How to Plan a Trip to Italy: Part One

Image 2
Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Congratulations!  A trip to Italy is a wonderful and memorable time.  It’s something you’ll never forget and it will forever change you even after you return.  That sounds like a tall order, but it’s absolutely true.  You won’t know until you go.

Planning is an essential part of Your Tour of Italy.  While you can sign up with one of the many tours that are offered, the internet makes it so easy to design your own trip and go on your own.  You may find that there are places and things you would like to see that an organized tour just doesn’t offer.

There are lots of things to consider.

  • Are you traveling with children?
  • Are you going for a specific holiday?
  • What landmarks and cities do you most want to see?
  • How long do you plan to stay?
  • How much money do you have to spend?

When you think of Italy, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?  That’s what you should see.  For some people, it may be “The David” in Florence, or Lake Como at the base of the Alps.  Some people are going to find  their long lost relatives and retrace their own family history.  Some people want to eat and drink their way through the landscape.  Others plan to see museums.  Some people just want to travel to one city and “get the feel of it.”  All of these are honorable and excellent choices.

Be warned.  It can be  overwhelming and very confusing planning a trip to a place you’ve never been.  Once you tell people you’re going, they immediately offer their advice.  You’ll feel your brain spinning with so much unsolicited information. Stay focused!

Greve in Chianti

Greve in Chianti

There is a reason that Rome is called The Eternal City.  My dear cousin, Laura, spoke volumes about it when she stated that, “I have lived here all of my life, and still, there are things I have not seen.”

Keep that in mind when you begin to plan.  I’m sorry.  You can’t see everything.  However, you can prioritize and plan.  No matter what you do, from seeing famous works of art to standing in line for a gelato,  YOU ARE IN ITALY.

 

Here’s a very preliminary step by step to get you started.  Consider this the first of many ways to spend winter evenings as you conspire with your traveling companions.

  1. Put on some classic Italian music and open a bottle of wine.  (Why not start enjoying Italy now?)
  2. Make a list of all the things you want to see.  No cities, no itinerary, just name what’s important to you.
  3. Get out a map of Italy.  Use one that you can write on. (Barnes and Noble has them.)
  4. Mark off where those landmarks are located.
  5. Get a travel journal.  Begin to write down facts, times, and dates.
  6. Look at the map and decide which cities you want to see the most.  (I won’t even tell you what you SHOULD see, only you can answer that.)
  7. Draw lines from the cities that you’ve chosen to see if there are reasonable modes of transportation to get from one to the other.  The Italian train system is vast and efficient, so don’t be afraid.
  8. Use the internet.  Travel websites, blogs, on line magazines and newspapers offer a plethora of information.
  9. Use your basic skeletal map to flesh out where you will actually go.  For example, if you have decided you want to see the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, begin to  research Assisi.  Trip Advisor offers a lot of honest and solid information.
  10. You may find that your trip will change.  Logistics, distance, time and money are all factors that can’t be ignored.  (Mi dispiace.)

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

    The Cat Sanctuary, Rome

If you’ve noticed, there IS a lot of planning and research.  This is really not a chore.  It’s exciting to sit and plan your trip.  The more information you have, the better decisions you can make.  Going to Italy the first time is not a trip that you just hop onto a flight and hope for the best.  You want to be informed and aware.  You’re entering another culture and you’re leaving American soil.  It pays to plan.

So now, go get that map and notebook and start thinking about What Italy Means to You.

Questions?

 

 

Lucca: The Walled City of Cycling

Image 1

Image 1

The top of the wall in Lucca

The top of the wall in Lucca

 

An ancient hamlet nestled into the hills of Tuscany, Lucca was once a bustling town that prospered from its rich banking business as well as its silk trade.  Housing churches of great importance and beauty, it was the perfect stopping point for pilgrims throughout Europe.

Today, it is still the perfect stopping point for tourists.  One of the best parts of Lucca for tourists is that ironically, it is not loaded with tourists. It has a gentle, meandering essence to it that you won’t find anywhere else.  This is why it lends itself to being the perfect cycling city.

 

This beautiful little town encapsulates all of the quintessential aspects of “The Perfect Small Italian City.”   It contains All Things Italian.  It starts with cycling.  That’s right.  I am not beginning with art, churches, wine or food.

 

Do I have your attention, bike lovers?  It appeals to cyclists because in fact, the outer wall is really a track of sorts for both casual strollers and bicycle enthusiasts.  The wall is the perfect way to see the city.  Tourists and locals alike spend the day on the wall, cycling and walking, eating gelato.  It’s a beautiful vantage point; it allows you to see the entire city from the perimeter.  Each steeple and tower is at the perfect level for photographs.

 

The bike ride itself will become one of your favorite souvenirs as you can relive it in your heart forever.  You can bring your own bicycle, and it is extremely easy to rent bicycles for the afternoon, the day, an hour or the week. There are bike shops everywhere, and the bikes themselves have little sign emblems on their spokes to advertise as well.  Follow one back to the shop.  I should say shops, as this small town has more bike shops than La Bella Roma.  Everyone rides bikes everywhere.

 

Be prepared, if you love cycling like the Italians love cycling, you may never get out of the shops to actually ride.  There are things for sale here you won’t see anywhere else….think pink Bianchi.  (If you are a cyclist aficonionado, I’ve already peaked your interest.)

 

See.  I told you.

 

Here is a list of some shops…I have added the websites when one is available.  Noleggio, so you know, is the Italian word for “charter” which means they have rentals. Most of the shops have them whether or not it is in the title of the shop.  Just look for the word, “noleggio.”  Happy riding!

 

  • Berutto Nedo di Franceschi Riccardo

Via De Gasperi 83/A – 55100 S. Anna

http://www.beruttonedo.com/Home.html

 

  • Biciclette Poli

Piazza Santa Maria, 42

http://www.biciclettepoli.com

 

  • Bike Passion: Vendita, Accessorio, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Pisana, 54

 

  • Chrono’Bike di Paladino Meschi

Corso Garibaldi, 93

http://www.chronobikes.com/en/info

 

  • Cicli Bizzarri

Piazza Santa Maria, 32

http://www.ciclibizzarri.net

 

  • Cicli Max di Pumilia Massimiliano Riparazione e Vendita

45, Via Civitali Vincenzo

 

  • Ciclidea di Cini Giacomo

Via Borgo Giannotti, 361

 

  • Cini Roberto: Ciclidea Riparazione Vendita

Via Borgo Giannotti, 317

 

  • Fast and Furious SRL

186, Via S. Donato

http://www.fastandfuriousbike.it

 

  • Franceschi SRL

502, Via Pesciatina

http://www.ciclifranceschi.it

 

  • Mercatone Uno

Viale Giacomo Puccini 1718

 

  • Orsucci Bike Vendita, Riparazione e Noleggio

Via Orsucci, 50

 

  • Punto Bici

8, Via Del Crocifisso

http://www.puntobici.lucca.it

 

 

 

Shopping in Rome, Florence, Venice, Italy: Etiquette You Need To Know About European Shops

Shopping in Rome, (well in most of Europe) there are different social norms and customs that patrons are expected to know.  In the United States, people paw the merchandise, carry it around and then usually leave it somewhere it doesn’t belong.

This. Does Not. Happen. In. Italy.

Entering into a shop is like entering into someone’s home.  (While the larger mall like stores are more lax in this custom, for this article, I am addressing the small shops.)  When you enter into someone’s home, you immediately greet them.  This is expected in an Italian shop as well.

Vendors are ready to wait on you.  They want to serve and they are attentive.  When you walk in, say, “buon giorno” and smile.  They will greet you as well and may ask something along the lines of “Che cose’?”  This means loosely, “what would you like?”   It is expected that you do not touch the wares. Italians are very meticulous in their belongings and they frown upon the idea of someone else trying it on and touching it. In fact, if you are choosing to try it on, it is almost an unspoken expectation that you plan to purchase said garment.

Wha?????  How do I know I like it?  How do I know it will fit?  Trust me.  The salesperson will have sized you up correctly the moment you darkened their doorstep.  They will know precisely what size you need.  (An aside here is it may not be the size you want.  Sorry.  Their sizes are different anyway, so it doesn’t matter.)

If you are looking for a particular color, they will be happy to help.  When you walk into a shop, the first thing you may notice is that it is very sparse.  There may be one or two mannequins dressed in an ensemble, but that will be it.  The wall are usually lined with drawers or doors that host the goods.  Italians do not like to be overwhelmed with too much at once.  Much in the way they prefer their meals to be presented in unadorned sequence, they use the same principles for clothing stores.

You may like the scarf or the skirt on the mannequins so you can point to it and say, “Lo mi piace.”  This means “I like it.”  Suddenly, before  your very eyes, there will appear a bevy of this particular skirt or scarf or shirt in an array of colors and patterns and sizes.

If there is a certain color you are looking for, it would be a good idea to learn how to say it in Italian. (Most of the shops are housed with salespeople who can in fact, speak English, but they are so happy and proud of you when you attempt the native language, it’s adorable.)

Once you have decided what you will purchase, you can say something like, “Lo prendo.”  This means, “I’ll take it.”  This is the best part.  The salesperson will whirl you up to the cash register and prepare your new belongings for their journey home.  They use tissue wraps and ribbons and beautiful reusable bags with zippers.  It is a treat in itself to watch them.  The excitement overtakes you as you make your lovely purchase.

Try and maintain your dignity when you leave.  At least go around the corner before you begin squealing in delight.  Once, I purchased a scarf (well I made my husband purchase a scarf for me) on the via Condotti and I was so proud of myself for not tearing the package open and rolling around the streets on my new treasure.  That kind of behavior is an entirely different article.

 

Birthdays on Vacation

The View from Assisi

Image 2Today’s not  my birthday. Is it yours?  Someone you love?  Well, then, Happy Birthday!!  As Americans we have certain traditions we’ve come to expect on our birthdays. Cake. Check. Flowers. Check. Table decorated with goodies. Check.  Presents. Check.

Maybe you’ll have a party.

Maybe you’ll have a cocktail or two.

Maybe you’ll go out to dinner.

Traditions.

When we are away from home, some traditions just can’t be upheld.  For instance, every year on my birthday, for over thirty years, I play the Johnny Crawford song, “Cindy’s Birthday.”  Every.  Single.  Year.

I don’t always wear my tiara.  (Doesn’t everyone have a tiara?)

Birthdays on vacation are different.

One of my very favorite birthdays did not come with a cake. It had no ribbons or wrappings. No one other than my traveling companions said “Happy Birthday.” I did not blow out any candles at all.

Assisi, Italy: My Birthday

  • Arrived by train to see the Umbrian Hills overlooking the horizon.
  • Wandered the cobblestone streets.
  • Stood at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and said a special prayer for all my loved ones.
  • Had the rosary ring we bought at the Vatican blessed by a priest at The Basilica of St. Francis.
  • Ate dinner on a balcony overlooking the town square.
  • Watched the sunset from the walls of the basilica and ate pastries.

When you expect nothing is when your receive something so much more.  If you are away from home on your birthday, embrace this change of pace.  Remember, no expectations.

Happy Birthday!

How To Get Tickets To See The Pope

Image 1
Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

For the faithful, it is a special and significant event to be standing in St. Peter’s Basilica.   An especially special moment for pilgrims all over the world is to see the pope.  Each Wednesday, the Holy Father greets thousands of people in the heart of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Pope Francis, the current pope, loves to greet the people.  It is an electric and a holy experience.

The pope enters the throngs of people, usually on the Popemobile.  He reads some Scripture and gives a homily in a multitude of languages.  Lastly, he blesses all the people there, as well as their loved ones back home.  He blesses religious articles at this time as well, so bring your treasures.    It’s a once in a lifetime experience that can change you inside and out.  It’s entirely free, and it’s entirely possible to arrange such a visit.

While it seems like a dream, it is actually very easy to obtain these tickets for the general audience with the pope.  (These tickets are different than the Papal Blessing that occurs on Sundays.  The Holy Father greets the crowd on Sundays from his balcony window so there is no need to get a ticket.)

The Church of Santa Susanna is the American parish in Rome.  Here, American clergy work and live, and they are quite wonderful and helpful answering your questions.  You can order your tickets on line directly at their website.

You can also contact your  own home diocese and tell them when you will be going to the Vatican.  They will mail you a letter of introduction to bring with you to the Church of Santa Susanna and they will order the tickets for you.  When you arrive at the church, you present this letter to receive your tickets.

The website is extremely easy to use, but for those of you who are more comfortable speaking with a human and having an actual slip of paper to present, then call your diocesan office.

Either way, you will receive the tickets with information on what to wear and what time you need to arrive.  Usually, the general audience is on Wednesdays.  There are exceptions which is why the website is so helpful.  You will need to be at St. Peter’s Basilica at least three hours prior to the pope.

You will go through security.  Small bags will be inspected as well as your dress code will be checked.  No knapsacks or large bags are allowed.  Women are required to wear a skirt or dress that covered the knees.  No pants.  Arms must be covered as well.  Men must be in trousers and shirts with sleeves.  For women, a long sundress will work if you bring a pashmina to cover up with.  Depending on the time of year, it can be extremely hot.  You’ll want to wear sunscreen, bring water and wear a hat.

The entire service lasts about 1 1/2 hours.  It is not a mass, but rather, there are some prayers and songs.   It’s a time of fellowship and friendship.  Don’t miss it!!  You’ll be forever blessed.

Buying Gold and Silver Jewelry on The Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

 

One of the lovely shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, (or The Old Bridge) is one of the most famous sites in the world to purchase gold and silver jewelry.  Founded hundreds of years ago, this trading post was the centerpiece of Florence, Italy with vendors and customers coming from all over.  Italian gold and silver is the finest in the world, and buying a little trinket, (or two) on a trip to Italy is a wonderful remembrance to bring home.  It’s something you’ll actually use because let’s face it, what do you do with a tiny Leaning Tower of Pisa after you’re home?

There is plenty of debate as to whether or not you are getting the best deal or if the jewelry is overpriced on the bridge.

This is something you have to decide for yourself.  Perhaps you pay a bit more.  Maybe it is a bit less.  Either way, all of the shops on the bridge are accredited vendors, so you know you have genuine materials.  Remember, you’ll also be paying for the experience.  Believe me when I tell you that in itself, that makes it worth the price.  You’ll remember it forever.

Italian gold is made as 18kt.  It will say 750 on it instead.  True Italian gold will also have a tiny stamp on it with usually a star and some small letters or numbers.  These are the identification numbers of the area in Italy in which the jewelry was made.  Each region has its own stamps and numbers.  When you are shopping for gold in Italy, look for this marking to insure you are getting Italian gold made in Italy.

When you shop in Italy, is is different than here in the States.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are some unspoken rules that are followed.  When you are on the Ponte Vecchio, you are truly marked as a tourist. (Or at least as someone with cash or credit cards to spend.)  You want to be alert and aware of your surroundings, so your adventure on the bridge is pleasurable.

One thing to know when you are on the bridge is that vendors are everywhere.  They aren’t selling jewelry, but they have scarves and wooden Pinocchio dolls and such.  They will attempt to distract you, so be prepared and keep walking.  Keep your hand on your purse.  If you need to, say, “Va Via!”  (This means, “Go Away!”)  While they won’t suddenly think you’re a native, they will at least know you’ve done your homework and will move on.

Shopping on the bridge, everything is there for your perusal.  When you spot something that’s caught your eyes, you knock on the door of the shop.  They only allow one party in at a time.  The vendor comes out and you can literally point to something in the window, or you can say, “posso?”  This means, “Can I?” to have entrance to the shop.  They will escort you in and lock the door behind you.  For real.  Be ready.

They are very gracious and it’s intimate.  Once you make the purchase, you will need to give information for customs as there are forms you will need to return when you arrive at the airport heading home.  You’ll receive your papers from the vendor and your purchase will be wrapped like the precious trinket that it is, in velvet bags and tissue wrap.

Honestly, the safest place for jewelry is on your person.  Wearing a gold chain or a bracelet will not make you a target, and you will be infinitely more secure than if you tuck the bag into your purse. Thieves and pickpockets will be watching to see who comes out of a store with some tiny bag in ribbons.  The important thing, again,  is to be aware and alert.   If you decide to wear the jewelry out of the store, (even if it isn’t for you, remember safety) tell them.  They will assist you and they’ll still give you all the lovely wrappings and bags.

They are used to tourists and they are so accommodating and gracious.  Every time you look at your beautiful piece of jewelry it will make you smile to know you bought it at the most famous jewelry location on the planet.

Siena: A Shopping Secret

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory
Window sills overlooking Siena

Window sills overlooking Siena

Siena is The Quintessential Medieval City.  Shouldered between Florence and Rome, she is the quiet, elegant sister who needs no introduction.  Each year, thousands of people shimmy themselves into her walls to get a glimpse at the famous horse race, Il Palio.  Two days a year, July 2nd and August 16th, she is like a rock star, and then the rest of the year, she is a monarch, perched upon her hilly throne, regal and beautiful.  She beckons you to discover her secrets, because once you think you have discovered her, there is something else that you never knew.  Each alleyway brings you to an entirely new section of the town.  At once, it is crowded and deserted.  There are times when you literally will not see another soul.

Window display in Siena

Window display in Siena

This is when you are able to find the most unique Things To Buy.  On the Via Della Sapienza, there is a tiny little wine shop, La Cantina Del Brunello.  It sells the most amazing…

 

Cycling Jerseys.

It’s true.  You would never expect to see this, but there it is.  The jerseys have the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) on them, indicating a true Chianti.

If you are a cycling fan, then Italy is your long lost home.  If you are a wine lover, well, Italy is your long lost home, too.  So there we were, a cyclist and a wine lover.  We had to go in.  The most adorable, quintessential little old Italian man was at the register.  We greeted him, (remember what I said about shopping in Italy.)  He was about 5 feet even.  My husband is 6’3″.  As this beautiful man flitted about him like a tiny bird trying to find the correct size jersey, my husband begged me not to take his picture.  I obliged him out of love, but can I tell you, it was a spectacular moment.  We had found The Most Beautiful Cycling Jersey….in a wine shop!

The man spoke very little English, but we knew from his mumbling that he could not find an XL.  His face lit up as he lifted his finger to us, and took the jersey right off the mannequin.  We purchased the jersey, of course, but honestly, I can’t remember if we even bought any wine.  He was so gracious and kind to this oversized giant American with a heart for cycling as big as his own.  He smiled and smiled  and took both of my hands.  Then he offered us some olive oil in tiny precious bottles.  “Un assaggio” he advised me.  (A taste.)  We took the tiny bottle with us and savored it with some bread after we had returned home to the States.  Long after the olive oil was gone, the memory is still so rich.

That’s the way it is window shopping in Siena.  You feel as if you are browsing for a new long lost friend.  They are so gracious, and they are thrilled when you try to speak a bit of Italian to them.  You feel comfortable trying because they are so encouraging and delighted.  It’s like taking your first steps or something the way they cheer you on with each phrase.  Of course, some things cross language barriers; handshakes and smiles, of course, but eye contact, and knowing that “Il Campionissimo”  was Fausto Coppi.  If you are a cycling lover, you know what I’m talking about.

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

 

The Basilica of San Domenico and Saint Catherine of Siena

Basilica of San Domenico with the head of Saint Catherine of Siena

Basilica of San Domenico with the head of Saint Catherine of Siena

One of the major draws of Siena is the church that houses the head of Saint Catherine of Siena.  She is a patron saint of Italy, a patroness of Europe, and she is one of a handful of women who were named Doctors of the Catholic Church. (Saint Therese of Lisieux and Saint Teresa of Avila are two others.)

It’s confusing when you are walking through the city because there is a magnificent basilica made in pink, blue and white marble.  It is spectacular and breath taking.  It’s the Duomo of Siena.

That’s not it.

If you ask someone where St. Catherine’s church is, you will become more confused.  They will answer, “Domenico” because they are being helpful.  However, my Italian is not fantastic, so when I was listening for  “Caterina” all I heard was “Domenica.”  This word means Sunday.  Wha???  Is it closed?  Do we wait until Sunday?

This is where it pays to do your homework, my babies.  The Church WITH Saint Catherine is The Basilica of San Domenico.  Oooohh.  That’s why I can’t find it. Via Campo Regio is the nearest street.  While it is sometimes called, “Cateriniana” this Gothic church was built starting sometime around 1226.  Saint Catherine did not die until April 29, 1380, and it was some time after that her head was returned to Siena.

So.  In order to view the head of this amazing woman, you need to say, “Dove’ Basilica di San Domenico.”  Like all of the roads in Italy, they tease you into insanity.  Via Campo Regio.  Say it with me, now!  It’s confusing and nothing seems to go straight left or right.  The roads kind of bump up against a building and then vanish into a piazza.  This road is the closest to the building, but if you try and put the church into a GPS it will tell you “Piazza San Domenico.”

Whew, you made it!!!  An aside.  Before you go in, there’s always a bunch of vendors nearby selling beautiful scarves.  You won’t know you need it until you see it.  The dress code here requires arms and legs covered so you can rationalize buying said scarf.

It is here that one can find the side altar, Cappelle della Volte, which is the melodious Italian name for The Chapel of the Head (Face.)  Ever the macabre ones, the Italians managed to smuggle her head out of Rome and return her to her home town.  They could only get the head….and a thumb.

The rest of her is buried in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.  This is Italian for Saint Mary’s Over Minerva.  When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity under Constantine, the Roman gods, well, were ruined.  They put Saint Mary’s OVER Minerva.  That’s what “sopra” means, above, on top of,that sort of thing. (That’s another church for another day.)

In this beautiful church, you can feel a tangible connection to Catherine.  This woman overcame sickness and death, marriage and heartache to become one of the greatest vessels the world has known to carry The Gospel.

Florence and The Negroni

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

Image 1Italians have mastered the delicate balance of Just Enough.  They are able to push right to the line that blurs gaudy and good taste.  (This is why they are among the most fashionable humans on the planet, yes?)  The Negroni is no different.  It is, as is much Italian fashion, bold, yet somehow simplistic, colorful yet classic,  clean and vibrant at once.

Yes.  The Negroni is an Italian original through and through.  One of the best parts about this drink it that is truly is a triumvirate of taste.  Each one of the three components is played off the others.  Made with equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, the Negroni takes three liquors that can stand well enough on their own, and somehow make them…..better.  Elevated.

The legend of the Negroni originates in Florence.  She is one of the city’s greatest contributions to the world.  The story goes that Fosco Scarselli, the bartender at the Caffe’ Casoni, obliged the Count Camillo Negroni when he asked him to add more of a punch to his cocktail, the Americano.  (Don’t you think they should call it the Scarselli?  He was gipped!)  Scarselli changed out the soda water and instead, substituted it with gin, creating the first Negroni.  Garnished with a bit of orange it becomes a metaphor for the Arno River at sunset.  It is dark with color.  It has shimmers of light and it is rich and deep.   In fact, sunset is the best time to enjoy a Negroni.  It is a true Italian Aperitivo, designed to open the palate to prepare you for the dinner that will follow.  Don’t go to Florence, (or any part of Italy for that matter) without having a Negroni.  Once you’ve had one there, each time you enjoy that unique flavor anywhere else in the world, you will be in Italy again.

 

The author and a Florentine Negroni

The author and a Florentine Negroni

 Negroni Recipe

  • 2 ounces of Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 ounces of gin
  • 2 ounces of Campari, (or any type of bitters)
  • orange wedge

Combine the liquor into a shaker filled with ice.  Shake well.  Serve immediately over ice with the orange garnish. 

 

The David: What You Need To Know Before You Get To Florence

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo's David.

Florence, or Firenze, as it is called in Italy, is an ancient city filled with some of the world’s most beautiful art.  It was the stomping grounds of, to name a few, Michelangelo Buonarroti and  Dante Alighieri (though after they banished Dante, they had the nerve to be angry when Ravenna claimed his body for their Famous Dead Person.)  It is also hot, crowded, loud and dusty.  When you disembark from the Santa Maria Novella Train Station, (The SMN,) you will feel as if THIS was Alighieri’s inspiration for a Circle of Hell.  However, don’t plan a trip to Italy without stopping here.  The home turf of the Medici family, their mark is evident throughout the city.  Their faces grace the arch in the doorway in the front hall of the Uffizi.  In fact, the Uffizi, was their family offices.  Outside, The David stands guard.  Wait for it……

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo's David.

The beautiful reproduction of Michelangelo’s David.

IT IS THE FAKE DAVID.  This is one of the first things you need to know.  It breaks my heart every time when people tell me how they posed in front of it, and blah blah blah.  Oh dear.  It puts me at an emotional crux.  Do I tell them?  So, listen up people, I’m telling you now.

The real David, the one that Michelangelo created, really DID used to stand in this space.  He was moved in 1873 and  now, he is the main attraction at the Accademia Museum on the other side of town.  Traveling to Italy is a lot of time and money and you want to do it right.  It’s like when someone has food on their teeth….do you tell them or do you let them go on their merry way with spinach on an incisor?    It’s the same thing with David.  Once you tell them you’ve forever destroyed their belief that they saw The Real One.   (It also doesn’t help that  they kind of think you’re a meanie for telling them.)

The author being totally disrespectful to the Pseudo David

The author being totally disrespectful to the Pseudo David

Make sure you see the real one.  I mean it when I say he will literally take your breath away.  It is an entirely unexpected, holy experience.  The fact that he’s a 17 foot naked man has nothing to do with it.  Really.  It is an unforgettable moment.  This leads me to my second thing to know.  DO NOT TAKE HIS PICTURE.  Even if you are a shameless hussy and are not embarrassed by the security guards screaming, “Va via!  Ferma!” (Go away!  Stop!) the wall of humanity surrounding you will be mortified.  Please people.  Follow the rules.  His picture is for sale in the gift shop.  Buy one there.

In Florence, the two main museums are the Academia, and the Uffizi.  Please, please take heed of all the tourist advice and book your tickets ahead of time You will save yourself hours of time and when you see those lines, your heart will sink.  I don’t want you to have to compromise on what you’re willing to wait for to see.  The David is right on the other side of that wall, but if you do not have reservations, it could take all day to meet him.  I mean it.  Book your tickets ahead of time.  Yet, here’s another thing you need to know.  If you call them, be prepared for the phone bill when it arrives.  To me, it’s worth the $30.00 phone call.

On another aside, go and see the reproduction in the Piazza della Signoria.  It was placed there in 1910 and it gives you a true feeling for what this city was like when this biblical underdog was positioned to glare in the direction of the Goliath of Rome.

Time is precious, especially when you are in Italy.  Let’s face it, we may never come back this way again.  I want you to have memories stored up in your heart and mind that will make you smile, and not wince at an honest planning mistake.  Florence is overwhelming on a good day.  Trying to organize your thoughts amid the heat and the people is almost impossible.  The more planning you do ahead of time, the better the experience will be.

 

 

Sirni Pelletteria, Roma, Italia: Part Two of a Zillion on Shopping

The author with her newest treasure.
The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

I’ve talked before about the dizzying choices of goods to purchase when you are in Italy.  In the heart of the historic center of Rome, it is no different.  You will see goods that range from the sublime, to the ridiculously stupid.  I know.  I’ve bought them both.  I don’t know if you have the same sickness I have on vacation, but I have to confess, I feel like I’m on a hunt and I want to Bag Something Fab…so there is no pun intended when I tell you one of the best things to buy in Rome is a handbag.  The leather in all of Italy is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  My dear Great-Uncle Augusto wears the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen.  They are so beautiful and elegant.  I know they are soft.  I stop myself at throwing myself on the floor to rub my face on them, so I’m making an assumption here, but you can tell….

Famiglia Sirni

Famiglia Sirni

I’m pausing here for a moment to reminisce about those shoes……..

OK.  Back to shopping in Rome.  As I’ve said, it  offers as many choices as there are cobblestones.  You could always decide to choose something cheesy (which let’s face it, they’re funny to buy, especially that gross apron of “The David”) or buy your self  “Un Tipico Romano Regalo. ”    Leather. Handbags.

At Via Della Stelletta 33, you will find the most beautiful leather goods in Rome.  I am speaking of, none other than the world famous Sirni Pelletteria.  This beautiful little shop has been family owned and operated for over 50 years.  The current proprietors, Andrea and Rita, are a brother and sister duo who have inherited the gift of creating gorgeous handbags from their father.

The Mural of Andrea and Rita's Father over the work station

The Mural of Andrea and Rita’s Father over the work station

The inside of the shop is as sleek and beautiful as the bags.  Each piece is seated much like a monarch on a throne.  They just know they’re special.  Rita works the front of the store, managing the customers and the vast choices of bags.  She is an artist in every sense of the word, beautiful inside and out.  She welcomes people from all over the world.  Movie stars, celebrities and locals alike, recognize these bags for the treasures that they are.  Andrea is a genius sculptor.  His medium is leather and he painstakingly coaxes these pieces of leather into a spectacular monument.  Like I’ve written about before, when you are shopping in Rome, the store vendors wish to serve you.  Rita magically conjures any color or style bag you can imagine.  They also make custom designs.  People return to them year after year to custom order pieces like nothing else in Europe, or the world, for that matter.

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

more Famiglia Sirni

more Famiglia Sirni

 

Image 1

Cafe CaNole: Restaurant Review…Get Your Coat And Get There!

Is there anything more decadent?
 Thanks Dean!!!
Is there anything more decadent?  Thanks Dean!!!

Is there anything more decadent?
Thanks Dean!!!

So.  There’s nothing like a home cooked Italian meal…(especially if you can get someone else to make it for you.)  If you are looking for authentic Italian cuisine, you have to make the trip from where ever you may find yourself on the planet to Cafe CaNole.  This small business is a jewel, located at 1 Campion Road, New Hartford  in Central New York.

Owned by the Nole brothers, Dean and Jason, they offer True.  Italian.  Cuisine.  If you’re looking for spaghetti and meatballs, you won’t find it here.  Instead they offer the dishes from your Nonna’s table.  In fact, I would venture as far as to say that if you don’t know what Rabine greens are, you haven’t eaten true Italian food.  Yet.

Traditionally, Italian food (as the Italians know it,) is different than what we’ve come to expect here in the states.

This restaurant has found the perfect balance of upscale Italian food and good old-fashioned, peasant, comfort food.  Served in an urban style of sparse class, the chalk board walls have the daily specials as well as the finest list of wines this side of Greve in Chianti.

Dean is a perfect host, both gracious and gregarious.  He flits around the restaurant’s two kitchens overseeing the creations being wrought from scratch.  Whether your preference is for savory or sweet, they have both.  The menu for both lunch and dinner is presented on plates in the European style of contorno .  This means that each part of the meal is celebrated for the work of art that it is.  (Much like a “contour” in art, it completes, gives depth, and adds color.  Here, is the added bonus of taste.)  They use tiny sauce pans to serve their risotto and truffle potatoes, which allows you to appreciate and register the tastes of each separate component of the meal.

When you are seated, the ambience is both convivial and intimate.  There is a screen showing old Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin movies and the tables are cozy, especially once the fresh baked bread arrives.  The bread plates beckon for olive oil.  Jugs of the best, buttery olive oil are the centerpiece of each table.  When you are presented with the bread and cheese, pour some olive oil onto the plate, sprinkle it with the cheese and dip your bread.  By the time your meal arrives, you will already be satiated, but keep on going…the salads are huge and fresh and beautiful.  Findings like beets, gorgonzola cheese, apples, and tomatoes are like little gems hidden among the baby lettuces.

Whatever you order, you will be thrilled and filled.  There is a relaxing atmosphere that invites you to linger over espresso and pastries.  Be sure to look in their bakery case.  Whatever you choose will be fantastic.  They have a plethora of favorites coupled with creative and delicious delights.  They also make wedding cakes, as well as everything from First Communion to birthday cakes. Theircookies are the kind that everyone’s Zia used to make, but no one ever wrote the recipe down.

Almond Paste Cookies

Almond Paste Cookies

Enjoy your meal.  I’ve said before that “Buon cibo loda Dio.” (Good food praises God.)  Here, that old Italian expression is a full on worship service.

…and when you go, tell them Cindy sent you.

Italian Iced Tea

Roman Rooftops

rome rooftops 2Summer time treats are appreciated all around the world, especially when it’s hot and sticky out.  Rome in July is not just hot, it’s HOT.  The closeness of the buildings, the throngs of humanity, the lack of American air-conditioning, the traffic and the smoke are just some of the things that make it Hot in La Citta Eterna.  One way to refresh yourself is to go to any one of the little corner cafes and bars that you will see.

Italians don’t drink as much soda as Americans.  They prefer their drinks less sweet, (and with less ice cubes.)  One such drink is an Italian Iced Tea.  Not to be confused with the alcohol laden Long Island Iced Tea, this drink is an entirely different animal.

The Italian Iced Tea is made with two ingredients.  Unsweetened homemade iced tea and a scoop of lemon ice.  The lemon ice is much like what you would find at a carnival with a snow cone kind of flavor.

The drink is served in a glass.  A.  Real.  Glass.  They put a scoop of the lemon ice into the glass and then pour iced tea into the glass until it’s about 2/3 filled.  They will serve it to you on a silver tray.  (Really.  Even in simple local bars.)  Usually, it is accompanied with a slightly salty and savory snack.  (Nuts, small pieces of focaccia bread, or tiny crackers, for example.)  The drink is served with a spoon in case you want to scoop the ice out and eat it first. It won’t be as cold as you would get here in the States, but it is a refreshing drink all the same.

This is one of the best parts of being in Italy.  Ordering a drink like this gives you a chance to rest your aching feet and People Watch.  There is no where else in the world that is more exciting to sit and Watch the World Go By.  The fountains and the people and music and the booths are all there for you to enjoy.  The view is like no other you will ever see.  Breathe in the heat of Italy and carry it home with you!

The Bar

The author with her dear cousin

The author with her dear cousin and great uncle at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’ (photo taken by her husband)

…So in my post The Italian Breakfast, I was telling you about Il Bar.  Not an establishment of ill repute or a public house, a bar in Italy is where coffee and treats are served.  THIS is where the locals go to eat.  In fact, if you see a sign that says “American Breakfast” you can be sure no locals will be there.

“American Breakfast” as it is called on the sign is designed to lure you in with promises of what they think Americans eat each morning.  Eggs.  Bacon.  Toast.  Cafe Americano.  (Italians think this coffee is watered down and silly.  Why drink all that liquid when you can have an espresso for the same caffeine hit?)  The problem with this breakfast is that, for me at least, I don’t eat that.  Cereal and milk is difficult to find.

This is where you have to open your culinary horizons. You are better off going to one of the said “bars” and watching for a moment what the locals do.  They already know by your bone structure that you are American, so don’t get worried.  They will make you feel welcome, and they will love that you are honoring their local customs.  You can point and smile and they are so helpful!

There are lots of famous ones throughout La Citta Eterna, but there are a couple you might want to go to just to steep yourself in history, culture and coffee.  One is Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe’, just off via Monetrone near the Piazza Rotondo.  The other one is the oldest caffe in Rome, Antico Caffe’ Greco on the world famous via Condotti.  The photographs alone are worth the trip.

The oldest caffe' in Rome.

The oldest caffe’ in Rome. (Photo by Michael Sirni)

You order your espresso then point to what you would like in the displays.  They put it all on a plate, much like a cafeteria with “il conto” (the bill.)  You pay and then stand and eat it at the bar like the locals.  Espresso is literally a shot.  Add sugar and gulp.  It’s over.  While Americans may nurse the same foam cup of coffee all day long, Italians finish it all in a sip.  (They do go back and have them all day, so don’t think they have taken any kind of higher ground….no coffee pun intended.)

If you sit down, there are additional charges, much like a tip.  It is called “coperto” which is an umbrella term for bread, use of forks, table services, etc. If you want to appear really in the know, watch someone order ahead of you.  Smile at the counter worker, nod your head to the said person ahead of you and say, “lo stesso.” This means, loosely translated, “I’ll have the same thing.” Just hope they didn’t order something you’re allergic to…. 🙂