Saturday, December 15, 2007

Barcelona - Drink in Barcelona

Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Barcelona

In Barcelona, the tap water (aigua de l'aixeta/agua del grifo) is not at all tempting and most people drink aigua/agua mineral (bottled water). It comes in innumerable brands, either amb/con gas (fizzy) or sense/sin gas (still). A 1.5L bottle of still mineral water costs around €0.60 in a supermarket, but out and about you may be charged as much as €1.40.


In Spain, coffee is strong and slightly bitter. A cafe amb llet/cafe con leche (generally drunk at breakfast only) is about 50% coffee, 50% hot milk. Ask for grande or doble if you want a large cup, en got/en vaso if you want a smaller shot in a glass, or sombra if you want lots of milk. A cafe solo is an espresso (short black); cafe tallat/cafe cortado is an espresso with a little milk. For iced coffee, ask for cafe amb gel/cafe con hielo; you'll get a glass of ice and a hot cup of coffee, to be poured over the ice. If you can't deal with caffeine ask for a descafeinat/descafeinado. You usually have the choice of de maquina or de sobre. On taste the former beats the latter, which are little pouches of instant decaf that you pour into a cup of hot milk - blah!

Ice coffee catalan style


As in the rest of Spain, Barcelonians prefer coffee, but increasingly it is possible to get hold of many different styles of tea and infusion de hierbas (herbal concoctions). Locals tend to drink tea black. If you want milk, ask for it to come separately (a parte) to avoid ending up with a cup of tea-flavoured watery milk.

Soft Drinks

Sue de taronja/zumo de naranja (orange juice) is the main freshly squeezed juice available. To make sure you are getting the real thing, ask for the juice to be natural, otherwise you risk getting a puny bottle of runny concentrate.

Refrescos (soft drinks) include the usual international brands, local brands such as Kas, and granissat/granizado (iced fruit crush).

A batut/batido is a flavoured-milk drink or milk shake. Orxata/horchata is a Valencian drink of Islamic origin. Made from the juice of chufa (tiger nuts), sugar and water, it is sweet and tastes like soya milk with a hint of cinnamon. A naughtier version is called a cubanito and involves sticking in a blob of chocolate ice-cream.

Alcoholic Drinks in Barcelona


Vi/vino (wine) accompanies almost every meal. Spanish wine is robust because of the sunny climate. It comes blanc/blanco (white), negre/tinto (red) or rosat/rosado (rose) in all price ranges. A €5 bottle of wine, bought from a supermarket or wine merchant, will be quite drinkable. The same money in a restaurant will get you virtually nothing. Cheap vi de taula/vino de mesa (table wine) can sell for less than €2 a litre, but wines at that price can be pretty rank.

Catalunya's whites are better than its reds and the area is best known for cava, the fine local bubbly. You can order wine by the glass (copa) in bars and restaurants. At lunch or dinner it is common to order a vi/vino de la casa (house wine) - usually by the litre or half litre.


The most common way to order cervesa/cerveza (beer) is to ask for a canya, which is a small draught beer (cervesa/cerveza de barril). A larger beer (about 300mL) is sometimes called a tubo (which comes in a straight glass). A pint is a gerra/jarra. If you just ask for a cerveza you may get bottled beer, which is more expensive. A small bottle of beer is called a flasco/botellin. The local brew is Estrella Damm (of which there are several variants, including the potent and flavoursome Voll Dam), while San Miguel, made in western Catalunya's Lleida area, is also widely drunk. The Damm company produces about 15% of all Spain's beer, as does San Miguel. A clara is a shandy - a beer with a hefty dash of lemonade (7-Up).

Other Drinks

Sangria is a wine and fruit punch, sometimes laced with brandy. It's refreshing going down but can leave you with a sore head. You'll see jugs of it on tables in some restaurants. A local speciality is sangria de cava, a champagne-based mix that does less damage to your neurones and also goes by the name of tisana.

There is no shortage of imported and Spanish-produced top-shelf stuff - conac (brandy) is popular.

What to Eat in Barcelona

A coffee with some sort of pastry (pasta) is the typical breakfast. You may get a croissant or some cream-filled number (such as a canya). Some people prefer a savory start - you could go for a bikini - a toasted ham and cheese. A Spanish tostada is simply buttered toast (you might order something to go with it). The Catalan version, a torrada, is usually more of an open toasted sandwich with something on it besides butter (depending on what you ask for).

Although not terribly common in Barcelona, some people go for an all-Spanish favourite, xurros amb xocolata/churros con chocolate, a lightly deep-fried stick of plain pastry immersed in thick, gooey hot chocolate. You'll find a few such places around town and they are great hangover material.

Lunch & Dinner
Many straightforward Spanish dishes are available here as elsewhere in the country. The travellers' friend is the menu del dia, a set-price meal usually comprising three courses, with a drink thrown in. This is often only available for lunch and can range from around €6 at budget places to €25 at posh establishments. A plat combinat/plato combinado is a simpler version still - a one-course meal consisting of basic nutrients - the 'meat-and-three-veg' style of cooking. You'll see pictures of this stuff everywhere. It's filling and cheap but has little to recommend it in culinary terms.

You'll pay more for your meals if you order a la carte, but the food will be better. The menu (la carta) begins with starters such as amanides/ensaladas (salads), sopes/sopas (soups) and entremesos/entremeses (hors d'oeuvres). The latter can range from a mound of potato salad with olives, asparagus, anchovies and a selection of cold meats - almost a meal in itself - to simpler cold meats, slices of cheese and olives.

The hungry Catalan, after a starter, will order a first then second course. The latter may come under headings such as: pollastre/pollo (chicken); carn/carne (meat); mariscos (seafood); peix/pescado (fish); arros/arroz (rice); ous/huevos (eggs); and verdures/verduras (vegetables). Red meat may be subdivided into porc/cerdo (pork), vedella/ternera (beef) and anyell/cordero (lamb). Be aware that second courses frequently do not come with vegetables: You order a side dish of vegetables or salad. Often the first course is designed to take care of this side of your diet, though.

Postres (desserts) have a lower profile; gelats/helados (ice cream), fruit and flans are often the only choices in cheaper places. Sugar addicts should look out for local specialities, such as crema Catalana, where possible.

Picasso Museum - Museu Picasso - Barcelona Museums

The Picasso Museum is across Via Laietana, down Carrer de la Princesa, and right on Carrer Montcada - a street known for Barcelona's most elegant medieval palaces. Picasso spent several of his formative years (1901-06) in Barcelona, and this collection, while not one of the world's best, is particularly strong on his early work. Displays include childhood sketches, pictures from the beautiful Rose and Blue periods, and the famous 1950s Cubist variations on Velázquez's Las Meninas (Ladies-in-Waiting).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Museu Picasso - Barcelona - Attractions

The Museu Picasso is Barcelona's most visited museum. It's housed in three strikingly beautiful stone mansions on the Carrer de Montcada, which was, in medieval times, an approach to the port. The museum shows numerous works that trace the artist's early years, and is especially strong on his Blue Period with canvases like The Defenceless, ceramics and his early works from the 1890s. The second floor shows works from Barcelona and Paris from 1900-1904, with many of his impressionist-influenced works. The haunting Portrait of Senyora Canals (1905), from his Pink Period is also on display. Among the later works, all executed in Cannes in 1957, are a complex technical series (Las Meninas), which consists mostly of studies on Diego Velazquez's masterpiece of the same name.

Barcelona - History of Barcelona

Barcelona has emerged from a spotty history. With Castilian kings pumping cannonballs over the city walls and anarchists disagreeing on which shoulder to hang their rifles, the city shrank in the shadow of greater cities and powers for centuries.

Though founded around 230 BC, likely by the Carthaginians, and invaded by the Visigoths and then the Muslims, the history of the city, in a sense, only truly began after armies from what is now France pushed back the Muslims in 801 AD. At the time, the plains and mountains to the northwest and north of Barcelona were populated by the people who by then could be identified as 'Catalans' (although surviving documentary references to the term only date to the 10th century). Catalan's closest linguistic relative today is the langue d'oc, the old language of southern France.

In the 12th century, Catalunya grew rich on pickings from the fall of the Muslim caliphate of Córdoba. The Catalans managed to keep their creative forces alight through to the 14th century, when Barcelona ruled a mini-empire including Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, Valencia, the Balearics, the French regions of Rousillon and Cerdagne and parts of Greece. But by the 15th century, devastated by the plague, spectacular bank crashes, and the Genoese squeezing their markets, the empire ran out of steam. While the Catalans may have hoped that union with the kingdom of Castile would pump cash back into the coffers and vitality onto the streets, heirs to the crowns of Castile and Aragón were more interested in juicing Catalunya to finance their own imperial ambitions.

A 1462 rebellion against King Joan II ended in a siege in 1473 that devastated the city. Barcelona was more or less annexed into the Castilian state, but was excluded from the plundering of the Americas that brought fantastic riches to 16th-century Castile. By now, the peasants had started to revolt. Disaffected Catalans resorted to arms a number of times, and the last revolt, during the War of the Spanish Succession, saw Catalunya siding with Britain and Austria against Felipe V, the French contender for the Spanish throne. That was their undoing. Barcelona fell in 1714 after another shocking siege, and as well as banning the Catalan language, Felipe built a huge fort, the Ciutadella, to watch over his ungrateful subjects in town.

After 1778 Catalunya was permitted to trade with America, and the region's fortunes gradually turned around. Spain's first industrial revolution, based on cotton, was launched there, and other industries based on wine, cork and iron also developed. By the 1830s, the European Romantic movement virtually rescued Catalan culture and language just as it was in danger of disappearing. The Catalan Renaixença, or Renaissance, was a crusade led by poets and writers to popularise the people's language. A fervent nationalist movement sprang up around the same time, and was embraced by all parties of the political spectrum.

The decades around the turn of the century were a fast ride, with anarchists, Republicans, bourgeois regionalists, gangsters, police terrorists, political gunmen called pistoleros and centrists in Madrid all clamouring for a slice of the action. This followed an explosion in Barcelona's population - from around 115,000 in 1800 to more than half a million by 1900, then over a million by 1930 - as workers flocked in for industrial jobs. As many as 80% of the city's workers embraced the anarchist CNT by the end of WWI, and industrial relations hit an all-time low during a wave of strikes in 1919-20 when employers hired assassins to kill union leaders.

Within days of Spain's Second Republic forming in 1931, Catalan nationalists declared a republic within an 'Iberian Federation'. Catalunya briefly gained genuine autonomy after the leftist Popular Front won the February 1936 Spanish general election, and for nearly a year revolutionary anarchists and the POUM (the Workers Marxist Unification Party) ran the town. Get 10 anarchists in a room, though, and you'll have 11 political opinions; in May 1937 infighting between communists, anarchists and the POUM broke out into street fighting for three days, killing at least 1500 people.

The Republican effort across Spain was troubled by similar infighting, which destroyed any chance they may have had of defeating Franco's fascist militia. Barcelona, the last stronghold of the Republicans, fell to Franco's forces in January 1939, and the war ended a few months later. Rather than submitting to Franco, thousands of Catalans fled across the border to France, Andorra and farther afield.

Franco wasted no time in banning Catalan and flooding the region with impoverished immigrants from Andalucía in the vain hope that the pesky Catalans, with their continual movements for independence, would be swamped. But the plan soured somewhat when the migrants' children and grandchildren turned out to be more Catalan than the Catalans. Franco even banned one of the Catalans' joyful expressions of national unity, the sardana, a public circle dance.

But they'd barely turned the last sods on El Supremo's grave when Catalunya burst out again in an effort to recreate itself as a nation. Catalan was revived with a vengeance, the Generalitat, or local parliament, was reinstated, and today, people gather all over town several times a week to dance the sardana. While there's still talk of independence, it remains just that - talk. Barcelona is its country's most happening town, and seems set to stay that way.

San Ranieri Historical Regatta - Pisa - Attractions, Festivals and Events

San Ranieri Historical Regatta, 17th June. Pisa celebrates its patron saint in a regatta with each boat containing eight oarsmen representing the four areas of the city: St. Martino, St. Antonio, St. Maria and St. Francesco. The competition is held on the Arno along an upstream stretch of 2 km. The night before, the famous Luminara of San Ranieri is held in which thousands of candles are hung from the buildings by creating a spectacle of rare beauty. Thousands of locals crowd along the Arno to see the fireworks at midnight.

Pisa - Eating and Drinking - Gastronomy - Tipical Food

Cuisine in Pisa offers lots of variety and taste, as diverse as the lands around it. From the sea to the farm land and on to the sweet, hilly landscape dominated by grain, olives and vines which on the high-ground gives way to rugged, wooded landscape.The many restaurants in the historic center offer typical dishes from Pisa, as well as fine, protected produce such as Monte Pisano olive oil, Pecorino cheese, Parco di Migliarino lamb, Pisan beef, San Miniato truffle, pine nuts, mushrooms, Pisanello tomatoes and much more.

Tuscan bread, made without salt, is an essential element of Pisan cuisine and the base of many canapé which introduce every self-respecting meal. We advise you to taste the canapé with chicken liver, truffle or pheasant sauce. There are lots of first course soup dishes during the winter months, which are always accompanied by slices of stale bread: really tasty bean or farro soup, Pappa al Pomodoro or Pisan style cabbage soup, while lots of fish soups derive from the sea. Another typical dish is Panzanella, a poor man’s dish based on stale bread, tomatoes and onion. Pasta dishes worth a mention include Pappardelle with duck or hare sauce. Pallette, little balls of polenta in meat sauce, are also really tasty.
Pisan cuisine incorporates lots of types of meat. You can taste typical Pisan beef, wild boar with olives, lamb fricassee, rabbit and lots of game: hare, pheasant, deer and wild boar, prepared in various ways. Obviously, fish is also very much present: there is lots of dried cod, which you can eat “alla Pisana”, fried or in a sweet and sour sauce. The coastal stock farms provide eels, mussels and clams; the Cozze Ripiene, mussels filled with secret ingredients, are excellent. Try them and you’ll believe us!
Desserts are based on the traditions of the poor and are based on dried fruit, such as Castagnaccio based on chestnuts, Pinolata with pine nuts, Torta Pisana, Torta coi Bischeri, full of chocolate and pine nuts, and lastly, oil and wine biscuits.
Wines: the land around Pisa, as in the rest of Tuscany, produces great DOC and IGT wines. The main names are: Chianti delle Colline Pisane, Bianco Pisano di San Torpé, Rosso Toscano and Montescudaio; the latter is available in white, red and Vin Santo. Vin Santo is an excellent passito wine which goes does down well with Cantucci dry, almond biscuits.

Piazza dei Cavalieri - Pisa - Historical Buildings and Monuments

The beautiful Piazza dei Cavalieri was the political center of the Pisan Republic. During the 16th century it was radically transformed by Giorgio Vasari on the wishes of Cosimo I De Medici and became the seat of the new military order known as the Knights of St. Stephen.
The center of the square is dominated by a statue of Cosimo I de Medici. The square hosts the Palazzo della Carovana dei Cavalieri, whose facade is completely covered in graffiti, and today hosts the Scuola Normale Superiore. Located on the left, the Palazzo dell'Orologio, an age-old hospital of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen, whose construction incorporated two pre-existing towers. One of these was where Count Ugolino and his sons were left to die of hunger following their suspected treason, as recalled by Dante Alighieri in his Inferno. Still in the square, one can find the Church of Saint Stephen of the Knights, a building designed by Giorgio Vasari, with a splendid marble facade. The interior of the church is covered by an impressive ceiling in engraved and gold painted wood. The church also hosts trophies of flags and parts of ships taken from the Turks during sea patrols carried out by the Knights. The south side of the square hosts the monumental facade of the Palazzo del Consiglio dei Dodici. The building, designed by Vasari, was restored in 1603 and has a noble facade decorated in white marble.

The Duomo - Pisa - Churches and Museums

The Duomo was built between the 11th and 12th centuries, but was later subject to various restructuring work, especially after the great fire of 1595. The facade forms a scenic backdrop, with four rows of columns and decorations in colored marble on the lower part. All the external surfaces are emphasized by the horizontal rows of black and white, with a beautiful elliptic dome of clear Islamic influence. The interior forms a Latin cross, divided into five naves by heavy granite columns. The sight is incredible, thanks to the geometric decorations of polychrome marble and the seventeenth-century coffered ceiling. The original decorations were almost all destroyed during the fire of 1595. A masterpiece of Italian Gothic sculpture from the fourteenth-century remains, the beautiful Giovanni Pisano pulpit, as well as the apse mosaic.

Pisa - History and culture

Pisa’s origins remain uncertain even to this day; some theories say the city is of Greek origin, however the city was most probably founded by the Ligurians or Etruscans. During the Roman Empire Pisa became a privileged center due to the excellent disembarkation possibilities offered by its port, to such an extent that the port was expanded and restructured during Octavian's reign. Following the end of the Roman Empire, Pisa remained a port city of great importance for the Goths, Longobards and the Carolingi.

During the medieval period, between the 11th and 12th centuries, Pisa reached maximum prosperity; the Marine Republic became one of the most important naval powers of the Mediterranean and extended its power over the entire coasts of Tuscany, Sardinia and Corsica. Its fleet was involved in continuous battles with the Saracens and Italian rival powers: Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. The success of the First Crusade enabled Pisa to establish commercial bases in Middle Eastern ports, ensuring the importation of the most precious materials. The amazing buildings in Piazza dei Miracoli were built around this period of great economic, political and cultural power and have made Pisa famous around the world.

Globe sculpture at Aeroporto Galileo Galilei Pisa

The end of the 12th century signaled the beginning of the city’s decline. Everyone in Pisa, even to this day, are well aware of the Battle of Meloria in 1284 in which Pisa was bombarded by the Genoan fleet. In the years that followed, Pisa fell into the shadow of neighboring powers, such as Florence and Siena, until it was finally conquered by Florence in 1406. Under the dei Medici’s the city experienced a period of recovery thanks to its port, offering Florence a convenient gateway to the sea. The 1500’s also saw the construction of the famous university, which one century later would teach Galileo Galilei.

What actually marked the end for Pisa as a naval power was the unrelenting filling in of the port, due to the accumulation of detritus transported from the Arno. The city, surrounded by unhealthy swampland, lost its importance and its population until the 19th century, when the Grand Dukes of Lorena began the indispensable reclamation works. In 1810, Napoleon founded the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, which to this day continues to be renowned as a school of excellence in Italy and abroad. In the 20th century Pisa once again began to flourish, thanks to the development of its university, trade, industry and, in more recent times, its fame among tourists worldwide.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Milan - Traditional Milanese cooking - Eating and Drinking

Traditional Milanese cooking is made up of simple, meager dishes and perhaps for this reason it was banished during the ambitious 1980s. It has only recently returned to popularity. Milan is a city that lives off fashion and trends: there was Chinese cooking (that was obviously discovered here before it was adopted in the rest of Italy), then Indian cooking, then African cooking, followed by Japanese and Middle Eastern cooking. The Milanese people have now returned to their origins, enjoying the tastes with the pleasure that one feels when one returns home after a long trip. Now there are trattorias, inns and restaurants (including luxury ones) everywhere that offer traditional Milanese dishes to eat.
If you are planning to visit this city, don’t miss out on the chance to try some typical food that you can find here in their original version.

One of the many aperitifs that you can try out during happy hour is the classical Negroni, which is a little “aggressive” but is especially loved by the Milanese, made with Bitter Campari, Gin, red Martini and ice, that must be tried with a few snacks. After your aperitif you can choose one of the several restaurants in Milan that specializes in traditional cooking. We advise you to start with a traditional antipasto, made of nervetti (boiled calf’s shank and knee cartilage cut into strips) and mixed with thinly sliced onions. As a first course you cannot miss out on the classical Risotto alla Milanese, made with a full-bodied beef broth (the original recipe includes bone marrow) and flavored with saffron. As a second course we suggest a classic Milanese dish: "cassouela", an extremely filling dish made with various poor parts of pork meat (tail, ribs, rind, feet and ears) cooked with green cabbage and other vegetables. If you are not feeling so courageous, go for a more traditional dish, a tasty Milanese cutlet that is probably nothing like you've ever tasted in other places: Milan restaurants actually serve a very tasty, crunchy cutlet, made with a veal chop, including the bone. Another alternative is veal tonné, that is a light, tasty veal slice covered in tuna, mayonnaise, anchovy and caper sauce. We recommend an excellent Barbera from the Oltrepò Pavese as your wine.
If you should decide to spend time in Milan that coincides with the Christmas festivities, you could end your lunch with a huge slice of Panettone, the typical local Christmas cake, that is even tastier if you eat it with traditional Mascarpone cream.

There are typical products from the province of Milan, including Salame di Milano, made from finely minced pork and beef meat, and many types of cheese too. Grana Padano is a famous cheese overseas, which comes from the Pò valley that includes the Lombardia, Piedmont, Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions. Mascarpone is also a typical Milanese cheese, that is an essential ingredient for desserts and creams, often mixed with other cheeses, salami or fish. However, the most famous Milanese cheese is without a doubt Gorgonzola, that rich, strongly flavored cheese that reigns supreme at the Milan dinner table. This creamy cheese, that has blue veins running through it, is used to dress tasty first courses (in this case mixed with mascarpone), and to flavor Polenta or can be eaten alone.
Finally, we should remember Crescenza or “Stracchino”, the soft, creamy fresh milk cheese
with a slightly sweet taste, that is excellent when spread on a slice of bread or eaten with raw vegetables.

If you are interested in buying foodstuffs or wine, you must visit Peck, a legendary temple of gastronomy. In Via Spadari, where there is also a famous fishmonger’s, you will find all you need to satisfy your taste buds and your sense of hedonism: DOP (certified origin) cheeses from all over Italy, all kinds of salami, extra virgin oils, aged balsamic vinegars, rare tea and spice mixtures, pretty preserves of food in oil and a wine cellar that is filled with the most valuable wines from Italy and abroad.

Milan - History and culture

The city’s origins date back to 400 B.C when the Gauls settled in this area of the Po Plains, having defeated the Etruscans who were by now in decline.
When the city was conquered by the Romans in 222 B.C. and annexed to the Empire, it was given the name Mediolanum. After some attempts at rebellion, it became a permanent Latin colony (89 B.C.) and then regional capital (15 B.C.). Over the years, Mediolanum acquired the name “Roma secunda” due to its strategic position. After 313 A.D., the year in which the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Tolerance towards Christianity, many churches were built and the first bishop was appointed: Ambrogio was such an influential person that the Church became the Ambrosian Church.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Milan was left to the mercy of the Barbarians, until it was conquered by the Longobards (also known as Lombards) in 569 A.D. Towards the end of the eighth century, the bishops managed to use the influence to full extent, forcing an alliance with the emperors: Ottone of Saxony , who was crowned King of Italy in the Church of Sant’Ambrogio, made this power even more legitimate.
In the first half of the year 1000, The Archbishop of Milan became the most powerful political figure in the whole of Northern Italy. After a series of political problems, Milan became a municipality (1117), and gradually freed itself from the Archbishop. It also began to expand by declaring war on other municipalities in the nearby area. Later the attempt by Frederick I of Swabia to take over the city gave rise to the birth of the Lombard League, which fought for the city’s independence, and which ended in 1176 after the defeat of Barbarossa.
From 1200 onwards, Milan became an increasingly important city, and finally changed from being a municipality to a “Seigneury”. The city walls were extended, new buildings were built and roads were paved. The Visconti family, noblemen from Bergamo, Cremona, Piacenza, Brescia and Parma came to power in 1300 and brought about a lengthy period of splendor and wealth for the city. Monuments were built, including the famous Duomo in 1386, that soon became the city’s symbol. The Sforza family took over from the Viscontis, and with them they brought peace after many years of warring against Venice and Florence. Milan developed sciences, art and literature under the Sforza Duchy: Leonardo da Vinci and “il Bramante” were called to the Court of Ludovico il Moro. When Charles V came to the throne in 1535, the city began a period of almost two centuries of Spanish rule, which is narrated by Alessandro Manzoni in his classic book “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed). At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Austrians arrived in Milan: Milan underwent a deep cultural changed under Austrian rule. The La Scala Theater – where Giuseppe Verdi made his debut – was built, together with many Neoclassical buildings and the Arco della Pace. In 1859, the Austrians were driven out of Milan and the city was annexed to the Kingdom of Piedmont, which then became the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Milan was immediately chosen as the economic and cultural capital of Italy, and has maintained this title up to modern days.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Florence - Tipical Food - Eating and Drinking

The region that is home to Florence has one of the most versatile and varied-form cooking traditions in Italy. We are going to try and provide a more specific view, limiting ourselves to the city of Florence and the area immediately around it.

Florentine cooking is linked to a tradition of simple dishes prepared with genuine, tasty but plain ingredients, which has recently been reconsidered by the world of more sophisticated cuisine. Cereals, bread, vegetable and oil (which must be extra-virgin) are the basis of many recipes that just have to be tried in one of the many restaurants in Florence.
Simple food, such as cannellini beans and other vaguely repulsive ingredients such as tripe and livers are transformed into pleasant, tasty dishes, served on both stalls and in local inns and also in luxury restaurants. We can therefore find: fagioli all'uccelletto (beans), boiled and then fried in oil and tomato sauce; trippa alla fiorentina, (tripe) covered in tomato and grated parmesan cheese; lampredotto, the darkest part of tripe, used for soups and risottos, but also liked by many locals as a filling for a sandwich; crostini toscani with liver paté. And the unforgettable "fiorentina" a cut of meat from the Chianina cow, famous worldwide, to be tried in any restaurant in Florence.

The area surrounding Florence is famous for being the birthplace of Chianti, the most famous Tuscan wine. Four different types of Chianti are produced from the vines on the flourishing Florentine hills. Chianti “Classico” is produced between Florence and Siena, while the other names come from the geographic areas that the province of Florence is divided into: there is Chianti "Colli Fiorentini", Chianti "Rufina" and Chianti "Montespertoli".
Other wines from the area are Pomino, which has been appreciated since the beginning of the 1700s, and which owes its name to one of the smallest DOC vineyards in the world, and Vin Santo, which was already known in the fourteenth century, and which is closely linked to Florentine hospitality. The people offered it to guests accompanied by the traditional cantuccini biscuits.

Florence - History and Culture

Florence’s origins date back to the Etruscan era, when Fiesole, an important center in Etruria, dominated the valley. Before conquering Fiesole in the first century B.C., the Romans set up camp by the River Arno in a place that then became Florentia, "destined to flower". Florence survived the dark centuries of the Middle Ages and then became an important city, until it became a Municipal Borough in 1115.

The dispute between the Guelfs, who were faithful to the Pope, and the Ghibellines, loyal to the Emperor Frederick II, that resulted in the Guelfs being exiled from the city, was extremely interesting. When the Emperor died, however, the Guelfs took the upper hand once more and Florence enjoyed a period of prosperity. Great importance was given to the Corporazione delle Arti and the architectural beauties, which make Florence such a unique city, began to be built.
Art & Culture were in great ferment and the people’s desire to educate themselves gave rise to the first work in the vernacular language, in the poetic style of "Dolce stil novo", which then brought about the works of Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio and finally, a century later, the “Accademia della Crusca”. It was Boccaccio who documented the plague of Florence, a tragedy that started off the people’s dissatisfaction, which culminated in the “tumulto dei Ciompi” riots in 1378.

After a short period in which the people ruled the city, the Medici dynasty then took over, first with Cosimo and then with Lorenzo il Magnifico, who brought the Humanist Age to Florence, together with the wonderful architecture by Brunelleschi. After Lorenzo il Magnifico’s death (1492), and in later centuries, the city oscillated between Republican agitation and Medici revenge, while geniuses such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci became famous names in art and literature.

In 1865, Florence was chosen to be the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and remained capital until 1871. In later years and until the beginning of the twentieth century, Florence was famous for its literary happenings, that produced works such as Pinocchio and which brought writers such as Papini, Palazzeschi, Pratolini to the fore, who were all members of the historical Literary Caffè group the "Giubbe Rosse".

Rome - Shopping in Rome

This short compendium of Roman shopping is for all shopping lovers. A compendium for all tastes, from high fashion chic to the cheap items on the market stalls, and with a mention of the new frontier of shopping, halfway between chic and cheap: outlets. Remember that if you want to go shopping in Rome, you will need a bit of time time, so book a few nights extra in the hotel in Rome that you are staying in.

Roman labels: from Sorelle Fontana to Gai Mattiolo
Many famous names in Made in Italy fashion from Rome and elsewhere started their careers in this city, often opening an atelier that soon began to attract the curiosity of aristocrats, politicians and film stars who then made them famous.

Sorelle Fontana – a historical label that dressed the Roman upper middle classes in the post-war period until the Dolce Vita era and then went on to the United States and Hollywood, designing and making film costumes for international stars.
Capucci - Capucci opened his first atelier in Paris and then finally opened one in Rome in Via Gregoriana. One of the few “independent” designers: Capucci detached himself from the traditional fashion circuits and personally organized the presentations of his collections almost as if they were art exhibitions. In 1995 he exhibited his designs at the Biennale in Venice.

Fernanda Gattinoni – She opened her Rome atelier in 1945 near Via Veneto. Her clothes were worn by famous people such as Anna Magnani, Evita Peron, Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn.

Lancetti – Roman by adoption, he opened his first atelier in Via Margutta, the famous street of artists. This was almost an omen of his fame as a designer-painter that he later obtained.

Valentino - Valentino opened his first atelier in Rome in Via Condotti, and hit success after a fashion show at Pitti Immagine in Florence. He is one of the cinema world’s famous designers: stars such as Liz Taylor, Joan Collins, Julia Roberts and Claudia Cardinale wear his creations at gala evenings such as the Night of the Oscars.

Laura Biagiotti – Renamed the “Queen of Cashmere", Laura Biagiotti is famous for her fine cashmere knitwear and for her frequent use of the color white in her creations.

Fendi - This maison was set up in 1925 in Rome as a fur coat and leather goods shop. Later, the five Fendi sisters created the label that is famous worldwide.

Brioni – Male tailored elegance. Famous worldwide for the high quality of their clothes and for being 007’s tailor, embodied by the actor Pierce Brosnan.

Battistoni – A historical, male tailors’ atelier in Rome, which was a favorite of the Duke of Windsor.

Gai Mattiolo – Born in 1968 in Roma, he began his career as a fashion designer very early and is now one of the most popular “young” names in fashion.

Famous names outside the city: the outlets
Let’s ignore the single-label outlets that spring up here and there in the province and let’s concentrate on the new McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Castel Romano: a kind of consumer orgy concentrated in 20,000 square meters. This huge shopping city, 25 km south of Rome, was opened on October 9th 2003.
We will bet that after a day spent here, even the most hardened consumer will feel the need to have a rest from shopping for at least a month!
The Castel Romano outlet center has 95 shops including the famous labels (Etro, D&G, F.lli Rossetti, Moreschi, Mariella Burani, Calvin Klein, La Perla), younger brands (North Sails, Mandarina Duck, Liu-jo, Guess, Diesel, Levi's, Stefanel, Tommy Hilfiger) and manufacturers of various accessories (Lagostina, Bassetti, Samsonite).
Go there, choose, buy and take it for granted that you will have a strange feeling in your stomach for a few days. Don’t worry: whenever you go to places like this, post-consumer guilt is normal!

Markets and flea markets: visiting the stalls looking for a bargain
For the more alternative consumers who snob the artificial lights of shopping malls and those who are attracted by the idea of owning something that is out of the ordinary, we recommend a visit to the Roman flea markets. Get rid of the concept “in a hurry” from your minds for a while and take all the time you want: rummaging among the stalls requires considerable concentration. Your efforts will most definitely be worth it though: from the bottom of the stall, the bargain of a lifetime or a valuable item could crop up, or even just the issue of Tex Willer that you were really fond of but that you lost during your last house move.
Porta Portese that veiled air of illegality that it inherited from its origins still persists: during the Second World War, this was the city’s black market. Today you can find old furniture, clothes, records, books, plants, CDs and a lot more too (Via Portuense and Via Ippolito Nievo, every Sunday).

The Mercato delle Stampe will literally drive fans crazy; magazines, prints and old books (Largo della Fontanella di Borghese, every morning except Sunday).
Finally, if you are looking for vintage clothes or just second-hand clothes, you have to go to the market at Via Sannio (Via Sannio, every morning from Monday to Saturday).

Rome - Attractions and Events

Rome is, together with Milan, the city where most cultural events such as exhibitions, concerts and shows take place in Italy. Our guide to Rome suggests a list of regular events that take place in the city each year. Keep in mind the fact that if you want to plan a trip to Rome in a period when one of these events is taking place, you should book a hotel in Rome well in advance.

Roma Europa Festival, September- October
This has been an annual appointment since 1986 for modern art and theatre, music and dance, with artists from all over Europe appearing.

Festival Romics, October
The Comics and Cartoon Festival: exhibitions, cartoon film showings and meeting with the most famous designers and publishing companies.

Roma Jazz Festival, October
This annual festival totally dedicated to jazz music was organized for the first time in 1876. Italian and international artists all appear in concert.

Sana a Roma, April
This Mediterranean Trade Fair for Natural Products has been organized for a few years now at the Rome Trade Fair District. Exhibitions of bio-products, conferences and tasting.

Estate Romana, from June to September
This includes all kinds of events, from music to theater, literary meetings and cinema. Events that take place in the most characteristic places in Rome that attract the participation of thousands of artists from all over the world.

Donna Sotto le Stelle, July
The annual Roman appointment with high fashion. Creations by the most famous fashion designers are modeled on a catwalk in a truly magnificent setting: on the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna.

Many international musical events are organized in the new Rome Auditorium, a kind of City of Music that is located near the Olympic Village in the Flaminio area of the city. The Auditorium, that was designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano, comprises three large halls that hold a total of 5000 people, set amidst a park where a wonderful amphitheater has been built, together with some recording rooms.

Rome - Eating and Drinking

Simple, with strong flavors, overflowing with dressings and anything but low-calorie. Perhaps a little unrefined but this contributes to its authentic, genuine style. Traditional Roman cooking is made up of simple, meager ingredients, that follow the seasons and which are therefore extremely fresh.
A typical Roman menu begins with the essential bruschetta “ammazzavampiri” (so full of garlic it would kill vampires), and maybe also a wonderful mozzarella in carrozza. The large pasta course that follows could be: spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all'amatriciana, bucatini cacio e pepe or gnocchi alla romana. If you want to try rigatoni pasta with the famous pajata sauce, we recommend that first you eat it and then ask what the ingredients are: you might be so shocked that you no longer want to try the dish otherwise and lose your chance to try out new types of food.
Onto the main course. You can choose between: coda alla vaccinara, saltimbocca alla romana, costolette d'abbacchio.

For side dishes, don’t miss the chance to try artichokes “alla giudia”, a typical way of cooking artichokes from Jewish-Roman traditional cooking.
If you still have room in your stomach, to finish why not try a couple of maritozzi, or freshen up with a lovely "grattachecca", the typical Roman crushed-ice drink
Wash the whole meal down with a white wine from Frascati or Cerveteri.

Let’s take a look at food and wine you can buy.
Every morning in the picturesque market in Campo de' Fiori, fruit and vegetable stalls show off their seasonal wares: the effect you get is an explosion of color and aromas that makes your mouth water. The bakers’ shops and food shops surrounding the square are also culprits in stirring up this desire for food.
For good wine lovers, many wine cellars in the city organize wine tasting courses and information-giving meetings about vineyards, harvesting, fermentation and all the processes linked to the production of this nectar of the gods. Among some of the places in the city that organize such events, we can name "La Tradizione" and "Franchi".
The historical coffee shops in the city are our last stop in this section, where it is possible to try typical Roman food in unique surroundings that combine culture, history and tradition. Meeting places and places to swap ideas for artists and writers in the 19th and 20th centuries such as Caffè Greco, Babington’s Tearooms, Caffè Rosati and Caffè Canova. For espresso coffee-lovers, we recommend Caffè Sant'Eustachio located in the square with the same name, a fine coffee shop founded in the 1930s where the coffee is roasted by hand over wood fires.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rome - Palaces, Villas and Gardens - Historical Buildings

The magnificent Palaces of the Republic that were once the residences of Popes and kings:

Palazzo del Quirinale – This has been the President of the Republic’s residence since 1948. In the past it was used as the summer residence for Popes who had the Cappella Paolina and the Cappella dell'Annunziata chapels built inside it. In 1871, it became the residence of the Savoia dynasty and it was completely renovated. The East wing of the Palace was called the Sabauda Wing. The palace’s wonderful outdoor gardens that lie on four hectares of land are full of tree-lined avenues, fountains and rare plants.

Palazzo Montecitorio - Around 1600, Pope Innocent X commissioned the project for this palace by Bernini. It then became the courts of Rome and since 1870 it has been the Lower House of Parliament. Inside the building there are several antique and modern works of art.

Palazzo Chigi – This palace was bought by the Chigi family, an aristocratic, Roman family, in 1659, and it was furnished with their private collection of furniture and works of art that can still be seen in its rooms. At the beginning of the 20th century the palace was sold to the Italian State and it has been the seat of the Council of Ministers since 1961.

Palazzo Madama – This palace dates back to the 15th century. It was turned into a luxurious residence by Pope Leo X, who belonged to the powerful De Medici family. The palace still contains a huge library and several works of art. It became the House of the Italian Senate in 1871.

The wonderful Villas and luxuriant gardens in Rome, magical places for romantic walks:

Villa Borghese – This is the largest public park and the favorite of the Roman people. This park covers eighty hectares and contains buildings, sculptures, fountains and one of the most interesting collections of all, the one inside Galleria Borghese, which was recently reopened to the public. Villa Borghese was built around 1600 following the wishes of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who bought the land surrounding the first central part, which already belonged to the Borghese family. At the end of the 18th century, the park was enriched even further by the building of the “Giardino del Lago”: a small island with luxuriant vegetation on which a temple was built.

Villa Pamphilj – Due to its position and the particularly favorable climate in this area, this park was named "Villa Belrespiro". This wonderful villa was first built in 1644 on a huge piece of land just outside the center of Rome. Now those beautiful gardens, full of animated fountains are just a memory: around 1800 a large part of the park was transformed into an English-style garden. Today you can walk along the long pine tree-lined avenues, and can see the wonderful woodland.

Pincio – This garden stretches out above Piazza del Popolo: from Piazzale Napoleone one has a wonderful panoramic view of the city. The Pincio gardens already existed in ancient Rome, but were redesigned in the 19th century into their current form: wide avenues lined with pine and oak trees and several marble busts of famous personalities from Roman history. The Egyptian obelisk, the old water clock and the Casina Valadier, a famous old restaurant that has recently been restored and where it is possible to taste refined Italian cuisine, are all interesting sites to see.

Gianicolo - Passeggiata del Gianicolo is very romantic and charming and a perfect place from where to admire Rome from above: in fact, the Gianicolo hill is 88 meters high. The walk begins at the Fontana dell'Acqua Paola and goes right across the Gianicolo as far as Piazza Garibaldi. From here it is possible to see the entire city and every day at noon a cannon fires a blank shot that echoes all over the city. Villa Farnesina, full of frescoes by Raffaello is another site to see.

Rome - Squares and fountains

All the city’s squares to admire:

Piazza di Spagna – This is maybe the most charming square in the city. Its unique shape, that narrows in the middle, reminds us of a butterfly. The square’s name comes from the fact that the Spanish Embassy stood in the square in the 17th century. The square is permanently full of tourists and as far back as 1600 it was the favorite place for visitors to Rome from all over the world. The steps that connect the Church of Trinità dei Monti to Piazza di Spagna are amazing, a mixture of curves, straight line and terraces, where it is possible to see the house of poets such as Keats and Shelley (Keats-Shelley Memorial, info: 066784235).

Piazza Navona – This is a truly wonderful square to see. It has an unusual, elongated oval shape that is the same as that of the ancient Domiziano Stadium over which the square was built. The predominating style is Baroque and there are so many monuments and buildings to admire such as the Fontana dei Fiumi by Bernini, which is the base of the Egyptian obelisk in the center; Palazzo Pamphili and Fontana del Moro.

Piazza Venezia – This square was named in honor of the Republic of Venice that opened up its embassy in this very square. Piazza Venezia was unfortunately made famous when it became the stage for Mussolini’s speeches that he pronounced from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, an imposing building that dates back to the second half of the 15th century. The Vittoriano, dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, is another important building.

Piazza del Popolo – This square is located at the top of the triangle that is formed by three long streets: the central one is the famous Via del Corso. At the center of the square there is an obelisk that was brought to Rome by the Emperor Augustus after he conquered Egypt. The magnificent Porta del Popolo has two identical neoclassical buildings on each side of it.

Campidoglio – This hill next to Piazza Venezia has been a seat of government since ancient times: religious ceremonies and political discussions took place in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol Hill. Today the Rome City Council meets in Palazzo Senatorio, a wonderful example of Renaissance architecture. The square, which is dominated by the Capitoline Museum, and the "Cordonata" staircase were both designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century.

The fountains, everlasting works of art:

Trevi Fountain – The most majestic in Rome, and the most famous throughout the world. The Trevi Fountain dominates a small square in the heart of Rome and entered everyone’s imagination thanks to the nighttime bathing scene with Anita Ekberg in the film "La Dolce Vita" by Fellini. This huge Baroque construction, inspired by sea mythology, took 30 years to built, starting in 1732, and was started by Niccolò Salvi who did not live to see the completion of his work. Legend says that anyone who throws a coin into the fountain will return to the Eternal City.

Fontana del Tritone – Built by Bernini, this fountain is in Piazza Barberini and was commissioned by the Barberini family in 1642. The fountain shows Triton who is blowing into a shell while four dolphins hold him up.

Fontana della Barcaccia – This fountain is in Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) and was built in 1629 by Bernini. The structure is reminiscent of a boat sunk by water, in remembrance of the Tiber flood that hit Rome in 1598.

Fontana dei Fiumi – This fountain is in the center of Piazza Navona. It was designed by Bernini for Pope Innocent X. One of the many obelisks that can be seen in Rome has been placed on top of the fountain. The four giants sculpted around the fountain base represent four rivers: the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile and Rio della Plata.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Rome - Monuments

The greatest historical architecture from the Roman Empire:

Coliseum – This is the most ancient monument from ancient Rome. Its building began in 7.5. A.D. and was opened in 80 A.D., an opening celebrated with a full day of bloody games during which, according to legend, five thousand animals were killed. This was a gruesome leisure activity for the ancient Romans: prisoners condemned to death were torn to pieces by ferocious beasts, animals were killed by archers and there were fights to the death between “professional” gladiators. The surface area of the Coliseum, which totals about 19,000 square meters, was arranged into four sections, each of which could hold up to 70,000 spectators. The Emperor’s box was placed in the center from where he could decide the gladiators’ fate with a simple hand gesture. The underground area of the Coliseum was used to organize and create the settings for the games, such as how to make the ferocious beasts appear unexpectedly in the arena, bringing them up to the main area with an elevator hoist that was hidden in the sand. In 438, the games were prohibited and the Coliseum was gradually abandoned.

Roman Forum - The Roman Forum was built in the 6th century B.C. on marshland that was drained by the creation of a sewer and drainage network. It rapidly became the center of social and political life in Ancient Rome, and new palaces, statues, temples and courts were added to the area century after century. From Via Salaria (parallel to Via dei Fori Imperiali) it is possible to enter this amazing archeological site, which is almost a city within a city.

Circus Maximus – This enormous structure was used for entertainment events such as the gripping chariot races that were a huge favorite of the Roman people. The area could hold up to 230,000 spectators and is one of the oldest areas in Rome.

Domus Aurea – This structure was built on the ashes of a terrible fire that destroyed a large part of Rome in 64 A.D. Domus Aurea was built on the wishes of Nero, who was also probably responsible for the fire. During one of his famous ravings of omnipotence, the prince wanted a more majestic Rome with his enormous, new residence as the center of this newly-styled city. Inside this new palace there were buildings, gardens and a lake called "Stagnum Neronis". The palace was disproportionately large, but was in perfect harmony with the 35-meter high bronze statue of the prince that was sculpted and placed at the entrance to the Domus Aurea. The Domus Aurea has recently been opened to the public after years of restoration work.

Pantheon – This is one of the best-preserved buildings that date back to ancient Rome. This building dates back to 27 B.C., but was partly destroyed and then rebuilt between 118 and 125 A.D. It later became a Christian place of worship where the tombs of Raffaello, Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I are still kept, The huge dome and the fine marble decorations inside the Pantheon are worthy of note.

Castel Sant'Angelo – The original building, dating back to 123 A.D., was very different from the one that stands on the site today. Around 1200, Castel Sant'Angelo became the property of the Vatican and a sort of fortified corridor was built to connect the building with the Vatican Palaces.

Catacombs – The catacombs were the places where the early Christians celebrated funerals and where they were buried when they died. The catacombs, the oldest of which dates back to the 2nd century, were built outside the city walls.

Terme di Caracalla – These were the most luxurious and sophisticated thermal spa baths in ancient Rome. They were built using the finest marble and had a sophisticated plumbing system that supplied the baths with hot water. It is still possible to imagine the original splendor of this place when we visit what is left of the site today.

Rome - Churches and Museums

The most spectacular churches in the Eternal City:

St. Peter’s Basilica – A huge sanctuary of Christian religion. Its façade is 45 meters high, and its enormous dome is 136 meters. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, overlooks the square that carries the same name that was designed by Bernini and which is surrounded by a colonnade. Grandeur and majesty: this is the sensation that one gets walking up Via della Conciliazione towards Piazza San Pietro. One of the most important works of art inside is the “Pietà” sculpture by Michelangelo, that was created between 1498 and 1500.

The Sistine Chapel – This chapel owes its name to Sixtus IV, the Pope who commissioned the building of the chapel at the end of the 14th century. The Chapel was decorated by famous 15th century painters such as Botticelli and il Ghirlandaio. Later, in the 16th century, Michelangelo was called upon to paint all the frescoes on the chapel’s vaulted ceiling: about 1000 square meters. He painted frescoes representing stories from the Bible such as the amazing Universal Judgment, which caused a scandal because of the nudity of about four hundred people in it, and the Creation of Mankind.

San Giovanni in Laterano – This is the Cathedral of Rome, the most important church after St. Peter’s. The first church was built in 314, when the Emperor Constantine gave the land to the Pope. The current building complex is made up of the Church, the Baptistery, Palazzo Lateranense, the Scala Santa and the Hospital of San Giovanni.

San Paolo fuori le mura – This church is in Via Ostiense and was founded in 330. It was only finished, however, in the 5th century. The Church was built on the wishes of Constantine, who wished to commemorate the Deacon Lorenzo, who became a martyr together with Pope Sixtus II in the middle of the 3rd century, with a magnificent tomb.

Santa Maria Maggiore – This church stands on the Esquilino hill and is the first Roman church to be named after the Holy Virgin. Its bell tower is the highest in Rome. There is a story that this was the site where fragments of wood from Jesus’ crib were kept. For this reason, the church was called Santa Maria ad Praesepe for a certain period of time.

The museums and galleries that can’t be missed:

The Vatican Museums – This group of museums is divided into several sections such as the Egyptian Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Painting Gallery and the Raffaello Rooms to name a few. As well as the ancient artifacts, the Vatican Museums contain hundreds of works of art commissioned and collected by the Popes over the centuries and created by the most famous artists in history. The statue of Laocoonte in the courtyard of Palazzo del Belvedere is not to be missed.

The Capitoline Museums – This museum, founded in 1471, houses findings and works of art that tell the full history of Rome, from the antique sculptures and bas-reliefs portraying the acts of the emperors to the paintings on show in the Picture Gallery.

Galleria Borghese – This is one of the largest collections in the world. The collection was begun in 1600 by the Borghese family; it was plundered by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century and then partly recompiled once more and was acquired by the State at the beginning of the 20th century. There are many works of art by painters and sculptors to see: Amor sacro e Amor Profano by Tiziano, la Pietà by Rubens, Davide con la testa di Golia by Caravaggio, Apollo e Dafne, David and Pluto e Prosperina by Bernini.

Rome - History and culture

The founding of Rome is enveloped in myth: the story goes that the first city center sprang up in 753 B.C. on the Palatine hill, built by Romulus after he had killed his twin brother Remus.
Romulus was the first of the seven kings of Rome, who started off the basic characteristics of this city that would go on to make Rome powerful throughout the ancient world: public works, institutional reforms, aqueducts.
With the arrival of the Republic, Rome increased its expansion policy and after the Punic Wars, Carthage, Corsica and Sardinia were all annexed to the Republic.
The end of the Republic determined the beginning of Silla’s dictatorship (82 B.C.)
The dictator Caius Julius Caesar oversaw a period of heavy expansion overseas. He was assassinated in 44 B.C.

The Emperor Octavius Augustus brought Rome to its “golden era”: a lengthy period of peace and stability, which was celebrated with monumental works of art.
Many emperors came after him, each of whom was famous for some work, conquest or edict. Under Traianus, the empire enjoyed its period of maximum expansion and reached as far as ruling land that stretched from the Danube to the Nile.

With the passing of the years, the city became increasingly Christian, while the empire fell into a fatal period of difficulty. The Pope became more and more powerful, building the grounds for the birth of the Holy Roman Empire (800 A.D.), which gave rise to the coronation of Charlemagne by the Pope.

The Church’s power continued to increase and Rome became the representation of this power on earth. Between 1300 and 1600, many churches were built, beautifully painted with frescoes by Renaissance artists such as Raffaello and Michelangelo. Crowds of pilgrims flocked to the Eternal City from all over the world to admire its Baroque squares, its fountains and its monumental basilicas.

After the patriotic unrest that started in 1848 and which was headed by Garibaldi, a plebiscite approved the annexing of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870, which set up its official center in the city soon after.

Starting from 1920, Rome was shaken by the terrible rise to power of Fascism that culminated in the pact made between the Italian Government and Nazi Germany.
After Italy was liberated by the Allies during the Second World War, a referendum held on June 2nd 1946 sanctioned the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic.

Venice - Eating and Drinking - Gastronomy

Venetian cuisine, especially that in the city, is full of traditional dishes that are mostly made using all types of fish and vegetables, with only one limit: the seasons. Indeed it is hard to find dishes on the menus of the restaurants in Venice that have ingredients that are out of season.
We can begin our journey to discover Venetian food with cicchetti (hors d’oevres) that can be found in all the bacari (pubs) counters, that must be eaten with an ombra (glass) of wine. Typical Venetian cicchetti are: fried crab claws, meat balls,half boiler eggs with anchovies, fried vegetables, moscardini (tiny octopus) with polenta, soppressa with polenta and toasted bread with creamed cod, i.e. cooked in milk and then creamed. However, the best hors d’oeuvre by far are the sardee in saor: these are sardines cooked and marinated with onions and vinegar and flavored with raisins and pine nuts.

For pasta dishes, the Venetian cuisine has a lot of different specialties to offer. The risottos, made with scampi or cuttlefish, are famous, although the best known recipe is for risi e bisi, the risotto made with peas that the Doges ate on San Marco’s day. Pasta dishes included spaghetti with clams, spaghetti with cuttlefish ink, bigoli in sauce (bigoli are a sort of long thin pasta with a hole in the middle, with an anchovies and onions sauce), and the popular pasta e fagioli, a tasty winter pasta and bean soup that is served in both the pubs and in the best restaurants in Venice.
For main fish courses, we recommend you try the scampi alla busara, with tomato and chilli pepper, cooked in sauce and cuttlefish cooked in sauce, all accompanied by polenta. Fried moeche is also very popular; these are small crabs fished during the changeover period (spring and fall) when their shells are soft and edible. The most typical main meat course is fegato alla veneziana: this is soft veal liver stewed with a lot of onions.

An entire chapter is needed to talk of the castraure, the famous purple artichokes that are grown on the islands in the lagoon, especially on Sant’Erasmo. They are rare and precious, and were recently classified by Slow Food. They can be eaten in several different ways but only during the harvesting period , which runs from the end of April until the second half of June.
All these wonderful dishes must be accompanied by Venetian wines: Prosecco di Conegliano,Valpolicella, Bianco di Custoza and Amarone. Finally, after the meal we recommend you try a sgroppino (lemon sorbet and prosecco) or a small glass of Bassano Grappa. However, first you must try some typical Venetian sweets such as zaeti, biscuits prepared with polenta flour and raisins and bussolai buranelli, butter biscuits made in a round shape that are wonderful when dunked in sweet Vin Santo.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Venice Carnival February - March - Venice - Events and Festivals

Venice attracts visitors from all over the world thanks to its spectacular beauty and also thanks to the important international events that take place there, such as the Biennale and Film Festival. There is also the Venice Carnival, a period when it is difficult to find accommodation in Venice. It is therefore recommendable, if you are planning a trip to the city at the same time as one of these events, to book at least 1 or 2 months in advance in one of the Venice hotels or Venice bed and breakfast establishments that you have chosen.

The Venice Carnival February - March
This is a wild, enjoyable festival. Carnival has ancient origins and originally lasted for a long time: from December 26th to Ash Wednesday.
In the past Carnival played an important social function: it created a temporary escape valve for the people who were strictly observed all year by the Doge’s government. In this period they at least appeared to be free, dressing up and partying day and night.
Shows were put on in the squares and in Piazza San Marco, especially on Jeudi and Mardi Gras, the most important days of Carneval. Carnevale reached the height of its magnificence in 1700 when it began to attract visitors from all over Europe. The “maschereri” were founded to meet the growing need for masks: they were true crafts experts for dressing up and created masks and heavy velvet cloaks for the occasion. The most fashionable mask was Bauta, a unisex costume made from a black tricorn hat, a white paper-mache mask that left the mouth uncovered for eating and drinking and a black cloak.
Carnevale is still celebrated in the open air today, with public shows and private parties organized in the Venetian palaces. People really let themselves go and there are many tourists around to watch, who either dress up or who just watch. The Venice Carnival has also invented some official sweetmeats: “fritole” (fried sweets) and “galani”. “Fritole” can be made with raisins and pine nuts (from Venice) or using a rich custard or zabaione filling.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Venice, History and culture

The first human settlements on the Venice Lagoon islands date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, when the inhabitants from the mainland came to this semi-swamp area to escape the barbaric invasions that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. The populations coming from mainland Venice settled in the lagoon, fighting as hard as they could to survive: little by little this group of pieces of land surrounded by water took on the semblance of a real town, a town that was so unique and special that it would become the only one of its kind in the world. The new inhabitants built several rafts of various sizes, supported by strong wooden poles that were fixed to the underside. The rafts were connected to each other with wooden walkways and houses, buildings and monuments were then built on them.
When Venice had a big enough population to begin to deserve the title of city, it was then annexed to the Byzantine Empire, while maintaining its own independence. In 697, Venice elected its first Doge, giving life to a new government: the Dogado (Maritime Empire). However, the event that finally made Venice’s name in the world took place in 828, when two enterprising Venetian merchants stole the Apostle Mark’s body from Alessandria in Egypt, and secretly transported it to Venice. A huge church, consecrated in 1094, was built to house the remains of the Saint, who then became the patron saint of the city: the Basilica of San Marco.

Since the very beginning, Venice showed strong inclinations towards trade. This increased to the point that at the end of the 11th century, the city set up close trading connections with Byzantium. This was the start of the Republic of Venice, which was finally consecrated in 1202 through the 4th crusade that saw the conquering of Byzantium and then the islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The eastern city was sacked and the booty was taken to Venice, where it was used to decorate churches and palaces. The four bronze horses that still adorn the main facade of the Basilica of San Marco were also part of that booty.

After the 4th crusade, Venice gained a strong political role due to the fact that it now controlled a large part of the Mediterranean and it also increased its military power and its trading.
The city’s historical rivalry with Genoa exploded under the form of four wars that were fought one after the other until a truce was finally agreed at the end of 1381, when Venice beat Genoa in the famous Battle of Chioggia (1380). Venice then realized that it was necessary for the city to have bases on the mainland too and began to expand towards Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia and Bergamo. Venice’s prestige grew at the same rate as the increase in the land it controlled and was thus given the name of Serenissima. However, danger was round the corner: the Serenissima was so busy expanding on the mainland that it did not realize that the Turks’ power was expanding rapidly, to the point where they took over Constantinople (Byzantium) and some cities on the Greek and Albanian coastlines.

The League of Cambrai was founded in 1508: this was a sort of coalition against Venice which most of the European powers joined. Venice managed to maintain some of its land after seven years of war, but it lost its control over the Mediterranean.
In the 17th century, the Serenissima had to give up Crete, one of its historical lands and the whole of the Peloponnesus area to the Turkish Empire. In the period that followed, Venice’s political power was seriously damaged but there was a considerable increase of the arts and literature in the city, which gave rise to the creation of works of art by Tiepolo, Pietro Longhi and Canova and to theatre plays by Carlo Goldoni.

In 1797, Napoleone Bonaparte conquered Venice, and sacked the whole area, just as he did in the rest of the country. A short while later the Emperor handed over the city to Austria, a ruler that was never accepted by the Venetians: in 1848, the Austrians were run out of the city by a group led by Daniele Manin, and the second Republic of Venice was proclaimed. This new republic did not last for long, however, as Venice was annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy in 1866.