Recommended Reading – Made in Italy by David Rocco

"Made in Italy", David Rocco
“Made in Italy”, David Rocco

Admittedly I am a cookbook addict and when I find a new cookbook that captures my attention for more than a week I know that I have found a good book.  Such is the case with David Rocco’s, Made in Italy .  I am working on cooking my way through the entire book of 140 recipes featuring simple rustic food.

I had no idea that David had a cooking show on TV when I purchased his book at the Feltrenelli Bookstore on Via del Babuino.  I liked the cover and I liked the pictures.  Leafing through the book I saw many of the dishes that I have come to love eating and was hopeful that I would be able to remake many of them when I returned to Maryland.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Some of my favorites from Made in Italy include; Gateau di Patate (Potato Cake) pg.100, Le Mie Polpette Preferite (My All-Time Favorite Meatballs) pg. 303, and Caponata Napoletana (Caponata Naples Style) pg. 72

The Year in Pictures – Italy

Thinking back on the past year having spent quite a bit of it in Italy I am grateful for the many opportunities and experiences that I have had and especially for the friendships I continue.   Some of my favorite photos are those that capture colors – sounds – smells I remember, special moments, and places I enjoyed the most.  They are not always the best photographs but they bring back the best memories.

Via dei Fori Imperali - Early Morning
Via dei Fori Imperali – Early Morning
"I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely", Graffiti, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Graffiti, “I love you from here to the end of the world again indefinitely”, Tiber Embankment, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Joe, Steps of Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
My favorite view - Blue Sky from our Apartment Window
My favorite view – Blue Sky and Clouds from our Apartment Window, Piazza Capo di Ferro, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance, Rome
Detail, City Ordinance “Forbidden to Post”, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Detail, Fountain, Piazza Farnese, Rome
Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Carabinieri Preparing for Wreath Laying, Campidoglio, Rome
Appian Way, Rome
Appian Way, 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!

Recommended Reading – Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks

Italian Neighbors, Tim Parks

I am always looking for books about Italy that help me to better understand the idiosyncrasies of modern Italian culture.  This easy to read book with short chapters chronicles the life of Tim Parks and his Italian wife Rita as they insert themselves into the city of Verona.

For anyone who has visited or lived in Italy for either a short time or a longer stay this book will undoubtedly bring back memories, more than a few laughs, and validate your own experiences.

The first in a series of books that I highly recommend, Italian Neighbors (1992), An Italian Education (1996), Italian Ways, On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (2013), in addition to Tim’s numerous other books, both fiction and non-fiction, about Italian history and culture.

“his eye for the illuminating moments in the miniature worlds he describes—condominium meetings, beaches, nursery scenes, and elementary-school parents’ groups, to name just a few—is so sharp that the ordinary gains a kind of magical lustre, and the particular becomes universal.” – The New Yorker, June 6, 2013

Italy – A Photographer’s Dream

Italy is many things – food, history, color, texture.

One of the special qualities about Italy is the endless juxtaposition of scenery, color, the old and the new.  Every time I arrive in this country, face pressed against the window of the plane, I look forward to the opportunity to capture some of these beautiful juxtapositions with my camera.

Whether you are using an iPhone, a small digital point and shoot, or a sophisticated professional camera take the time and opportunity to “see” Italy through photography.  Often I get up early in the morning and go for a walk with my camera photographing whatever interests me.   Going alone affords you the space and time to focus and enjoy the creative experience.

Below are some of my photographs which remind me of the many wonderful friends and experiences that are Italy.

Rome, 2012
Detail, Santi Luca e Martina, Forum, Rome, 2012
Rome, 2012
Rowing on the Tiber, Early Morning, Rome, 2012
Detail, Il Vittoriano Monument
Detail, Il Vittoriano Monument, Rome, 2012

I love looking through vintage photographs and books about photography related to Italy. Below are links to some of my favorite books and photographers I admire.

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

Off The Beaten Path – Rome, Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura

Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, Rome, 2012Catacombs near Sant'Agnese fuori le MuraMausoleo di Santa Constanza near Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura, Rome, 2012

I enjoy escaping the hustle and bustle of the historic center of Rome from time to time.  It is always an adventure and an opportunity to explore new neighborhoods.   One of my favorite off the beaten path excursions is to a “complex” in the Trieste district – Chiesa Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura. Literally translated “Saint Agnes outside the walls”.

The complex includes an ancient church dedicated to the martyr Saint Agnes, located at Via Nomentana, 349, a funeary monument to Constantina – daughter of  Emperor Constantine, catacombs, and the ancient remains of a monastery.

The history that accompanies these structures is high drama in the best tradition.  Roman nobility converting to christianity, martyrdom, miracles, poetry, and layers upon layers of art and architecture.

Easily accessible by Metro (S. Agnese Annibaliano Station).  Take the MEB1 from downtown Rome towards Conca D’Oro.  When you exit the station look eastward and you will see a hill with trees and an ancient wall.  Head in this direction.

Day Tripping – Rome to Arezzo

Ancient Forest, Camaldoli, Apennienes, TuscanyAncient Forest in the Tuscan Apennines, home of the Sacro Ermo , Camaldoli, Italy, 2012

Arezzo located in Tuscany in central Italy is about 190 km to the northeast of Rome near both Siena and Florence.

Several ways to get to Arezzo.  Take the train from Roma Termini station or rent a car and drive (recommended). Depending on the specific train It takes between 1 hr 15 min and 2 hr 33 min. The Eurostar is fastest and most expensive (29.50 euro); the regional trains are slower, but cheaper (11.70 euro).  By car take the A1 Autostrada and expect to spend 2 to 3 hours depending on traffic.

Described by Livy as one of the Capitae Etruriae (Etruscan capitals), Arezzo (Aritim in Etruscan) is believed to have been one of the twelve most important Etruscan cities.  The historical center is easily walked and many will recognize the Piazza Grande from the movie, A Beautiful Life.

We were fortunate to stay with friends who are living in Arezzo and spent an entire day outside of the city driving the back roads to two places that I highly recommend visiting if you can, The ancient hill town of Poppi and the Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli (Sacro Ermo).  Both places are incredibly beautiful!!

Poppi offers amazing vistas from the Castello dei Conti Guidi.  You can climb the bell tower if you don’t mind heights and if you time your climb to the hour you get an extra surprise.  Additionally the the ancient library contains incredible printed volumes.

The hermitage and monastery founded about 1012 by Saint Romuald, a Benedictine monk,  is situated in the National Park of the Forests of the Casentino in Tuscany and is accessible by walking (recommended – 4 km total) or car.  Make sure you visit the old pharmacy – originally a laboratory where monks studied and worked with medicinal herbs.  You can still buy a variety of herbal remedies.

Driving through the hills of Tuscany is an amazing experience for the senses!  Make sure you bring your camera and your appetite.   Buon Viaggio!

Playing Cards The Italian Way – Scopa and Briscola

Playing Cards, Rome, 2008Playing Cards, Rome, 2008

Looking back through my travel journals I realized that one of the most often enjoyed activities were the many card games played with our family and friends.  The two most popular games being Scopa and Briscola.  Joe’s father Richard taught me how to play both games which he learned from his father who grew up in Sicily.

While Scopa and Briscola have different rules they both utilize the same deck of 40 cards, beautifully illustrated, which are divided into four suits. As all things in Italy there is variation of the four suits depending on the area of the country.  The southern cards: Neapolitan, Piacentine, Triestine, and Sicilian are divided into Coppe (Cups), Ori or Denari (Golds or Coins), Spade (Swords) and Bastoni (Clubs), while  the northern cards: Piemontesi, Milanesi and Toscane use the French suits, Cuori (Hearts), Quadri (Diamonds, literally “Squares”), Fiori (Flowers) and Picche (Spades, literally “Pikes”).  The designs have evolved over the centuries and one of my favorite books which illustrates this evolution is Passione collezionismo Carte Do Gioco by Frederique Crestin-Billet.  Throughout my travels I would look for antique, unusual, or highly decorated decks of cards.  This can quickly become an obsession.

While we often played cards late in the afternoon before dinner, in our apartment or hotel, we sometimes played cards at one of the local cafes.   If I could suggest one tip for getting to know locals this would be it – break out a deck of cards.

Weekend Markets – Rome

Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012
Market at top of the Spanish Steps, Rome, 2012

It took me a few trips to Rome to finally take advantage of the many weekend markets.  Partially because these markets don’t occur in the same place and you have to know the schedule to take advantage of them.  I have listed some of my favorites and by no means are these all of the markets.  I encourage you to share any markets that you have found and enjoy.  Spending a weekend morning wandering the many stalls is one of my favorite activities.  Getting to and from the markets is also a wonderful way to discover new rione of Rome.  A special thanks to my friend at the American Embassy in Rome who guided me to many of these incredible markets!!

Ponte Milvio Market – 1st Sunday of every month.  Located just next to the Ponte Milvio Bridge north of the city.  Accessible by taxi or the # 2 tram from Piazza del Popolo.  This is one of my favorite markets not only due to its location along the river and near the bridge but for the wide array of antiques, old prints, rugs, jewelry, silver, glass, linens, and objet d’art.

Porta Portese Market – Every sunday.  Located next to the old gate Porta Portese in Trestevere this market is HUGE and gets very crowded.  If you are looking for kitchen items, new and used clothing, dvd’s, small electronics, shoes, and knick knacks then you will love this hodge podge of vendors.

Verdi Market – 4th Sunday of every month.  Located near the Borghese Gardens.  This market is not to terribly large and has some very good quality antiques, linens, furniture, rugs, prints, books, housewares, ceramics, silver, and jewelry.   I highly recommend going if you can.

Borghetto Flamino Market – Every Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.  This market charges a nominal entry fee of 1.60 euros.  Antiques, vintage clothing, handcrafted items, vintage signs – postcards – jewelry, unusual items.