influenced at the same time by various stylistic elements. At the time, Pisa was a Maritime Republic (from the 11th through 15th centuries), and sailors travelled around the Arab world and remained smitten by all the beautiful things they saw.

Years later the enlargement of the fortified wall began (the church at the beginning wasn’t inside the walls) and the building of the baptistery began only in 1152. The baptistery was located directly in front of the Cathedral with a diameter equal to the facade of the cathedral. About 20 years later, work started on the bell tower which is now known simply as the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. In 1277, work stated on the graveyard, known as the Camposanto.

Before the Florentine siege in the 15th century, you could enter the square through the Porta del Leone, but this was closed by the Florentines when they built the current door called Porta Santa Maria. During the era of the Medici and Lorraine dominance in the region, the four monuments were surrounded by the construction of many other buildings: these were knocked down only at the end of the 19th century when the architect Alessandro La Gherardesca reorganized the square to give it its current structure.

The most recent changes were made during the Fascist era: the monument She-Wolf of Rome was added on the lawn north of the bell tower and 17 cypresses were planted east of the square, in memory of the soldiers that died in the war.

We had parked in the free parking about a kilometre from the tower and walked there passing all the souvenir shops. The tour buses had also started to fill the parking lot. We were pleased we had got there early because the place was really filling up as we left. I had spotted these hand painted t-shirts as we walked in so went back to have a look on the way out. I spoke to the woman and her husband who’s stall it was and it turns out they have a son living in Auckland – he has been there for 15 years and is a real estate agent. They have visited and loved it. The woman and her daughter paint the t-shirts and their main design is the sunflower 🌻 – it was only right I purchased a couple 😉.

img_2481img_2175img_2178img_2179img_2180

The closest large town to the hotel is Lucca and although we had driven past it a number of times we hadn’t stopped in so today was the day. I had googled where to park and ended up within the city walls – we were driving slowly through the car park with ancient walls either side and getting beeped at – bloody Italians! We ended up leaving the city walls and finding some free parking about a kilometre away. Some people we met in Rome had recommended we bike the city walls so we hired a couple of bikes and off went – it was only 4km to circumvent the old town so nothing too onerous.

Lucca has become a popular retirement spot for the British, French, and Germans in recent years. Although the city as a whole contains about 84,000 inhabitants, the old walled city, by far the most interesting part of town, has a population of only 7,500.

The walls encircling the old town remain intact, even as the city expanded and modernized, unusual for cities in the region. Initially built as a defensive rampart, once the walls lost their military importance they became a pedestrian promenade, the Passeggiata delle Mure Urbane, a street atop the walls linking the bastions. Each of the four principal sides of the structure is lined with a different tree species than the others.

The old walled city is commonly referred to as the city of one hundred churches for the large number of religious buildings which represent marvelous examples of architectural Italian styles.

img_2188img_2189img_2190img_2191

It was very hot so after our little jaunt around Lucca we headed back to the hotel for some R & R by the pool – our last afternoon under the Tuscan sun. In the evening we took our little car another 1.2 kilometres up the hill to Locanda Alla Posta for a lovely dinner. We were leaving the restaurant after dinner when Steve said hello to a little fella who was about 3 – he then proceeded to tell Steve in Italian that he had done a farto 😂. The little guys grandma came over to drag him away laughing as she tried to explain what he was saying. It is the same the world over – kids and farting 😮.

Some final thoughts on our trip to Italy…..

In hindsight we didn’t do enough research on Tuscany before coming here. The hotel we stayed at was lovely but it was probably a little bit removed from the action. When I thought of Tuscany I thought of fields of sunflowers, vineyards, local markets and an abundance of fresh produce. I think this would have been more prevalent a bit further south and we wouldn’t have had to travel so far each time we wanted to do something.

I am going to make a generalisation here – the Italian people as a whole are not particularly friendly. Of course we encountered some nice Italians but it wasn’t the norm to be greeted in a positive and friendly manner.

So many people smoke here and it still seems acceptable to smoke in public places although it was banned in 2005.

August is a busy time in Italy so it is probably not the best month to visit if you are not a fan of lots of people and queues.

I mentioned what we perceived to be crazy driving by the Italians above so I was curious to see what their road toll was as a percentage of drivers and cars on the road. It turns out it is about 2% lower than NZ’s per 100,000 population and about 5% lower per 100,000 cars so maybe what we perceive as crazy driving is actually highly skilled driving 🤭.

Posted in Italy, Tuscany | Leave a comment

Vatican City State

On Thursday we did a tour of the Vatican City which encompassed the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The smallest state in the world is one busy place! I had visited the Vatican City back in 1997 but thought it was worth another visit with Steve.

Our guide Ricardo was well versed in the history and art of the Vatican City but it is a lot to take in. We spent about 15 minutes in the Sistine Chapel which was packed. The paintings didn’t seem as vibrant as I remembered them being – the same with the tapestries.

St Peter’s Basilica was just as impressive though. Ricardo pointed out the Holy Door, the last door on the right into the Basilica. This door is bricked up on the inside. On the first day of the Holy Year the Pope strikes the brick wall with a hammer, and so opens the door to let in the pilgrims who come to make the most of the indulgence. It will be closed by the Pope himself at the end of the Holy Year. The Holy Door represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the gate of the sheep pen: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me, will be safe. He will go in and out, and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). The Holy Year is celebrated every 25 years. In this century two extraordinary Holy Years of Redemption have also been celebrated on the anniversary of Jesus’ death on the Cross: 1933 and 1983.

Vatican City officially the Vatican City State or the State of Vatican City is an independent state located within the city of Rome. With an area of 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of about 1,000, it is the smallest state in the world by both area and population. However, formally it is not sovereign, with sovereignty being held by the Holy See.

The Holy See also called the See of Rome, is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, the episcopal see of the Pope, and an independent sovereign entity. It serves as the central point of reference for the Catholic Church everywhere and the focal point of communion due to its position as the pre-eminent episcopal see of the universal church. Today, it is responsible for the governance of all Catholics, organised in their Particular Churches, Patriarchates and religious institutes.

Diplomatically, the Holy See acts and speaks for the whole church.

The creation of the Vatican City State was meant to ensure the diplomatic and spiritual independence of the Pope.

The independent city-state came into existence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.

The Pope is ex officio head of state of Vatican City since the 1860s, functions dependent on his primordial function as bishop of the diocese of Rome. The term “Holy See” refers not to the Vatican state but to the Pope’s spiritual and pastoral governance, largely exercised through the Roman Curia. His official title with regard to Vatican City is Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City.

As the Vatican City is an enclave within Italy, its military defence is provided by the Italian armed forces. However, there is no formal defence treaty with Italy, as the Vatican City is a neutral state. Vatican City has no armed forces of its own, although the Swiss Guard is a military corps of the Holy See responsible for the personal security of the Pope, and resident in the state. Soldiers of the Swiss Guard are entitled to hold Vatican City State passports and nationality. Swiss mercenaries were historically recruited by Popes as part of an army for the Papal States, and the Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II on 22 January 1506 as the pope’s personal bodyguard and continues to fulfill that function. It is listed in the Annuario Pontificio under “Holy See”, not under “State of Vatican City”. At the end of 2005, the Guard had 134 members. Recruitment is arranged by a special agreement between the Holy See and Switzerland. All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 174 cm (5 ft 9 in) in height. Members are equipped with small arms and the traditional halberd (also called the Swiss voulge), and trained in bodyguarding tactics. The Palatine Guard and the Noble Guard, the last armed forces of the Vatican City State, were disbanded by Pope Paul VI in 1970. As Vatican City has listed every building in its territory on the International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict theoretically renders it immune to armed attack.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the 17th December 1936 is the 266th and current Pope and sovereign of the Vatican City State. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio worked briefly as a chemical technologist and nightclub bouncer before beginning seminary studies. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, and from 1973 to 1979 was Argentina’s provincial superior of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was created a cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. He led the Argentine Church during the December 2001 riots in Argentina. The administrations of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner considered him a political rival. Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on 28 February 2013, a papal conclave elected Bergoglio as his successor on 13 March. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Within the Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museums are Christian and art museums located within the city boundaries of the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.

Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael, are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. In 2017, they were visited by 6 million people, which combined makes it the 4th most visited art museum in the world.

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

Between 1508 and 1512, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel’s ceiling, a project which changed the course of Western art and is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization. In a different climate after the Sack of Rome, he returned and between 1535 and 1541, painted The Last Judgment for Popes Clement VII and Paul III. The fame of Michelangelo’s paintings has drawn multitudes of visitors to the chapel ever since they were revealed five hundred years ago.

St Peter’s Basilica

The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican or simply St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.

Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.

Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus’s Apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period, and there has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, which would replace Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

St. Peter’s is famous as a place of pilgrimage and for its liturgical functions. The Pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year, drawing audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square. St. Peter’s has many historical associations, with the Early Christian Church, the Papacy, the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-reformation and numerous artists, especially Michelangelo. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age. St. Peter’s is one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica, all four of which are in Rome. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop; the Cathedra of the Pope as Bishop of Rome is in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

The visit to the holy land warranted a second visit to the holy food – Bonci Pizza! Well we were in the neighbourhood so it was only right. It was busy and we waited about 40 minutes to be served – it was so worth the wait though 😋.

Posted in Vatican City State | Leave a comment

Food Glorious Food – Rome, Italy

On Wednesday we did a Roman Food Tour – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. First up was a ride on the metro which was surprisingly easy to navigate – they only have two lines – A & B. A third line is under construction but due to all the ruins being discovered on a regular basis it is proving difficult to navigate underground.

We arrived at the meeting point with quite a bit of time to spare – we had been warned about the unreliability of Italian public transport so had built in a generous buffer. What to do with the spare time – have a haircut of course 😉.

We met our guide Luca at the Cipro metro station. Luca is Romanian – she came to study in Rome 12 years ago and never left. She has been taking the food tours for the past three years and I’m in love with her passion for food.

We were in the neighbourhood of Prati – this is a residential neighbourhood where apparently you find all the best places to eat as this is where the locals eat.

She explained that Italy has 20 regions and although it is one country it might as well be 20.

All of the regions of Italy are very distinctive and often the landscape and way of life changes quite dramatically between one region and the next. Although Italian is spoken throughout Italy, many of the regions have their own dialects, some totally unrecognisable from standard Italian.

There are often differences in appearance between people from different regions. Venetians can be taller and thinner than some of their cousins from Naples and the dark hair and brown eyes of the Mezzogiorno can look very different from the blonde hair and blue eyes of the regions in the far north. But the main thing that makes each Italian region unique is the attitude of the people. Italians are fiercely loyal to their own region, each believing that theirs is better than any other. There is even an expression for it: ‘Campanilismo’ (the love of one’s own bell-tower).

They love the landscape of their own home and think their region’s climate is the best and steadfastly hang on to every tradition and fragment of culture that is historically theirs.

Food and wine are the biggest differences of all, with people from one region almost refusing to eat anything from another. Recipes have been handed down for many generations and certain dishes that we have grown to love outside Italy are only eaten in one small corner of a particular region and are almost unheard of elsewhere.

One thing that all the regions thrive on is coffee. Introduced in the 1500s, coffee has developed its own culture in Italy.

The day is defined by coffee rituals: a cappuccino with breakfast, a caffè macchiato – or two – as an afternoon pick-me-up, and espresso after dinner. And like any culture, that of Italian coffee comes with seemingly mysterious laws. Order a latte, and you’ll receive a glass of milk (which is exactly what you ordered). Ask for a to-go cup or order a cappuccino after 11 a.m., and risk an instant tourist label.

BUONGIORNO! The morning begins with a breakfast comprising a pastry paired with a delicious, milky coffee:

Cappuccino: equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk

Caffè latte: espresso with more steamed milk and less foam

Latte macchiato: steamed milk “marked” with a splash of espresso

To blend: Don’t order these drinks after 11 a.m. Italians only enjoy milky coffee in the morning – never in the afternoon, and especially not after a meal!

PRENDIAMO UN CAFFÈ! “Let’s get a coffee!” Appropriate anytime, a caffè (or caffè normale) is simply an espresso, a small but strong shot of black coffee. Italians often sip a caffè as an afternoon pick-me-up or after a meal.

To blend: While you can order a caffè doppio for a double shot of espresso, this is not typical in Italy. If you need that extra jolt of caffeine, just visit your favorite barista multiple times a day – you won’t be the only one.

MIX IT UP. Over the centuries, Italians have created a variety of alterations to the powerful punch of espresso.

Caffè macchiato: For the softer side of coffee, enjoy this espresso “marked” with a splash of frothy milk. Unlike the breakfast drinks, this lightly milky caffè can be enjoyed as frequently as caffè normale.

Caffè corretto: Literally translated to “corrected coffee,” this drink features espresso with a splash of alcohol, such as grappa or sambuca.

Caffè americano: After trying drip coffee in the United States, Italians decided to offer tourists a taste of home. Their interpretation: espresso diluted with plenty of hot water.

Caffè lungo: This “long coffee” comprises espresso with a splash of hot water but is stronger than the americano.

To blend: Since the coffee experience is designed to be enjoyed socially and in small doses, to-go cups are nonexistent in Italy.

THINK REGIONALLY. Each of Italy’s 20 regions boasts its own unique coffee culture. Espresso may be ubiquitous, but there are many regional twists to the caffè. In the northern Le Marche, enjoy a caffè anisette for an anise-flavored espresso; in southern Sicily, try caffè d’un parrinu, an Arabic-inspired coffee flavored with cloves, cinnamon, and cocoa.

To blend: Before ordering, research the region for local ingredients – or subtly listen to your fellow coffee drinkers at the cafe!

AL BANCO. In Italy, coffee is typically enjoyed al banco, or at the bar, with friends.

So you can guess what was first up on the food tour – COFFEE 😋 and a pastry.

The standard ritual is to go into a Bar (the sign Bar in Italy means coffee not alcohol) order an espresso and drink it at the bar. It is cheaper if you stand – the price is regulated by the government and for a standing espresso you won’t pay anymore than EU1.20. If you choose to sit the price goes up – the fancier the sitting place the higher the price.

Coffee was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. But it wasn’t until the invention of a steam-driven, coffee-making machine in the late 19th century that Italy gave the world espresso.

The pastry we enjoyed was a cannolo which is a Sicilian specialty – made from flour, cocoa powder and water – they are deep fried and rolled into a tube like a cannelloni. They are then filled with ricotta cheese and dipped in a topping like pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, cherries etc… I had candied orange – not bad although I’d take porridge any day of the week.

It was now 11am and time for pizza and not just any pizza but Bonci pizza. Rome’s esteemed pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci (pronounced Bahn-chi) creates pizzas that are so delicious, so creative, and so visually stunning that he has developed a fanatical following not only in Italy, but around the globe.

His philosophy is simple – “I think good things are made with good things and produced by people who genuinely care for the well-being of those who eat them. We are changing the pizza game by embracing my artisanal Roman roots and these guiding principles:

• Quality without compromise

• Use only the freshest, natural ingredients available

• Agriculture as culinary art

We only use ingredients produced by people who share our beliefs and respect the true value of culinary and nutrition.

This is how we are … Simply Natural.”

In the words of the late Anthony Bourdain who visited this store in one of his programs – “It’s amazing … You want it. You want it bad. Your life would be so much better if you have this right now. Leave your family. Abandon your children … You know you want it.”

And he was right – after eating Bonci’s pizza I am unsure how any other pizza will ever measure up. The secret is in the dough – Bonci uses a 100% organic proprietary blend of heritage stone ground flours produced in Italy. Then they mix the flour with water, EVOO (EVOO is the natural juice squeezed from olives one day after the harvest. No heat or chemicals are used in extracting Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and salt. The dough is then left to rise for 48-72 hours and, when baked, the result is a thick but light and airy crispy crust rich in natural fiber. Bonci pizzas are cooked in special ovens that create the perfect crust and crunch. They also layer the toppings and cook them separately depending on how long each will take to cook.

The pizza base was light, full of air and crunchy. Luca explained that the lesser quality flours and shorter dough processes lead to a pizza base that makes you feel bloated. I think we can all say we’ve experienced that feeling at some stage in our lives before.

Gabriele has created 1,500 different pizza recipes. To date, no one has tried to eat them all at once. Vogue magazine’s food critic refers to Gabriele as “The Michelangelo of Pizza.” The toppings change daily and there can be up to 60 different flavours in one day – the shop is open from 11am until 10pm. There was already a queue when we arrived at 11am – the Italians are not good at queuing so you take a number and when your number comes up on the screen you’re up.

You tell the server what flavour you like and how much – they cut the pizza with scissors, weigh it and then heat it through in the oven. Most flavours cost EU26.50 per kilogram.

We visited the main store but there is a smaller store near Roma Termini and he has two stores in Chicago in the US with talk of expansion to New York also.

Each couple on the tour choose a flavour and we all tried each one. We choose the scrambled egg and pork belly one which was pretty good. Another flavour we tried was potato and onions with truffle oil which was my favorite.

The History of Pizza

Pizza in its most basic form as a seasoned flatbread has a long history in the Mediterranean. Several cultures including the Greeks and Phoenicians ate a flatbread made from flour and water. The dough would be cooked by placing on a hot stone and then seasoned with herbs. The Greeks called this early pizza plankuntos and it was basically used as an edible plate when eating stews or thick broth. It was not yet what we would call pizza today but it was very much like modern focaccia. These early pizzas were eaten from Rome to Egypt to Babylon and were praised by the ancient historians Herodotus and Cato the Elder.

The introduction of tomatoes to Italian cuisine in the 18th and early 19th centuries finally gave us the true modern Italian pizza. Even though tomatoes reached Italy by the 1530’s it was widely thought that they were poisonous and were grown only for decoration. However the innovative (and probably starving) peasants of Naples started using the supposedly deadly fruit in many of their foods, including their early pizzas. Since that fateful day the world of Italian cuisine would never be the same, however it took some time for the rest of society to accept this crude peasant food. Once members of the local aristocracy tried pizza they couldn’t get enough of it, which by this time was being sold on the streets of Naples for every meal. As pizza popularity increased, street vendors gave way to actual shops where people could order a custom pizza with many different toppings. By 1830 the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” of Naples had become the first true pizzeria and this venerable institution is still producing masterpieces.

The popular pizza Margherita owes its name to Italy’s Queen Margherita who in 1889 visited the Pizzeria Brandi in Naples. The Pizzaiolo (pizza maker) on duty that day, Rafaele Esposito created a pizza for the Queen that contained the three colors of the new Italian flag. The red of tomato, white of the mozzarella and fresh green basil, was a hit with the Queen and the rest of the world. Neapolitan style pizza had now spread throughout Italy and each region started designing their own versions based on the Italian culinary rule of fresh, local ingredients.

A bit of lighter fare was up next – white wine, cheese and balsamic vinegar and a lesson about food certification in Italy based on origin, methods of production and quality. All of the acronyms associated with this can be a bit confusing, but they’re important to know about… they guarantee that what you’re eating is a local Italian delicacy, not an imitation!

DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (literally “Protected Designation of Origin”). As the the name suggests, this certification ensures that products are locally grown and packaged. And it makes a promise to the consumer: It’s a guarantee that the food was made by local farmers and artisans, using traditional methods. In fact, by law, only DOP products like balsamic vinegar can carry the word “traditional” on their labels, because they adhere to local traditions.

So the DOP label may bring a higher price tag with it. But it also promises the highest quality!

How does a product become DOP?

Italian specialties get DOP recognition by following a strict set of guidelines: Every step, from production to packaging, is regulated. Of course, not all local Italian specialities are recognized as DOP. Even more confusing, though, you have to always look for the DOP label to ensure the product is DOP. For example, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) is a DOP product. But only certain brands carry the seal. Other types of mozzarella di bufala, therefore, aren’t necessarily made in the traditional way, with the traditional ingredients; only the DOP varieties are.

What about IGP?

“DOP” isn’t the only label. You may also find the IGP, Indicazione Geografica Protetta (“indication of geographical protection”), label on Italian products. While also well-respected, this certification is less strict than DOP. It traces food specialities back to their geographical origin to at least one phase in production, but not to all phases, like DOP.

What are some famous DOP foods, and how do you find them?

Mozzarella di bufala (Campania, Lazio): Considered to be more creamy than mozzarella made from cow’s milk, buffalo mozzarella is a true Italian delicacy.

Balsamic vinegar (Emilia Romagna): DOP balsamic vinegar, from Modena and Reggio Emilia, has a thicker consistency and richer taste than most other vinegars on the market—and can be aged for over 12 years.

San Marzano tomatoes (Campania): Long in shape and bittersweet in taste, these tomatoes are harvested by hand. They’re later crushed, canned… and used to make dishes like pizza and pasta taste out of this world!

Olive oil (Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Veneto): This staple has the largest number of DOP varieties of any Italian food specialty, and it comes from many different Italian regions. Some regions even have multiple DOP oils from different areas!

Wine labeling is similar but they use DOC or DOCG.The letters DOC or DOCG on an Italian wine label mean Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Origin), and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Origin as assessed by the Government), the latter superior to the first. They refer to government guarantees of the wines’ origins.

About 300 wine growing regions in Italy have the DOC designation, while only 21 have a DOCG label. The DOCG wines conform to DOC laws and in addition are quality tested by government-appointed inspectors. However, this doesn’t mean that non-DOC wines are bad. On the contrary, some wine makers have broken away from the DOC restrictions to experiment with blends of grape varieties. These ‘new’and often very expensive wines in Tuscany have become known as “Super-Tuscans” even though they only bear a Vino da Tavola (table wine) label. Some of these Super-Tuscans are being produced in the Livorno Province in the Bolgheri area.

Another denomination, IGT, means that a wine is guaranteed to come from a specific wine-producing area.

Italy is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Italian wine regions are known for their rich variety of wine styles. Italy, closely followed by Spain and France, is the world’s largest wine producer by volume. Its contribution is about 45–50 million hectolitres per year, and represents about one third of global production. Not only is Italian wine exported around the world, it is also extremely popular with Italians. Italians rank fifth on the world wine consumption list by volume with 42 litres per capita consumption. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation.

Balsamic vinegar (Italian: aceto balsamico) is a very dark, concentrated, and intensely flavoured vinegar made wholly or partially from grape must, originating in Italy.

The term “aceto balsamico” is unregulated, but there are three protected balsamic vinegars: “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia” (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia), and “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena). The two traditional balsamic vinegars are made the same way from reduced grape must aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels, and are produced exclusively in either the province of Modena or the wider Emilia region surrounding it. The names of these two vinegars are protected by the European Union‘s Protected Designation of Origin, while the usually less expensive Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena) is made from grape must blended with wine vinegar, and produced exclusively in either Modena or Reggio Emilia, with a Protected Geographical Indication status.

Balsamic vinegar contains no balsam. The word balsamicobalsam-like” in the sense of “restorative” or “curative”.

Must is freshly crushed fruit juice (usually grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. This must is then aged in barrels to be used in the production of balsamic vinegar.

We tried some Reggio Emilia gold label which indicates the vinegar has been aged for 25 years or more. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years and a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years. It was dark and rich and tasted a bit like maple syrup.

Balsamic vinegar is “a regional family tradition some have turned into a business.” These traditions are passed down through the generations. One hundred litres of grape juice is required to produce six litres of balsamic vinegar so this along with the time required to age it explains why the authentic stuff is so expensive.

Next up Luca talked to us about truffles – no not the chocolate ones but the wild mushroom ones 😊. We tried some truffle oil with the cheese – it has a very concentrated flavour, hence you don’t need a lot of it which is just as well as truffles are very expensive. It is very difficult to farm or cultivate them but it has been done – the initial investment and maturity delay (7 to 10 years) makes it a high risk business.

Pigs and dogs have been used to find truffles. Both the female pig’s natural truffle-seeking, as well as her usual intent to eat the truffle, are due to a compound within the truffle similar to androstenol, the sex pheromone of boar saliva, to which the sow is keenly attracted.

In Italy, the use of the pig to hunt truffles has been prohibited since 1985 because of damage caused by animals to truffle’s mycelia during the digging that dropped the production rate of the area for some years.

Our next visit was to the Trionfale Market. The Trionfale market is considered the first corner market in Rome and with its 273 stalls is the biggest in town, and among the biggest ones in Italy and even in Europe. Open on Giulio Cesare Avenue at the end of ‘800, for years it has been a transit spot for those going out of town or hunting and stopped with carriage or horses to refuel. At that time, it was countryside all around.

Then, in the 30’s, it moved to Andrea Doria Road, in what used to be a working-class neighborhood and has later turned into a stylish area. These two souls actually live together in the market as of today, making it very cheap on one side, but also refined thanks to a number of stalls selling early fruits and vegetables and other rare goods.

On March 11 2009, the new Trionfale market was officially opened in a huge glass and cement building, an underlying parking with 420 garages and 320 car spaces, including a post office and aiming at becoming a full services center, with a library, a nursery and some university facilities which still need to be opened.

The market was actually very quiet when we visited as a lot of the stall holders were on holiday – August is the month when the Italians go on holiday. The cheese stall was open though and we were able to sample buffalo mozzarella from Amalfi. Buffalo mozzarella should be eaten fresh and at room temperature – this means between 1 and 3 days after it is made. It is preserved in salt water. Quite unfortunately for the “buffalo mozzarella lovers” spread in the world, the diffusion of this specialty outside the production area is limited by a severe intrinsic constraint: “real” mozzarella loses its wonderful flavor very soon. People living within the production area would in fact typically refuse as “too old” a mozzarella made only two days before! For this reason, the taste of mozzarella must be enjoyed in the region where it is produced.

These water buffaloes are treated like royalty – they are treated to classical music, a buffalo wash not too dissimilar to a car wash and get milked when they want to be milked – demand milking. They are happy and endure no stress in their lives, hence they produce this magical product. And it sure was magical and paired with the sweetest tomatoes really was a match made in heaven.

We also tried some pork products at the market. Italy has been the worldwide pioneer in the techniques of curing meats since ancient Roman times. Curing is the age-old process of preserving fresh meat through salting, smoking and air-drying Italian Meats. Pork is the most common cured meat in Italy, although other meats such as beef, venison and wild boar are also cured. Each region of Italy is known for its own cured meats, known as salumi, based on local customs. Spice plays an important role in the curing of Italian Meats. Typically, Italian Meats from the south tend to be spicier than those from northern Italy.

Cured Italian Meats fall into two basic categories: cured meats that have been taken from whole cuts of meat, and cured meats that have been molded from ground meat and stuffed into casings. Cured meat plays a prominent role in the Italian antipasto, meaning “before the meal”. An antipasto is a first course, traditionally consisting of foods such as sliced cured meats, cheeses and vegetables.

Types of Cured Italian Meats:

Bresaola: This cut of air-dried beef originally from Aosta is deep red in color and delicately flavored. Bresaola is delicious when sliced thinly, coated with olive oil and drizzled with lemon juice and capers. Like most Italian Meats, its production has spread beyond its original area of development to other parts of Italy and is also made by manufacturers of Italian Meats around the globe. Cacciatore: This cured sausage, the smallest form of all Italian Meats, translates to “Hunter’s Salami”. These sweet, dry sausages are characterized not only by their small size but also their boisterous, spicy flavor. Cacciatore Salami are great for picnics or antipasto.

Capicola: This Italian Meat is perhaps more popular in the US than in southern Italy where it was first produced. Capicola is called for in most American recipes for an Italian Hoagie or Italian Sub. Made from pork shoulder butt that is brine soaked then cooked, Capicola is seasoned with hot pepper flakes, salt and garlic. Like many Italian Meats, it has a marbled appearance and a rich, bold flavor.

Coppa: This famous Italian cut of ham is a salted, seasoned and dry-cured thinly cut pork shoulder or neck. Coppa is a typical addition to an antipasto plate, served alongside other cured Italian Meats and enjoyed with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Cotechino: An example of the best of northern Italian Meats, Cotechino is closely reated to a similar salami called Zampone. This boiled Italian sausage originated in Modena in the early 1500s, and its production soon spread throughout all of Emilia-Romagna and into neighboring Lombardy and the Veneto. Typically served with lentils as a celebratory dish at New Year’s, Cotechino is now enjoyed year round in Italy and by fans of Italian cuisine around the world.

Culatello: One of our favorite Italian Meats from Parma, Culatello is to Prosciutto as Filet Mignon is to steak. The most famous variety is Culatello di Zibello, hailing from the town of the same name. Culatello is banned from import into the US because of health concerns arising from its production methods. This prime cut of ham is first seasoned and salted, then it is inserted into a pig’s bladder and shaped with twine into an oblong form. This most elusive of all Italian Meats is then cured for up to 12 months in specially designated aging buildings near the Po River where the river mist stimulates molds on the walls and ceiling, imparting the meat with a flavor that simply cannot be duplicated.

Guanciale: Although not an Italian Meat that belongs on the classic antipasto platter, Guanciale excels as a cooking ingredient. Guanciale is made of cured pork jowl and is used like Pancetta to add flavor and richness to pasta, risotto and stews. This traditional Italian Meat has a good amount of flavorful fat with striations of meat running throughout. Guanciale is often flavored with black pepper, garlic and rosemary mixed into its cure. Cubed up and fried until crispy, Guanciale is most often encountered in the classic dish, Pasta all’Amatriciana.

Lardo: While not technically a meat perhaps, Lardo is a salt-cured cut of pork back fat, spiced with black pepper, nutmeg and other savory additions. Locally popular in the Valle d’Aosta and other regions of the northern part of Italy, Lardo is served in a similar fashion to salami – sliced and included in an antipasto course or on a sandwich.

Mortadella: Mortadella is one of the most famous Italian Meats worldwide. It was first produced in Bologna and is the ancient ancestor to what Oscar Meyer simply calls Bologna Meat in the US. Unlike ordinary Bologna meat, This cured pork sausage boasts the addition of pork fat and numerous flavorful spices to its recipe. In Italy, Mortadella is often used in sandwiches or as part of the antipasto course.

Pancetta: One of the most traditional Italian Meats, this salted, spiced and dry-cured pork belly is served thinly sliced or diced for recipes. An excellent substitute for bacon, Pancetta is perhaps best known for as a key ingredient in Pasta Carbonara.

Pepperoni: Pepperoni is type of Salami that is made from lean, coarsely chopped pork and beef. A quality Pepperoni should not be overly spicy, but still robustly flavored with paprika, a mildly hot, somewhat smoky spice. Pepperoni is great as a pizza topping and in sandwiches.

Porchetta: Originally cretaed in the Lazio region of Italy, home to Rome, a discussion of Italian Meats would be incomplete without addressing Porchetta. This boneless pork roast is salted and heartily spiced with garlic, rosemary, fennel, oregano and black pepper. Porchetta makes a great sandwich meat or can be served as an entree as well.

Prosciutto: Also known as Parma Ham, Prosciutto (technically Prosciutto Crudo) is a specialty dry cured (uncooked) ham that undergoes an intensive curing process. The dry curing replaces the need for any cooking. Prosciutto is a ham from the hind leg of a hog or boar, air dried for long periods of time (at least 210 days) under specific climate controls. Prosciutto di Parma is a specific type of Prosciutto from Parma. Another high quality Prosciutto is called Prosciutto di San Daniele. Among the most famous, and versatile, of all Italian Meats, Prosciutto is usually sliced thinly and served in sandwiches, as part of an antipasto course, or used in recipes.

Salame: In America, the word Salame is almost synonymous with the phrase Italian Meats. Just about every region of Italy lays claim to its own particular salame, but the most famous are Genoa, Calabrese, Milano, Varzi and Abbruzzi. This Italian favorite may be made from a one or more of a variety of meats (pork, boar, beef, venison, etc.) and seasoned with ingredients such as herbs, spices, salt, pepper, wine or vinegar. Salami (the plural form of Salame) is made by stuffing the ground meats and seasonings into a casing and then hanging it to cure. In addition to the Salami defined by regional heritage, some other popular variations of Salami include Casalingo (Salami of the House), Sopressata (Pressed and Flattened Salami), Piccante (Spicy Salami), and Cacciatore (Hunter’s Salami).

Sopressata: Sopressata is one of the most traditional cured Italian Meats. It is usually a flattened shape (its name incororates the Latin root for pressing), and can be any length from 8 inches to several feet long. Sopressata Salami are often shaped round today, but this flies in the face of tradition. Historically, Sopressata was only produced in the fall when the family’s hog was scheduled to be butchered. A classic Sopressata made use of all the cuts from the pig that were left over after the most expensive cuts had been sold off, thus its nickname “poor man’s salami.” Today, the name Sopressata is simply be applied to any coarse grind, moderately spiced Salami.

Speck Alto Adige: Speck is an Italian bacon from the South Tyrol region of Italy. This Italian Meat is rubbed with spice mix of salt, pepper, juniper berries and various garden herbs. To make Speck, it is first dry cured to preserve the meat. The Speck is then lightly cold smoked over beechwood chips, producing its signature flavor. The Speck is then stacked in aging cellars, where it is slow dried. This maturing is important for this noteworthy Italian Meat to become truly tender.

Can you believe after all the food sampled so far we were now off to have lunch – I knew I would be rolling back to the hotel after this tour!

It made sense though – we hadn’t yet learnt about or sampled Italy’s other staple – pasta! The restaurant chosen for this part of the tour has been around for about 80 years. “Al Giardino del Gatto e la Volpe” was  founded in the ‘40ies, getting to its maximum success a few years later, thanks to Nando and Angela, who decided to share their true passion for good food, with anybody who loved simple and healthy cuisine.

Afterwards, with love and experience, they involved their children, who refined their culinary and gastronomy art, by creating during the following years a very familiar and peaceful location, a pleasant atmosphere, also warm, welcoming, and marked by a continuous search of quality; a place in which customers can always taste typical Roman food, cooked with elegance and love, always by using genuine ingredients.

The restaurant is named after the cat and the fox in the story of Pinocchio – the restaurant was originally started by Nando and a male friend – the cat and the fox – before Nando’s wife Angela came along.

We enjoyed some gnocchi and spinach and ricotta ravioli – so good. When many of us think of pasta we think of Italian food, and most people believe that it originated there. While pasta is traditionally Italian, it actually has a very ancient history that makes it almost impossible to know who came up with the dish first.

The history of pasta is difficult to trace for several reasons. The word itself translates to “paste” in Italian. This is a reference to the dough, made from a combination of flour and water or eggs – all simple components that have been around for centuries. This makes it hard to differentiate pasta from other ancient dishes made from the same ingredients. In addition, since pasta has long been a food of the common people, it has not received as much attention as more extravagant foods… a pity, since it’s one of the most popular foods on the planet!

When we talk about pasta, we must first define the term. The word pasta is generally used to describe traditional Italian noodles, which differentiates it from other types of noodles around the world. Pasta is made from unleavened dough consisting of ground durum wheat and water or eggs. The use of durum wheat sets pasta apart from other forms of noodles. Durum wheat’s high gluten content and low moisture make it perfectly suited to pasta production. The durum wheat dough is pressed into sheets, cut into a variety of shapes, and cooked before serving.

While we do think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it is likely the descendent of ancient Asian noodles. A common belief about pasta is that it was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century. In his book, “The Travels of Marco Polo,” there is a passage that briefly mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour (possibly a “breadfruit tree”). The Chinese used this plant to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal Polo mentioned was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as “lagana” (lasagna). Since Polo’s original text no longer exists, the book relies heavily on retellings by various authors and experts. This, combined with the fact that pasta was already gaining popularity in other areas of Italy during the 13th century, makes it very unlikely that Marco Polo was the first to introduce pasta to Italy.

A food tour in Rome just woudn’t be complete without a trip to the geletaria. Luca took us to one of the best geletaria’s in Rome – Fatamorgana’s. Luca taught us how to spot a real gelato versus a fake one – the key things to look for are noted below.

Fatamorgana was founded by Maria Agnese Spagnuolo. There are 8 stores in Rome and the first store outside Italy was opened recently in LA. A fatamorgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. You can just imagine being stranded in the desert and seeing a mirage of gelato!

All of Fatamorgana’s gelato is gluten-free and made without processed ingredients because Maria has celiac disease and wanted to make ice cream she could eat. Her dream was to become an actress, but her father insisted that she have a backup plan, so she studied food chemistry in college. Her acting career never took off and after a weekend where she found herself battling depression, she wanted to make herself a treat. Creating gluten-free gelato without thickeners, stabilizers or additives changed her life.

To create the authentic Italian gelato, artisans use much less fat in the mixture compared to ice cream, and churn it at a slower speed so that less air gets mixed in. This contributes to a denser texture and more intense flavours than fluffy, whipped ice cream. Gelato is also served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, allowing the flavours to shine through.

The key things to look for prior to indulging in this heavenly treat:

Containers

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but you should absolutely judge gelato by the container it’s served in. Look for flat metal tins, which may have lids on them. Plastic tubs are a definite no, but metal tubs don’t always guarantee quality on their own.

Lids are always a good sign, as it shows the gelato is being carefully kept at the right temperatures – and that the gelateria is respected enough that it doesn’t need to draw in customers with bright colours and fancy decorations.

The denser texture of gelato as compared to ice cream also means that flat, metal ‘spades’ are better tools than curved ice cream scoops, so take a look at how the ice cream is being served.

Colour

For a quality gelato, you want one with a high proportion of natural ingredients, and that means no (or very little) added colouring.  A quality gelato will never have very vibrant colours, but natural ones, for example, pistacchio should never be green like you might think, but brownish. For berry colours, look for deep, muted reds rather than shocking pink, and lemon should be white rather than yellowy.

Gelato should also never look shiny – that means there are too many sugars, or that it’s oxidized, which means it’s old.

Texture

Remember how a key difference between gelato and ice cream was that the former has less air and a denser texture. Consider the height of an ice cream in the container; if it is piled up too high and doesn’t melt, it means it is rich in vegetable fats and emulsifiers.

Flavour

Even if you know exactly which flavour you’re going to order, it’s worth seeing which other options are on offer, as this can give a valuable clue to the gelato’s quality. Tourist favourites such as cookies and cream and bright blue bubblegum (usually called ‘puffo’, which means smurf) are generally a bad sign – though good gelaterias might still offer them as a crowd-pleaser in addition to quality flavours.

You might also spot the exact same flavours and labelling in several different stores, which is a giveaway that this isn’t artisanal gelato but mass-produced, either delivered in bulk or made from a mix. Fruit flavours which are out of season show that they probably aren’t using fresh ingredients. In a good gelateria, you won’t find any fruit that can’t also be found at local market stalls that month.

We were now well and truly stuffed! It was time to say goodbye to our fellow foodies and go and have a lie down. This tour is one of the best tours we’ve ever done – we learnt so much and Luca was superb. If you’re in Rome we can’t recommend this tour highly enough – go forth and eat!

Luca recommended a roof top bar near by so the lie down was postponed 😜. The view over the Vatican was pretty good from the Atlante Star Hotel 👍🏼.

Posted in Italy, Rome | Leave a comment

Rome by Segway – Rome, Italy

We arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon after catching the train from Switzerland – it took us just under six hours and the time just flew by. We arrived into the main train station in Rome – Roma Termini. It was about a 15 minute walk to our hotel – the cobbled streets made for interesting suitcase and golf bag travel 😬.

We are staying at Hotel dei Borgia which is really nice and well situated from the historic sites and the Metro station. We spent the first day and a half checking out our neighbourhood and planning our next few days in Rome.

First up was a Segway tour – we decided to do the full day option so we could really get a good lay of the land in the ancient city. We met at the Eco Art Travel offices for a training session – we had been on a Segway before in Chicago and it’s just like riding a bike 🤭. Well not quite but it all came flooding back – we just had to factor in the cobbled streets and navigating the curbs – Segway’s can’t go up curbs so the guides are well skilled in finding the best ways to navigate the city.

Flavio was our guide for the morning and he was a born and bred Roman. He was well versed on both Segway riding and history.

First stop was the Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus (Latin for greatest or largest circus; Italian: Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine Hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators. In its fully developed form, it became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire.

After the 6th century, the Circus fell into disuse and decay, and was quarried for building materials. The lower levels, ever prone to flooding, were gradually buried under waterlogged alluvial soil and accumulated debris, so that the original track is now buried 6m beneath the modern surface. In the 11th century, the Circus was “replaced by dwellings rented out by the congregation of Saint-Guy.” In the 12th century, a watercourse was dug there to drain the soil, and by the 1500s the area was used as a market garden. Many of the Circus’ standing structures survived these changes; in 1587, two obelisks were removed from the central barrier by Pope Sixtus V, and one of these was re-sited at the Piazza del Popolo. Mid 19th century workings at the circus site uncovered the lower parts of a seating tier and outer portico. Since then, a series of excavations has exposed further sections of the seating, curved turn and central barrier but further exploration has been limited by the scale, depth and waterlogging of the site.

The Circus site now functions as a large park area, in the centre of the city. It is often used for concerts and meetings. The Rome concert of Live 8 (July 2, 2005) was held there. The English band Genesis performed a concert before an estimated audience of 500,000 people in 2007 (this was filmed and released as When in Rome 2007). The Rolling Stones played there in front of 71,527 people on June 22, 2014 for the Italian date of their 14 On Fire tour. The Circus has also hosted victory celebrations, following the Italian World Cup 2006 victory and the A.S. Roma Serie A victory in 2001.

Today

Artists impression of what it would have looked like

Aerial view – current day

Next up was the Theatre of Marcellus (Latin: Theatrum Marcelli, Italian: Teatro di Marcello) which is an ancient open-air theatre built in the closing years of the Roman Republic. At the theatre, locals and visitors alike were able to watch performances of drama and song. The theatre was 111 m in diameter and was the largest and most important theatre in Ancient Rome; it could originally hold between 11,000 and 20,000 spectators. It was an impressive example of what was to become one of the most pervasive urban architectural forms of the Roman world.

Nowdays the upper floors are divided into multiple apartments, and its surroundings are used as a venue for small summer concerts.

After a little altercation with a curb (ST not me) Flavio showed us how the Romans have recycled the ruins over the years. Statues have been re homed all over the city.

The famous Trevi fountain was next on the itinerary – as you can imagine it is a very popular spot and it was impossible to get up close and personal. I have been to Rome before and they say if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you will be sure to return to Rome in the future so 21 years later here I am 😊.

An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. In 2016, an estimated €1.4 million (US$1.5 million) was thrown into the fountain. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain, even though it is illegal to do so.

The fountain stands at 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

We enjoyed a break at Campo de Fiori which translated literally from Italian, means “field of flowers“. The name dates to the Middle Ages when the area was a meadow.

Executions used to be held publicly in Campo de’ Fiori. Here, on 17 February 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy, and all of his works were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy Office. In 1889, Ettore Ferrari dedicated a monument to him on the exact spot of his death: He stands defiantly facing the Vatican and was regarded in the first days of a reunited Italy as a martyr to freedom of thought. The inscription on the base reads: A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE (“To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned”).

Today the square is the home to a market by day and a restaurant and bar scene by night although in the years after 2000, it became one of the most dangerous nighttime places of the city due to assaults and affrays by drunk tourists and soccer supporters.

We then visited the beautiful Piazza Navona which has three elaborate fountains. Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century, when the city market was transferred there from the Campidoglio, Piazza Navona was transformed into a highly significant example of Baroque Roman architecture and art during the pontificate of Innocent X, who reigned from 1644 until 1655, and whose family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili, faced the piazza. It features important sculptural and creations: in the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius; the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, Girolamo Rainaldi, Carlo Rainaldi and others; and the aforementioned Pamphili palace, also by Girolamo Rainaldi, that accommodates the long gallery designed by Borromini and frescoed by Pietro da Cortona.

At the southern end is the Fontana del Moro with a basin and four Tritons sculpted by Giacomo della Porta (1575) to which, in 1673, Bernini added a statue of a Moor, wrestling with a dolphin. At the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (1574) also created by Giacomo della Porta; the statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create a balance with La Fontana del Moro.

Apparently it is a very expensive place to eat and drink.

The Pantheon or House of God is a former Roman temple and is now a church. It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” (Latin: Sancta Maria ad Martyres) but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda”. The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon is a state property, managed by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism through the Polo Museale del Lazio; in 2013 it was visited by over 6 million people.

The Pantheon’s large circular domed cella, with a conventional temple portico front, was unique in Roman architecture. Nevertheless, it became a standard exemplar when classical styles were revived, and has been copied many times by later architects.

As I mentioned above Segways don’t do curbs so we did a spot of road riding which was fun – the Italians are generally passionate people but this does not extend to stopping for pedestrians or other forms of transport so you have to be alert. To be fair it wasn’t particularly busy on the roads but they have a knack of appearing from nowhere and usually at a rate of knots 😂 .

We saw the Altare della Patria ([alˈtaːre della ˈpaːtrja]; English: “Altar of the Fatherland”), also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (“National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II”) or Il Vittoriano from the road, which is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.

The eclectic structure was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885. Established Italian sculptors, such as Leonardo Bistolfi and Angelo Zanelli, made its sculptures nationwide. It was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1925. It effectively took 40 years to construct – quite amazing when you compare it to the construction of the Colosseum which took 8 years to build but as Flavio pointed out they had the use of 20,000 Roman slaves. The construction of II Vittoriano was a costly business.

The Vittoriano features stairways, Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. The structure is 135 m (443 ft) wide and 70 m (230 ft) high. If the quadrigae and winged victories are included, the height reaches 81 m (266 ft). It has a total area of 17,000 square metres.

The base of the structure houses the museum of Italian Unification. In 2007, a panoramic lift was added to the structure, allowing visitors to ride up to the roof for 360-degree views of Rome.

The monument, the largest in Rome, was controversial since its construction destroyed a large area of the Capitoline Hill with a Medieval neighbourhood for its sake. The monument itself is often regarded as conspicuous, pompous and too large.

It has been described as being “chopped with terrible brutality into the immensely complicated fabric of the hill”.

It is clearly visible to most of the city of Rome despite being boxy in general shape and lacking a dome or a tower. The monument is also glaringly white, built from “corpse-white marble” imported from Botticino in Brescia, making it highly conspicuous amidst the generally brownish buildings surrounding it. For its shape and conspicuous nature, Romans have given it a number of humorous and somewhat uncomplimentary nicknames, including la torta nuziale (“the wedding cake“), la dentiera (“the dentures“), macchina da scrivere (“the typewriter”) and la zuppa inglese (“English soup” dessert, which refers to a trifle).

We finished the morning part of the tour at the Colosseum. The Colosseum is an oval amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy. Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).

The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Although partially ruined because of damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and also has links to the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.

We then enjoyed a typical Italian lunch- bruschetta, pasta, wine and coffee 😋.

The afternoon tour was more about the vistas of the city than the places. Our guide in the afternoon was Dimitri – he was also a born and bred Roman but one of his parents was German so he was extra tall.

One thing we have noticed in Rome is the state of disrepair that the streets, parks and train stations are in. There is a lot of graffiti, rubbish, weeds and areas that look like waste lands. I spoke to Flavio about it during the morning tour and he said it is all about the money. There simply isn’t enough money to go around and in a city of so many monuments, sculptures and historical sights they tend to be taken care of first.

On the afternoon tour, however we did visit a park that was green and well taken care of. Dimitri told us that when we turned left and walked towards the Vatican and St Peters Basilica we would see an optical illusion and he was right. As we walked closer the dome actually got smaller – you would think it would get bigger. But is it really magic? Probably not, and it is generally agreed that it is a trick of perspective caused by the position and height of the buildings on the horizon. When you walk towards a focal point, such as St. Peter’s dome, one would expect it to get bigger the closer you get. But in this case it, on the contrary, the cupola appears to become smaller as we approach the space between the buildings gets wider and our brain adjusts the dimensions perceived automatically.

Next stop was Capitoline Hill. From the founding of Rome until its fall almost one thousand years later, the Capitoline Hill symbolized the epicenter of Rome’s might and many of the city’s most important buildings stood on this hill.

Later, during the Middle Ages, the site continued to play an important part in Rome’s history. The senate of Rome assembled here and even today it still has some political significance since the city hall is located here. Apparently this is where the Mayor of Rome lives. The mayor of Rome – Virginia Elena Raggi – is the 65th Mayor of Rome and the first female mayor. She is a lawyer and politician and she share my birthday although she was born 7 years later.

One of her first acts as mayor was the withdrawal of the 2024 Olympic bid stating that “with 13 billion euros in debt, Rome can’t afford taking on more debt to make cathedrals in the desert”. Under her tenure both public transport and waste management have been subject of criticism due to poor quality of passenger service and waste collection: as for the former to date (July 2018) more than 30 buses caught fire since January 2017 because of poor or absent maintenance. The event has become so common that the press reports that every time a bus explodes in Rome the first thing people think of is a lack of service of Atac – Rome’s public transport company – rather than a terrorist attack.

When Emperor Charles V planned a visit to Rome in 1536, the muddy Capitoline Hill was in such a derelict state that pope Paul III Farnese asked Michelangelo to design a new square, the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Square). The project also included a redesign of the existing buildings surrounding the square.

Michelangelo came up with an original, trapezoidal design for the square with an intriguing oval shaped ground pattern. He rebuilt the Palazzo Senatorio, seat of the Roman senate, and redesigned the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

Additionally a new building, the Palazzo Nuovo, was to be constructed just opposite the Palazzo dei Conservatori. Both palazzos were positioned at a slight angle so that it changes the perspective in such a way that the square seems larger than it actually is.

Finally, Michelangelo’s ambitious plans for the square also included the creation of an elegant staircase, the Cordonata.

Construction of the square started in 1546 but only the staircase at the entrance of the Palazzo Senatorio was realized when Michelangelo died in 1564. The project was finally completed in the seventeenth century according to Michelangelo’s designs.

There is so much history in this city it is mind blowing and also a bit confusing. Dimitri reckons you would need at least two years to see everything in Rome.

Rome

Name & Symbol

The origin of the city’s name is thought to be that of the reputed founder and first ruler, the legendary Romulus. It is said that Romulus and his twin brother Remus, apparent sons of the god Mars and descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, were suckled by a she-wolf after being abandoned, then decided to build a city. The brothers argued, Romulus killed Remus, and then named the city Rome after himself. The symbol of the city of Rome is the wolf suckling the twins.

Periods of Roman History

Roman history has been among the most influential to the modern world, from supporting the tradition of the rule by law to influencing the American Founding Fathers to the creation of the Catholic church. Roman history can be divided into the following periods:

▪ Pre-historical and early Rome, covering Rome’s earliest inhabitants and the legend of its founding by Romulus.

▪ The period of Etruscan dominance and the Regal Period, in which according to tradition, Romulus was the first of seven kings.

▪ The Roman Republic, which commenced in 509 BC when kings were replaced with rule by elected senators. The period was marked by vast expansion of Roman territory. During the 5th century BC, Rome gained regional dominance in Latium, and eventually the entire Italian peninsula by the 3rd century BC. With the Punic Wars from 264 to 146 BC, Rome gained dominance over the Western Mediterranean, displacing Carthage as the dominant regional power.

▪ The Roman Empire: With the rise of Julius Caesar, the Republic waned and by all measures, concluded after a period of civil war and the victory of Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar in 27 BC over Mark Antony. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Rome managed to hang onto the empire, still known as the Roman Empire but long centered on the eastern Mediterranean, until the 8th century as the Duchy of Rome. At this time, the city was reduced to a fraction of its former size, being sacked several times in the 5th to 6th centuries, in 546 even temporarily depopulated entirely.

Medieval Rome: Characterized by a break with Byzantium and the formation of the Papal States. The Papacy struggled to retain influence in the emerging Holy Roman Empire, and during the Saeculum obscurum, the population of Rome fell to as low as 30,000 inhabitants. Following the East–West Schism and the limited success in the Investiture Controversy, the Papacy did gain considerable influence in high medieval Europe, but with the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism, the city of Rome was reduced to irrelevance, its population falling below 20,000. Rome’s decline into complete irrelevance during the medieval period, with the associated lack of construction activity, assured the survival of very significant ancient Roman material remains in the centre of the city, some abandoned and others continuing in use.

▪ The Roman Renaissance: In the 15th century, Rome replaced Florence as the symbol of artistic and cultural influence. The Roman Renaissance was cut short abruptly with the devastation of the city in 1527, but the Papacy reasserted itself in the Counter-Reformation, and the city continued to flourish during the early modern period. Rome was annexed by Napoleon and was technically part of France during 1798–1814.

▪ Modern History: The period from the 19th century to today. Rome was under siege by the Allied invasion of Italy and was bombed several times. It was declared an open city on 14 August 1943. Rome became the capital of the Italian Republic (established in 1946), with a population of 4.4 million in its metropolitan area (as of 2015; 2.9 million within city limits)—is the largest city in Italy. It is among the largest urban areas of the European Union and classified as a “global city

Kingdom of Italy

Rome became the focus of hopes of Italian reunification when the rest of Italy was reunited under the Kingdom of Italy with a temporary capital at Florence. In 1861, Rome was declared the capital of Italy even though it was still under the control of the Pope. During the 1860s, the last vestiges of the Papal States were under the French protection of Napoleon III. And it was only when this was lifted in 1870, owing to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, that Italian troops were able to capture Rome entering the city through a breach near Porta Pia. Afterwards, Pope Pius IX declared himself as prisoner in the Vatican, and in 1871 the capital of Italy was moved from Florence to Rome.

Soon after World War I, Rome witnessed the rise to power of Italian Fascism guided by Benito Mussolini, who, at the request of King Victor Emmanuel III, marched on the city in 1922, eventually declaring a new Empire and allying Italy with Nazi Germany.

The interwar period saw a rapid growth in the city’s population, that surpassed 1,000,000 inhabitants.

This Roman Question was finally resolved on 11 February 1929 between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. The Lateran Treaty was signed by Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. The treaty, which became effective on 7 June 1929, and the Concordat established the independent State of the Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy.

During World War II, Rome suffered few bombings (notably at San Lorenzo) and relatively little damage because none of the nations involved wanted to endanger the life of Pope Pius XII in Vatican City. There were some bitter fights between Italian and German troops in the south of the city and even in sight of the Colosseum, shortly after the armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces. On 4 June 1944 Rome became the first capital city of an Axis nation to fall to the Allies, but was relatively undamaged because on 14 August 1943, a day after the last allied bombing, the Germans declared it an “open city” and withdrew, meaning that the Allies did not have to fight their way in.

In practice Italy made no attempt to interfere with the Holy See within the Vatican walls. However, they confiscated church property in many other places, including the Quirinal Palace, formerly the pope’s official residence. Pope Pius IX (1846–78), the last ruler of the Papal States, claimed that after Rome was annexed he was a “Prisoner in the Vatican“.

Economy

As in ancient times Rome is a center of transportation. It is the focus of international traffic by road, rail, sea (at the port of Civitavecchia), and air (at Leonardo da Vinci international airport at Fiumicino) and is as well a cultural, religious, political, and commercial center of international importance.

Public transportation in Rome is provided by an elaborate bus system. A subway, the Metropolitana, was opened in 1955. Rome’s large number of automobiles has caused serious traffic congestion, and in the 1970s and 80s various attempts were made to deal with the problem, including the banning of traffic in certain parts of the city. The economy of Rome depends to a very large extent on the tourist trade.

The city is also a center of banking, insurance, printing, publishing, and fashion. Italy’s movie industry (founded in 1936) is located at nearby Cinecitta.

The economy of Rome is characterized by the absence of heavy industry, but commercial activities especially banking and the development of tourism are extremely important to its economy. Universities, national radio and television and the movie industry in Rome are also important parts of the economy. A phenomenon particular to Rome is the widespread incidence of double employment, people working two jobs.

All roads lead to Rome….

The idiom, “all roads lead to Rome,” was being used as early as the 1100s. It was based off of the ancient Roman road system where roads radiated from the capital of Rome. The road system resembled spokes of a wheel.

Rome wasn’t built in a day…

Important work takes time. This expression functions as an injunction or plea for someone to be patient. For example, You can’t expect her to finish this project in the time allotted; Rome wasnt built in a day. This phrase was a French proverb in the late 1100s but was not recorded in English until 1545.

When in Rome…

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When visiting a foreign land, follow the customs of those who live in it. It can also mean that when you are in an unfamiliar situation, you should follow the lead of those who know the ropes.

Posted in Italy, Rome | Leave a comment

Summer Swiss Style – Switzerland

We arrived into Zurich on Tuesday the 24th July but unfortunately our golf bags did not arrive with us. The plane was apparently too full so they were coming on the next plane – not normally a problem but Steve’s golf bag also contained his clothes! The woman at Lost and Found was really lovely and we sorted out the delivery address for the bags etc…and she gave us a couple of toiletry packs that contained a T-shirt – at least Steve could change his shirt.

Karin was there to meet us and I am not sure what it is with us but we always seem to get our hosts in a muddle as to where they have parked the car. A temporary problem before we were on our way to Buochs.

Karin and Elvis have caught the golf bug so after unpacking (my suitcase made it on the plane with us) we were off to the driving range to see how Steve’s prodigy’s were progressing. They were having a fabulous summer and this was set to continue for our stay. It was a warm evening and the sun doesn’t go down till after 9pm.

Dinner was a Swiss sausage and salad – I think I’ve talked about these sausages in previous blogs – I am not normally a sausage fan but I love these ones – they are made from veal.

A phone call on Wednesday morning to Lost Baggage was not favourable – our bags wouldn’t be delivered until 7pm that evening. I did have some of Steve’s dirty washing in my suitcase so he managed to swap his jeans for shorts which went fabulously with his new white British Airways T-shirt.

There was to be no golf for us that day so Elvis contacted his parents and we spent the afternoon on Lake Lucerne on their boat. The conditions were perfect and it felt like “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” We had a swim in the lake before heading to Trei for a late lunch. We had been to this spot before when Karin & Elvis had got married in 2009. They had their wedding reception at the restaurant above so we had caught the funicular up there. This time we dined at lake level.

We got home just in time to meet the delivery van. Reunited with our clubs we went to the driving range at Burgenstock which sits at about 800 metres above sea level. Another beautiful evening. We hit balls and then had a chipping competition which the girls won 👍🏻.

On Thursday morning we went paddle boarding on the lake – I just can’t get enough of this lake 😍.

We then headed to the golf course in Andermatt – see separate blog.

Friday was a day of relaxation in preparation for the evening watching the Blood Moon – a once a century occurrence. Elvis had organised for us to join his friend Edgar and his family up on one of the hills at 1,200 metres. Edgar had spoken with the farmer and we were allowed to set up camp on his land.

20180727 Moon Eclipse_220180727 Moon Eclipse_320180727 Moon Eclipse_4

Edgar is a pilot for Etihad and a keen hobby astronomer. He had this fantastic telescope which he set up so we could all take turns looking at various things throughout the evening. Edgar’s knowledge is amazing and we learnt so much which I will share below for those who were like me and obviously didn’t listen at school 😂 .

There was a little bit of cloud where the moon was rising but we still got a good look at it as it rose into the sky. There was so much more to see including ISS – the International Space Station. We watched it fly over us – if you didn’t know what you were looking at you wouldn’t have known what it was but we watched it for 6 minutes as it orbited our corner of the world. If we had stayed in that spot we would have seen it again two hours later – it circumnavigates the earth every two hours – amazing!

As the sun set the planets came out – first Venus which is the only planet you can see at sunset and sunrise. Next up was Jupiter – this is the biggest of the planets and has 4 large moons – 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom. Of course you can not see these moons from earth with the naked eye but we could see them through the telescope – so cool. Next up was Saturn which is harder to see unless you know what you’re looking at. Seeing the rings through the telescope was incredible. Mars then made an appearance but sadly we didn’t see any martians through the telescope 👽 😂.

Edgar then pointed out the North Star – amazingly we don’t see it in the Southern Hemisphere 😉. Polaris or the North Star as it is known, is the brightest star in the constellation known as the Little Dipper. It is so-called because of the special position it occupies relative to Earth’s axis. If you were to stay up all night gazing at the stars, you’d slowly see them revolve around a point in the sky known as the North Celestial Pole – all the planets revolve around this star including the sun. Because the star is always pointing north, Polaris helped navigators for centuries, although it is only visible in the northern hemisphere.

There is no bright pole star in the southern hemisphere sky that can be used to locate due south in the same way that Polaris indicates north in the northern hemisphere. Instead, there are various ways of locating south by the Southern Cross.

One of Karin’s friends Faith joined us and she taught me how she remembers all the planets. My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Pluto is the smallest planet and over the last five years it has been reclassified as a dwarf planet which is a new classification.

As the evening wore on and the moon got higher it changed back to it’s normal colour and you could see the shadow of the earth moving slowly off it. Elvis took a great picture of this through the lense of the telescope. Elvis had some great binoculars which allowed you to see the moon three dimensionally. Through the telescope it was easy to see the surface which reminded me of a river that had run dry leaving behind it lots of different patterns.

20180727 Moon Eclipse_7

We stayed up there until about midnight – the cow bells were still ringing so whoever told you cows lay down at night and slept lied 🐄 😂. It had been a magical night and we were so fortunate to be able to share this experience with our friends and someone that was so knowledgeable.

Timing is everything – we woke up on Saturday morning to low cloud and rain – we wouldn’t have seen what we had seen the night before if these conditions had rolled in 12 hours earlier.

Sunday morning included walking, paddle boarding and swimming in the lake. Sunday afternoon was spent by the pool. Steve learnt to make Rosti which is a Swiss speciality – it was very good so no doubt that will be included in his culinary repertoire going forward. Sunday funday 😊.

We spent Monday at the golf club in Axenstein – see separate blog.

Wednesday the 1st August is Swiss National Day and a time to get together with your family to eat, drink and be merry. Karin & I had decided to do a bike ride in the morning and she had arranged with her friend Sandra for me to borrow her electric bike – there are some big hills in Switzerland! Sandra was going to be out so had told us where the bike would be. We entered the cellar under the house which contained some bikes including an electric one but it wasn’t Sandra’s. We thought maybe someone else had come and borrowed it and left their one there. We checked the battery which was down to two bars and decided to leave it and just go home again. Luckily we did as we found out later on we had been in the wrong cellar – Sandra’s cellar was the next door along which neither of us could recall seeing 🙄. We would try again tomorrow.

That afternoon we drove over the Klausen Pass for a BBQ at Karin’s parents place in Schwanden in the canton of Glarus. The Klausen Pass is 1948 metres high at the top so we were excited to see the views. The weather gods had other ideas and after all the amazing weather we had been having the heavens opened up – the rain was torrential and we had four lots of hail on our way down. The cows had even retreated to the road so not only were we dodging hail stones we were also dodging cows!

Although the rain eased up a bit it still wasn’t conducive to sitting outside and playing table tennis which is an annual tradition on the 1st August. It was a lovely night though with Karin’s family and the food was delicious. We drove home that night along the highway instead of going back over the Pass.

Thursday morning was bike ride take two. This time we got the correct cellar – the second door was quite obvious and the correct bike was behind it. The plan was to bike up to Burgenstock which is about 800 metres high. It was another beautiful day so the views were fantastic. We had a coffee at the Honegg Hotel which is a luxury 5 star hotel. It has an infinity pool and fantastic views.

While we were out on the bikes the boys were playing tennis – Elvis was victorious and Steve ordered a re match for the Saturday which he managed to win one set – in the end though it was Elvis 3, Steve 1 : (

That afternoon we golfed at Golfpark Oberkirch – see separate blog.

On Friday morning we were back up at Burgenstock playing golf up there – see separate blog.

Friday afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool and that evening we looked at photos from our trips to Switzerland in 2014.

On Saturday morning Karin & I went paddle boarding – we were on the lake at 6.30am so we could watch the sunrise. Karin has an App that tells you when the sun will rise in various places – due to the mountains the sun will be seen at different times depending on where you are. The App had said it would rise at 6.52am over this particular mountain and sure enough at 6.52am the sun peeked over the mountain. It was very quiet out on the lake – magical.

Karin and Elvis has then arranged for us to visit a Swiss Farm owned by friends of theirs – Sandra and Sep. They milk 30 cows and every cow has a name and is known by that name. The cows are currently spending their days in the barn with a big fan going because it is so hot – they go out into the pastures at night when it is cooler.

It was interesting to compare the operation to one in NZ – obviously the scale is the biggest difference. The other thing that was interesting was the fact that it is not uncommon to have bits of land all over the place – the farms aren’t in one block which makes it a bit tricky for stock movement and management. Apparently this is something that is looking to be addressed but will take a number of years to sort.

They use automated milking machines but they are portable so the barn is not set up permanently as a milking shed – these units are bought out when required. The milk is collected from the vat by tanker and again the size of the tanker is a lot smaller than we have in NZ. Their milk goes to a factory that produces hard cheese.

They have black Holsteins, red Holsteins and Swiss Brown cows. They don’t have a spring as such with the cows calving at a particular time – they calve throughout the year meaning there is a constant supply of milk which is what the factory requires. They are fed grass, hay and some corn. When the cows are culled they go into meat for McDonalds.

They have a program similar to the carbon emissions program for manure. Each farmer is only allowed to produce so much manure – if you produce more than your allowed level you have to pay another farmer to take it away. This can be quite lucrative if your levels are low.

Sep has also decided to raise some turkeys – these are to sell to friends and family for Christmas. Karin & Elvis have their names on one.

DSC_2330

The farmhouse is a protected building due to it’s history that dates back to the early 1800’s when it was occupied by troops. Under the Helvetic Republic imposed in 1798 by French Revolutionary troops, Switzerland became a united country. The ideas of the French Revolution were not popular in some parts of the Swiss nation including Nidwalden where the farm and farmhouse is located . The cantons were accustomed to self-government and many resented the limits on the freedom of worship in particular. When rebel forces threatened the Republic, Nidwalden was attacked by French troops on 9 September 1798. The canton’s infrastructure was badly damaged and at least 400 people were killed.

Ironically one of the Knight’s involved in these battles erected a church on the property which Sandra and Sep look after. It is very small and quaint.

Sandra has an amazing garden with lots of fruit trees – we picked pears and ate blackberries straight from the bushes. We took a pile of pears home and Karin made a pear pie for dessert.

We enjoyed a coffee and some snacks with Sandra, Sep and two of their kids – Simon and Sarah. Steve and Simon were being silly which resulted in Simon falling in the pool fully clothed : 0. They have a great view over the Pilatus airport and down towards Engleberg and Buochs.

DSC_2344

Just prior to going to the farm we had met the postman delivering the mail – Steve was very taken with his state of the art bike. He invited Steve to sit on it which of course he did. It then turned out that this was his last run – he was retiring after 40 years on the job.

I took my last swim in the lake on Saturday night before we headed for Rome early on Sunday morning. Again it had been an amazing visit to Switzerland to see Karin & Elvis. It felt like the long hot summers we used to enjoy as kids – every day was perfect weather wise which we took advantage of by doing things outside. We also enjoyed lots of home grown fruits and veges from the garden. Karin & Elvis had even raised the NZ flag up on their flagpole to make us feel more at home in our home away from home.

DSC_2352

Posted in Switzerland | Leave a comment

Bürgenstock Alpine Golf – Switzerland

On Friday morning we went back up to Bürgenstock – this time by car with the golf clubs! The Bürgenstock Resort contains a hotel as well as various leisure activities including a 9 hole pre Alps golf course. Check out Burgenstock Resort for more information – the resort is absolutely stunning sitting high above Lake Lucerne.

The golf course was built in 1928 and is a par 33 nine hole course which calls for much precision and a strategic game. Most of the fairways are sloping so your balls tend to go in all sorts of directions.

I think we were all a bit golfed out because none of us played particularly well. The views are spectacular though so all was not lost apart from a few balls and a bit of pride 😂 . We only ended up playing 9 holes as there was a tournament starting at 12pm which had a shot gun start.

We had a coffee and went to the driving range to iron out some kinks.

Posted in Switzerland | Leave a comment