Italian Churches ~ The Power of Light and Dark

No matter your religion or beliefs, Jesus suffered that day. The Catholic Church will never let us forget it. When you walk into their relics of religion, the pain of his final day is prominent. Some people even wear the cross as a reminder of mortality and human sin. I remember Bill Hicks, the famously irreverent comedian, said that if Jesus ever comes back, the cross is the last thing he’d want to see. Nevertheless, churches are magnificent structures and smell nice inside. Italy has a church in every city, a city on every hill and thousands of hills in every region. I should have taken more pictures to give a fuller representation, but here are a few of my favorites.

Below, in Siena, is one of the most beautiful facades I’ve ever seen. Click the pictures to view extreme close-ups. Some of them actually require more inspection to get the full effect.

 

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Here is a beautiful golden mosaic in Trieste.

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A Weekend in Bologna ~ Faces in Phones, Jesus and Leaning Towers

As I was walking off the copious amounts of food from Bolognese cuisine, I did plenty of people watching. The city seems to be made of brick. There are covered promenades, some with frescoes. Cheeses and cured meats are offered in tiny storefronts. It was the home of Europe’s first university in the 11th century, with alumni like Dante Alighieri and Copernicus. Of course, now, technology played a major part of life. People with cell phones use them, often. But, there are also plenty of conversations with gesticulating hands, hair tossing teenagers chatting beside beautiful statues and street performers entertaining with musical talent, ability to stand still or silly costumes.

Here, we have the cell phone group.

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Then, we have the Jesus group.

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Next, we see people caught alone, among the crowds.

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Lastly, the famous towers of Bologna, you can see how the one is leaning, but Pisa gets all the credit. Bologna is thought to have had over 150 towers during its peak in the medieval ages.

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Venice ~ Some Tasty Treats & Savory Somethings

I kept hearing how expensive Venice was for eating. But that’s only if you go to the nice places, such as Antiche Carampane, which was booked solid for lunch and dinner when I arrived at 11:45 a.m. I think it would have been worth the 25 euro plates they offered.

Nevertheless, I found a small place and had plenty of cheese and tomato.

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Reasonably priced and delicious it was, but I wasn’t full. A small place serving fried calamari had a never-ending line. I prefer the tiny squid bodies rather than the rubber band type pieces.

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A small chocolate cake in a cute place for dessert. This guy was named Paolo.

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After more walking, photographing and shooing pigeons, I needed some coffee, with a little ice cream.

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Last was a quick slice before jumping on the train. A quiet, blue sky day in the magically flooded city of Venice.

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EATing in Bologna ~ It’s Famous for a Reason

Bologna, known as “La Grassa” or “The Fat One”, is arguably the most delicious city in Italy, which is saying a lot. Parma ham, Parmigiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar, tortellini, lasagna, mortadella and home made pasta all call this region home. I visited before in August, but needed another go. I arrived early on Saturday and made my way to Osteria Bottega (Via Santa Caterina, 51). Every table was reserved, but they let me sit outside at a shared table. I ordered tortellini in brodo (tortellini soup) and stinchetti (pork leg). Both were tasty but far from that mouth punching, sense overloading taste I was expecting.

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I walked off the food during the afternoon, visited the underwhelming MAMbo (Modern Art Museum of Bologna), and did some people watching and stared at the old buildings.

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Evidently, there is a “hot twerk party” which must be like hot yoga but with more cocktails and plenty of toe touching twerking.

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Italy is never short on extravagant cathedrals and naked statues.

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For dinner, I made my way across town to Osteria Dè Poeti (Via De Poeti, 1). It was deep in an ancient refurbished wine cellar. A fire in the corner, hundreds of bottles of wine, and old framed newspapers decorated the place. I went for two pastas, the pumpkin gnocchi with bacon and leeks and lasagna. Gnocchi was tremendous and quite a sensation, despite it’s bachelor type pedigree of ingredients. Lasagna was a disappointment, consisting mostly of noodles and very little of anything else.

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After an amazing pasta coma sleep, I started out for lunch at Trattoria AnnaMaria (Via Delle Belle Arte, 17). Arriving exactly at opening, I was able to steal a table at this crowded and popular eatery. No frills in the cooking, but attentive service and lots of famous Italian faces on the wall. I went a half/half order of tortellini in brodo and tomato sauce plus some roast duck. Tortellini was the best food of the weekend! A broth so delicate with hidden flavor and home made pasta added up to blissful bites, and a respectable ragù also. The duck was strange, and the skin creeped me out with its dimples, but it tasted okay. The panna cotta was heavy with a vanilla liqueur.

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I like when the animals sell themselves as food.

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On my way to the train, I walked down the main street, Via Dell’Indipendenza, and snagged a few identical slices for a taste test. Pizza Altero was better. It was somehow soft and crunchy, with a wonderful sauce. The farther from the train station, the better the pizza.

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This slice (below) looks the same as above, but it wasn’t as good, and too chewy on the bottom.

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Poffabro ~ Origins of Me

My grandmother was the first one in her family born in America. The story goes like this: My great-grandfather, Dante, came to the U.S.A. with his family days before the stock market crash in 1929. A year later, my nonna, Elia, was born. The depression was terrible, the girls dropped out of school to work, boarders stayed at their house, but Dante stayed employed with tile and stone masonry. Life moves on, my grandfather met young Elia before he left for service in WWII, then returned safely, they married and had my father. My parents met in New Jersey, married and had me. The simple twists of fate align, but one part of it began here–in the mountains of Northern Italy–Poffabro.

This is the main square. My grandmother had this as a painting in her living room above the fireplace.

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The inside of the church was clean and pious.

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I walked around and checked out the cute little village of only 200 inhabitants. This was the only cafè that was open on a Sunday afternoon. They were friendly and happy to help me.

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I had a local lunch at the only restaurant. It was tagliatelle ragù, and second was polenta, white beans and local venison, with a tasty German beer. I met some bikers who were enjoying a mid-ride lunch and we all chatted and made broken English and Italian jokes over espresso.

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These geese were not happy I took a post-lunch stroll through their garden!

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I finished off the visit in the forest, accidentally soaking my feet by slipping off the moss covered rocks and bringing home some of the mountain dirt caked to my sneakers.

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Last is Via Colussi: my family name and probably the street where they lived. This house was occupied by my ancestors in the early 20th century before they departed for a better life. It’s hard to imagine leaving this hillside village for the bustle of 1930’s Philadelphia.

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A bit of a dream come true to stand in the square of the painting that hung on my grandma’s wall for so long and I used to stare at it and imagine what it was like there. Now I know.

Cortina D’Ampezzo ~ Fancy Hotels and Cute Dogs

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Cortina is gorgeous.

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Its blue skies, green hills, grayish/brownish/bluish mountains combine for powerful effect. It was the site of 1956 Winter Olympics, as well as filming location for Peter Sellers’–The Pink Panther, Roger Moore’s 007–For Your Eyes Only and Sly Stallone’s–Cliffhanger. It also has that vibe of rich people.

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I saw a woman in black ski pants and an ostentatiously stylish fur jacket. Luckily it was off season, so I was allowed to pass through the gates of conspicuous wealth, as parking was free this time of year. The hotels must cater to this type of affluence, and they all look wonderful.

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This last one was special to me. My grandmother’s family originated from this area. My great-grandfather was an immigrant stone mason. The stone and brick work appeared so often in bridges, churches or walls, and looked to be constructed with strength and ingenuity. Check out the bridge in the background.

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People and dogs love a good walk, but somehow, in this town (and maybe the world) people really resembled their canine companions!

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This guy, not so much. But, I introduced myself to this wolf and his body felt like one big muscle, and his fur was not soft like the others.

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Old ladies love the balcony people watching time. She was nice and smiled and waved.

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I took a slow drive home, stopped along the aquamarine lake, and stuck my fingers in the water. It was as expected, frigid.

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Laggio di Cadore ~ Into the Dolomiti

The mountains surround Udine in a massive embrace. They are pale gray in the day, and bluish in the setting sun. Jagged, steep and imposing are these baby Alps. The Dolomites are concentrated in a small corner of NE Italy. The people here speak Italian as well as the local Friulian dialect. The hearty local food aims to winterize your body with hefty portions of cheese, polenta, meat and wine. Once escaped from the Venice inspired and Austrian influenced realms of Udine, quickly the landscape changes. The mountains are now uniquely focusing your attention. They impart a sense of invigoration through their inspiring peaks and a feeling of relaxation beside their majesty. Hillside villages with smoky chimneys, each house complete with a fully stocked woodpile, fresh mountain water streaming from public taps, and the Evergreen trees cleaning the air all combine to form the magnificent smell of an alpine forest. I stayed in a petite town, Laggio di Cadore, with two restaurants and one church. This was the view from my room, followed by some pictures of the little town.

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It’s puzzling, but, judging from the flags, somehow this house supports the racist southern past of USA as well as Texas, Australia and Friuli.

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The mountains were a never-ending source of prime photographic material. The colors of fall were just starting to settle into their yearly retreat.

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Lunch was a pretty decent lasagna (half veggie, half four cheese), cannolo, and wine. The last is something the guy was making called “spaghetti ice cream.” I was too excited to get my amazing pizza back to my apartment and eat it in front of the wood-burning fireplace, so no dinner pictures.

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Lizards are awesome.

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Cats are awesome.

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Where to Eat in Udine

Moving from the sea of Trieste to the lowlands before the Dolomites lies Udine. It’s the largest city in the province, and the only city in Friuli Venezia Giulia to have a professional soccer team in the Serie A. Recently attending a match of Udinese v. Parma, I was lucky enough to see quite a game, including an overhead bicycle kick goal and a home win of 4-2. After some exploring and eating, I’ve got a few pictures of this cozy little town with baby rivulets along the cobblestone sidewalks, the ubiquitous antiquities of anywhere in Italy and of course, some food.

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First is my new favorite restaurant, Gustoso. It’s located on Viale Ungheria about two blocks from the University Student Housing. They have plenty of grilled meats, but an unbeatable pizza with crunchy crust and gratuitous toppings. I order spinach on my pizza lately to round out the food groups.

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Next is a fantastic place, sitting beside the little city creek in an old wooden building, with an almost unpronounceable name, Osteria Ghiacciaia (Via Zanon 13). I went for dinner around 8:30 and they were fully packed by the time I left an hour or so later with a waiting list outside. Well priced and delicious. I had the papardelle with ragu and the classic Friulian dish of Frico (Montasio cheese with potatoes) coupled with the always rib-sticking and comforting polenta.

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Walking home, I caught sight of some Italian women enjoying their evening. One with a wine glass, one with a cigarette, both with trouble in their eyes.

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This was a decent place, but overpriced, Aquila Nera (Via Piave 2). I had the spaghetti with radicchio and meat sauce, rather bland; followed by a tender tuna steak with some flavorless potatoes. For the price, I expected more.

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There is a small restaurant with low ceilings but high expectations, Trattoria Ai Frati (Piazetta Antonini 5). It was recommended by Google and locals. Busy, bustling interior, loaded with knick-knacks and assorted stuffs everywhere, it felt like a fancy, but crowded living room. It seems to have only two waiters, both continually in motion. I ordered the gnocchi with duck ragù, and baccala (cod) with polenta, with a tiramisu dessert. The gnocchi was outstanding–soft, tasty and comforting; the fish was chewy and not well presented and average tiramisu.

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I like the idea of “down home cooking.” Google recommended Antica Trattoria Maddalena (Via Pelliccerie 4) as representative of such a style. A clean, modern appearance when entering, the pleasantly plump hostess, who inexplicably has a tiny t-shirt which exposes her rear-end, walks you up the stairs to the white linen covered and candlelit tables. Romantic but also not intrusive for solo eaters, I ordered the typical food of Carnia, (the mountainous region nearby) Cjarsons, (which are some kind of cinnamon dusted ravioli) and they were quite flavorful in an unexpected, wonderful way; and medallions of pork. Both were satisfying and pleasant.

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Oggi (near Piazzo San Giacomo), serves up real good homemade gelato. They also have a fountain of chocolate to sprinkle onto their cones before serving.

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Udine sits under the Dolomites. They are very present, except on the cloudy days, when they become invisible but always palpable.

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European Car Emblems

If you chose a car based on the emblem on the crest of its hood, which would you choose? Pretend you knew nothing about the car, where it was made, how much it cost, the cultural significance of its brand. And simply choose your favorite based on what information you get from the symbol used to proclaim its name. (Please ignore my reflection in the shinier ones, couldn’t be helped.)

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