Day Tripping – Rome to Gubbio

Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Gubbio, Italy, 2012

Known for its Maiolica, Italian tin glazed pottery, and the Corsa di Ceri, St. Ubaldo’s Day every May 15th, Gubbio is a hill town and comune located on the slopes of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apenninines, in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Umbria.

Well worth the effort to reach by train or bus from Rome and definitely worth renting a car and driving northeast from Rome.  The trip really becomes beautiful once you exit the Autostrada and wind your way through the hills toward Gubbio.  We happened to go in late October and while chilly it was nice to have the town mostly to ourselves.

Roman Amphitheter - 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Roman Amphitheter – 1st Century BC, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

The historical center of the town definitely has a medieval feel and at times seemed desolate because of the enormous amount of stone, narrow streets, and Gothic architecture that surrounds you.  Many of the houses in the town, built by a wealthy merchant class, date to the 14th and 15th centuries.  Walking around the town you will find most every kind of shop to walk into and I strongly encourage you to stop in the local wine shops.  We stopped at Enoteca Calzuola and met Corrado Angel who helped us pick out some fantastic wines, Sangrito di Montefalco, to ship home for friends and family.

Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012
Palazzo dei Consoli, Gubbio, Italy, 2012

When visiting a hill town expect to climb a lot of stairs.  Gubbio has the distinction of a rather unique way to get to the top of Mt. Ingino.  Residents and visitors can use the Funivia Colle Eletto, an open air birdcage attached to a cable, to go from town to the sanctuary of Sant’Ubaldo.   Opened in 1960 and carrying passengers ever since.

Joe riding the Funivia to Vasilica di Sant'Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012
Joe riding the Funivia to Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, Gubbio, 2012

One of the best day trips we have had and definitely a place I hope to return to in the future!  Buon Viaggio!

Related Information

 

 

Celebrating Italian Holidays – L’Immacolata Concezione

A year ago Joe and I were living in Rome and focused on packing to head home to Maryland.  I was intent on enjoying our last few weeks especially the Christmas decorations that were magically appearing around Rome.  Not wanting to miss any new displays I would take a daily stroll around 4:30 pm to see the new lights that went up the day before.

Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012
Christmas Lights, Piazza Navona, 2012

Now and again I would cajole Joe into coming along.  Fortunately this was the case on December 8, 2012.   I think maybe we had read somewhere that this was a big day in Rome but as we approached the Spanish Steps we knew something really big was happening. There were barriers, carabinieri, and police everywhere.  It was about 2:00 pm and as we walked down Via Condotti we found out that Pope Benedict XVI would be arriving to pay homage to the Virgin Mary by making a pilgrimage to Piazza Mignanelli, to pray and leave a floral wreath, in an annual tradition dating back to 1958.

We suddenly found ourselves at the bottom of the Spanish Steps standing just behind the barriers set up around Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia “Leaky Boat”.   Thankfully we had dressed appropriately, gloves, hats, scarves, as it was one of the coldest day’s we had experienced thus far.

Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012
Crowds around Piazza Spagna, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2012

After a few hours of waiting we heard the wail of the sirens and the huge roar of cheering crowds as the Pope’s motorcade wound it’s way down Via Condotti.  As luck would have it the lead car turned left as it approached the Piazza Spagna and rounded the fountain on our side of the barrier.  We were about 10 feet from the side of the Pope’s car as he passed by.  Joe cheering and me madly taking photos.  An unbelievable day toward the end of our journey.

Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI, Rome, 2012

December 8th, as well as being a Catholic holy day (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) is also a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.  Shops however, remain open as it is generally seen as the official start of the Christmas shopping season.

For those of you who find yourself in Rome in the coming days, especially on December 8, I highly recommend that you walk over to the Spanish Steps around 3:00 pm and get a glimpse of Pope Francis I and enjoy the holiday spirit of Rome.

Day Tripping – Amalfi Coast to Paestum

Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, 2013
Temple of Ceres, Paestum, Italy, 2013

Spending time on the Amalfi Coast is as close to what I imagine heaven being like.  While it may be hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful seaside towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello there are many wonderful places in the surrounding area that I would recommend visiting if you have time – Pompeii and Paestum being two of these.

Paestum located in the Campania region of southern Italy is about 120 km to the southeast of Naples near the Amalfi Coast.   Several ways to get to Pasteum from the Amalfi Coast (Solarno, Positano, Amalfi) – By car (recommended), by bus, or by train.  All require some planning but I assure you the reward is worth it.

Buses run on the SITA line and trains via Trentitalia.  More information can be found by visiting Rick Steve’s website, Rick Steves Europe.

Pasteum, 2013
Temple of Neptune (foreground) and Basilica, Pasteum, 2013

Paestum originally the ancient city of Poseidonia was founded by the greeks in 600 B.C. and later became a colony of the Roman Empire in 210 B.C.  I have discovered that there are more intact and well preserved temples in Italy than there are in Greece and Paestum will not disappoint on that score.  In addition to the temples and ancient ruins which include remains of residential homes, forum, amphitheater, swimming pools, etc. there is a wonderful Museum founded in 1952, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which displays some of the artifacts found in the nearby burial grounds including sculptures, bronzes, ceramics, terracotta, and actual tombs with beautifully painted details. The most famous of these tombs from the 4th century B.C. is the tomb of the diver which has recently been restored.

Pasteum, 2013Roman Road, Via Sacra, Pasteum, 2013

On this particular trip we drove from Positano down the coast through Amalfi, they should hand out awards, to Salerno and then inland across beautiful plains to Paestum.  Parking is easy and inexpensive (2 euros) and there are plenty of quaint places for lunch and many souvenir shops some selling quite beautiful reproductions of Paestan Ceramics.  Truly a bargain when compared to the same items in Rome or Naples.   While I recommend visiting Pompeii, Paestum is much less crowded and we often had no one in sight when walking through the ruins – you truly feel like you have been transported in time.  Make sure you bring your camera.   Buon Viaggio!

Cooking Roman Style – Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers)

Ingredients for Peporanata, 2013
Main Ingredient for Peporanata – Cubanelle and Yellow Peppers, 2013

This recipe is one of my favorites.  Their sweet and sour flavor makes them perfect for pairing with – pork roast, sandwiches, as part of your antipasto, and they are perfect all by themselves on top of a crusty baguette.   You can serve them warm right out of the pan or at room temperature.  Easy to prepare filling your house with a wonderful aroma they last for a long long time in the refrigerator – I usually double the recipe.

While most any pepper will do and bell peppers seem to be the staple at the grocery store try to experiment with different types of peppers – the sweeter the better.  At the farmer’s markets I look for the Cubanelle Peppers (typically long slender red peppers) which are especially sweet.

Thinly Sliced Garlic, 2013
Sautee Garlic and Onions for a few Minutes before adding Peppers, 2013
While most recipes don’t call for roasting the peppers this extra step imparts a rich flavor and if you have the time go ahead and try it.  You will look like a pro at the very least roasting peppers over the flame on your stovetop.  (instructions for roasting peppers-4 easy methods)
 
Pepper Strips, 2013
Peppers, Garlic, Onions, Olive Oil, Water, Salt and Pepper – Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, 2013
Peperonatta (Stewed Sweet Peppers)
Ingredients (makes 2 cups) 
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 assorted red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (or other variety of sweet pepper), cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ strips – don’t worry about being exact
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise – the thinner the better
  • ½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Instructions (total prep time 15 minutes, total cook time 45 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  When you begin to smell the olive oil
  • Add garlic and onions and saute for a few minutes
  • Add peppers and ½ cup water and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, about 1 hour.  About 20 minutes if you have roasted the peppers first.
  • Stir in vinegar, turn off the heat, and mix together
  • Transfer to a serving bowl if you will be serving right away or let cool in the pan before transferring to a storage container
  • As is the case with most italian food I always find these better the next day or several days later.   Easily made in advance and have on hand for later.  Buon Appetito!

 

Almost finished, 2013
Almost finished, 2013

Day Tripping – Rome to Frascati

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView of Frascati from belevedere at Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati, Italy, 2012

Just south of Rome, in the Alban Hills, lies a string of hilltowns, villages, and vineyards called the Castelli Romani.  One of my favorites is Frascati the largest and best known for it’s wines and beautiful villas.   Amazingly many of these towns survived the heavy bombing of World War ll.  More than 50% of Frascati was destroyed in the war.

Located a short 12 miles (20km) southeast of Rome, Frascati is easily reached by train, car, or taxi.  I recommend taking the train from Roma Termini station.  Depending on the specific train It takes between 30 and 40 minutes. The regional trains cost about 2 euros one way and it is best to buy a round trip ticket at Termini as sometimes the ticket counter in Frascati is closed for lunch or coffee breaks and you don’t want to miss a train or get on a train without a ticket.

Home to many well preserved villas including Villa Aldobrandini, Villa Falconieri, Villa Parisi, Villa Grazioli, Villa Lancellotti, Villa Muti built by Popes, cardinals, and roman nobles, Frascati is easy on the eyes.  Not all the villas are open to the public but many allow access to the gardens.

We were fortunate to visit in the Fall and the weather was beautiful.  The day was as crisp as a bottle of the well known wine.   I will tell you that you do a lot of walking and stair climbing in this town.  I am not telling you this to discourage you but to ensure that you are mentally prepared.  The effort is worth the amazing views of Rome and surrounding area which you will have many opportunities to photograph.  The city center is easily walked and there are many good restaurants to choose from.

If you have unlimited energy I would recommend a walk up past Villa Aldobrandini along Via Cardinale Guglielmo Massaia to the church of San Francesco d’Assisi part of the Monastery of the Cappuccini.  It is a beautiful walk and the monastery and church at the summit are charming.

Convent of Saint Francesco, Frascati, Italy, 2012Entrance to the small church of San Francesco d’Assisi (1575), Frascati, Italy, 2012

After exerting yourself enjoy lunch and of course some Frascati wine at one of the many cantinas, osterias, and trattorias in the town.  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.  Buon Viaggio!!

Tree Covered Trail, Frascati, Italy, 2012Tree lined walk, Frascati, Italy, 2012  

Other Recommended Day Trips

Fall in Rome – Chestnuts “Castagne”

Piazza Navona, Chestnuts, Rome, 2012Piazza Navona, Roasted Chestnuts, Rome, Fall 2012

Fall is one of my favorite times in Rome.  Cooler weather, less crowded, amazing colors, and seasonal specialties including Ricotta Romana, newly pressed olive oil, and chestnuts!!

Strolling through the city on a cold day with a thick scarf around my neck and a warm paper cup full of roasted chestnuts certainly made me feel Roman.

One note fall is the time to eat chestnuts not spring or summer.  They seem to roast chestnuts 12 months of the year at the more popular tourist destinations in Rome.  Do yourself a favor and save the 2 to 5 euros in spring and summer as the chestnuts will not be enjoyable.

Dome of St. Peter's, Rome, 2012Dome of St. Peter’s from Ponte Sisto, Rome, 2012

Chestnuts in season are used to make some incredible seasonal foods including gelato, castagnaccio – a dense flat cake, and candied chestnuts.   Additionally throughout the region there are many chestnut festivals which offer a great excuse to take the train to the surrounding countryside.

Cooking Roman Style – Papacelle Ripene di Carne (Stuffed Peppers with Meat)

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013Chef Andrea, Cooking Classes in Rome, Trestevere, 2013

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in Rome is takeing a cooking class.   Meeting liked minded foodies from around the globe and preparing and sharing a meal is enormous fun and hopefully an adventure that you will bring home and share with your friends.   WARNING: It can be addictive!

On my fourth class with Chef Andrea we prepared a menu of stuffed figs, homemade cavatelli with pesto, stuffed peppers, sauteed cauliflower, and a pear torte.   My favorite recipe from this particular class is below and fairly easy to make.

Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013
Papacelle ripene di carne (Stuffed peppers with meat)

Ingredients to serve four people:
  • 1 lb ground meat (70% beef and 30% pork, ground and minced) Use prosciutto sausages if you can find them, if not use plain unseasoned sausages (casings removed)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup/100g parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup/50g edamer cheese grated
  • freshly chopped parsley
  • 3oz leftover bread soaked in milk (crusts removed)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 to 6 peppers depending on size (in class we used papacelle which are smaller and flatter than the bell peppers we most often use in the states.  Try to use peppers such as this or other peppers that are in season where you live – Note: smaller sized peppers are better)
Instructions
  • Heat oven to 350°F / 180°C
  • To prepare the filling mix sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs, grated cheese, leftover bread soaked into milk, salt and pepper.  Mix all the ingredients well and set aside for a good half an hour to let the flavors meld.
  • Wash the peppers and cut a small hole in the top around the stem, saving the piece you cut out.  Clean out the seeds, rinse and set aside
  • Stuff the peppers one by one and place onto a baking dish, replacing the small piece you cut from each pepper on top.  Add a little bit of water and extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pan to avoid burning the peppers.
  • Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the peppers, until cooked all the way through.  Turn the pan carefully in the oven once or twice to ensure even cooking all the way through the peppers.  Serve hot.   Buon Appetito!

Stuffed Peppers, Cooking Classes in Rome, 2013 

Car Spotting – Rome, The Quintessential FIAT Cinquecento

The Fiat 500, Cinquecento, is a city car designed by Dante Giacosa and produced by the Italian manufacturer Fiat (Fabbrica Italiano Automobili Torino) between 1957 and 1975.

Launched as the Nuova (new) 500 in July 1957,it was a cheap and practical town car. Measuring only 2.97 metres (9 feet 9 inches) long, and originally powered by an appropriately sized 479 cc two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, the 500 redefined the term “small car” and is considered one of the first city cars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFiat Cinquecento, Rada in Chianti, 2009

Like all tourists I can’t ever get enough of looking at or remarking on these cars as they go whizzing through Rome and all of Italy for that matter.  Weekends seem to be the best time to spot these beauties especially those that have been restored and are in perfect condition.

Cinquecento, Trestevere, Rome, 2012Fiat Cinquecento, Trestevere, Rome, 2013

I often think about what it would be like to bring one of these original beauties home to Baltimore.   In 2007 similar to Mini Cooper, Fiat reintroduced the Cinquecento with strong styling cues from the original ’57 and sales have skyrocketed.  FiatUSA

Cinquecento, Rome, 2012Near Perfect Condition Fiat Cinquecento, Viale della Trinita del Monti, Rome, 2012

How Many Caravaggio’s Are There in Rome? – Creating Your Own Walking Tour

Caravaggio, San Giovanni Battista, Galleria BorgheseSan Giovanni Battista (1609-1610 ca.), Caravaggio, Galleria Borghese, Rome

I am not sure there is an exact answer to this question.  Art being what it is there are always new discoveries and works that for years have been debated as being attributable to one artist or another.  However if we take Wikipedia as our authority the answer is 27.  Two of these are in private collections leaving 25 to be visited.

There are many many more of Caravaggio’s works in Italy proper including Cremona, Florence, Genoa, Messina, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Prato, Syracuse and Vatican City.   Additionally many of the worlds renown museums have a Caravaggio within their collections.

As many times as I have been to the eternal city I have never seen all twenty five paintings by Caravaggio but I have certainly made an effort to see many of them.   If you are looking for an adventure for yourself, for visitors, or for your family,  setting out to see all of Caravaggio’s works is one of the best.  There are many adjectives to describe his work as well as the painter himself.  Neither Caravaggio or his paintings are polite but both are intensely moving and leave you thinking.

Many times on visits to Rome I think about something I am interested in: Bernini statues, oblesiks, fountains, remnants of the ancient aqueducts, places in Rome featured in movies – and then I set off to see as many of them as I can.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the city, become more familiar with the city, and discover all sorts of new favorite destinations.

Be adventurous and create your own walking tour!!

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Cinecittá – “The City of Cinema”

Cinecitta', Set of HBO Series Rome, 2013Set of HBO Series Rome, Cinecittá, Rome, 2013

A short Metro ride (Linea A) from the center of Rome brings you to the legendary Cinecittá Studios, literally “The City of Cinema”.   Founded in 1927 and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini the studios are the birthplace of thousands of films including more than 50 Academy Award winners such as Roman Holiday (1953), Ben-Hur (1959),  La Dolce Vita (1960) ,Cleopatra (1963), Gladiator (2000), Gangs of New York (2002), and well known series such as HBO’s Rome (2005-2007).   The entire complex comprises an area south of Rome larger than Vatican City.

Since its founding Cinecittá has been home to well known directors such as Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Francis Ford Copolla, Martin Scorsese, and Roberto Benigni.

Stage 5, Cinecitta', Rome, 2013Famous Stage 5, Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013

The tour of the studio is both self guided and then in small groups with an english speaking staff member who will take you to the back lot.   I recommend scheduling 3 hours to enjoy the exhibitions, the back lot tour, and the book shop.  You are encouraged to take pictures and the guides are happy to answer your questions.   A very special “off the beaten path” glimpse of the Italian movie and television industry!!

Statue from Movie Gladiator, Cinecitta', Rome 2013Prop from Academy Award winning film Gladiator (2002), Cinecittá Studios, Rome, 2013