A Village Stroll through Chianti

Panzano in Chianti
Panzano in Chianti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy Celebrates Liberation Day on April 25th–‘la Festa della Liberazione”

Italian Resistance Fighters 1945
Italian Resistance Fighters 1945

“…this is the flower of the Partisan who died for our freedom.”   from Bella Ciao

Many of the elderly citizens of Italy still remember the American soldiers who marched into villages from over the mountains and handed out chocolate to the children. They will never forget life under Benito Mussolini’s fascist puppet regime and the German Nazi’s. A childs rhyme still plays through their minds, lamenting the days without bread and nights without light.

Armed Partixans of the Emilia Romagna
Armed Freedom Fighters of the Emilia Romagna

Liberation Day in Italy honors Italian resistance, those who fought the fascist regime, but also protests the tyranny and oppression throughout the world through speeches and political rallies. It is a national holiday celebrated all across Italy that marks the fall of Mussolini’s Italian social Republic and the end of the Nazi occupation in Italy in 1945, towards the end of the second World War. Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party from 1922 to 1943, continuing to lead the Italian Social Republic in parts of Italy that were not occupied by Allied forces from 1943 to 1945.

Italian Partisans greet the Allied Troops
Italian Partisans (Freedom Fighters) greet the Allied troops as they enter a Florence suburb south of the Arno

The Italian resistance was composed of independent soldiers who had once been members of Italy’s many political parties, along with more than 35,000 women. The resistance fought fiercely in every Italian city, but the biggest loss took place in the industrial city of Torino. Many of the workers in the factories, the center of Italy’s car making industry, and other establishments around the city refused to comply with the German military forces. As a result, 7,000 workers perished under harsh labor conditions or in gas chambers after being shipped off to concentration camps.

Women Italian Partisans Patrol the streets of Milan
Italian women Freedom Fighters patrol the streets of Milan

Italy won their independence and have remained a democratic republic since 1946.

Today, Rome’s president will make his annual visit to the Ardeatine Caves mausoleum, where 335 Romans were killed by Nazis in 1944.

Ardeatine Caves in Rome
Ardeatine Caves Mausoleum in Rome

Festivities will take place in every Italian city. Bands and parades in almost every town will be playing “Bella Ciao,” the anthem of the Italian resistance movement during World War II, often sung by the left-wing antifascist rebels who fought against the atrocities of the Nazis and the leader of Italy, Benito Mussolini. Today, the lyrics are symbolic of the sacrifices made for freedom.

Watch and Listen to the following video:

Bella Ciao YouTube Video

Airplanes overhead celebrate Liberation Day
Airplanes overhead celebrate Liberation Day

 

‘Natale di Roma’-Happy Birthday Rome 2014

But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed. I am inspired by the regal self-assurance of this city, so grounded and rounded, so amused and monumental, knowing she is held securely in the palm of history. I would like to be like Rome when I am an old lady.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Colosseum
Colosseum

Guess who’s turning 2,767 years old this today? Rome it is. Twin brothers Romulus and Remus must get some credit as founding fathers of this famously historical metropolis. Nursed by a she-wolf after being orphaned, as legend goes, these boys grew up to establish the city of Rome in 753 BC. Rich in culture, wine, food, archaeology, fashion, music, and a travelers dream, Rome continues to impact the world today.

Roman Forum
Roman Forum

Moving away from legend, modern archaeologists believe that inhabitants of small Latin settlements converged at the Forum during this time, from which the city grew. The hills and marshes around the Forum and the location of the Tiber River protected the newly established community. Although the Etruscans from the north conquered Rome around 625 BC, they advanced the town into an important city-state, ruled by kings. The rest, so they say, is history.

Romulus and Remus with She-Wolf
Romulus and Remus with Mama She-Wolf

If you happen to be in Rome, join in with the festivities taking place all over the Eternal City. In the Circus Maximus, reenactments of the history of Rome which include the story of Romulus and Remus and several exciting battle scenes between Romans and Barbarians will take place. The Pantheon and Piazza del Campidoglio will host live bands and concerts. Street performers and parades with traditional costumes of historical figures such as Roman soldiers, slaves, barbarians and senators will be seen throughout the city.

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Monuments, archaeological sites and museums are free all day.

Romes Birthday Celebration

Aventine hill will be wrapped with torches and lights. Gladiatorial shows and Roman feasts will take place followed by grandiose fireworks over the Tiber River that will cap off the evening.

The Romans know how to celebrate, so don’t be outdone. Grab a gelato or, better yet, a glass of sparkling Frascati and enjoy a beautiful sunset wherever you are.

Rome, Vatican Museum, Appian Way, San Clemente 390
Eternal Rome

 

Why I Love Southern Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surrounded by Giovanni and his two brothers

 

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

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

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

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The shops and street markets are abundant and colorful

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

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Morning street below my hotel balcony in Naples

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

Our ‘Passed-Over’ Easter

St. Peters Basilica in Rome
St. Peters Basilica rises majestically in Rome

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

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

Monastery on Pelopennese
Monastery clings to a mountainside on the Peloponnese

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

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

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

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

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