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Happy Mother’s Day 2019- Buona Festa della Mamma!

12 May

(A repeat of my annual sentiments with a few added photos.)

Mother’s Day is a special time to remember
how fortunate I am to be part of a long line of strong,
intelligent and loving Italian women.

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Paternal Grandmother Maude ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Maternal Grandmother Serafina ©Blogginginitaly.com

 

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My Mother Benita (at my wedding) ©Blogginginitaly.com

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(L-R visiting Paris) Aunt Marilyn, Mom, Aunt Florence ©Blogginginitaly.com

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It is also a day to celebrate
my incredible sisters, nieces and cousins, (pictured and not),
who are not only amazing Mothers,

but also determined women who incorporate
the traditions learned from our ancestors as they create new ones.

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To all of them, 
and to the dear friends/wonderful Mothers
I have met throughout my life’s journeys…
I wish you all a beautiful day filled with love, family and relaxation.

And to my Benita… my forever gratitude for giving me this special day.

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Happy Mother’s Day – Buona Festa della Mamma!

Ciao,
Judy

Productive Relaxation, Italian Style

24 Apr

In Italy, there is a sight commonly found in smaller towns – men sitting on benches, or standing in small groups, discussing everything from local politics to international sports events. Meanwhile, their wives are shopping, visiting, cooking, cleaning, etc.  What they all have in common is the phrase: Siamo in pensione, or, we are retired. 

We, too, take this retirement thing seriously. Take productive relaxation for example, not an oxymoron but instead an art.

Fernanda had today off, so our day began in her garden where she prepared breakfast – her delicious yogurt cake and cappuccino.

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After enjoying the sunshine and planning for our vegetable garden, we drove to Panicale, one of our favorite little borgos about 45 minutes from Cortona, and a first visit for Fernanda.

In 2018, Panicale, in Umbria, was listed as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.

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Although it is small and easy to walk around, it is not the easiest of villages to find. But GPS has gotten us there every time.

The medieval hill town overlooks Lago Trasimeno, a site where in 217 BC, Hannibal and his legions ambushed Roman legions along the banks.

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As you can see from the map below, the streets are narrow and form concentric ovals.

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Panicale still retains its medieval castle, which was once surrounded by a moat,

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as well as other well-preserved charming buildings.

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It also has a few unique door bells!

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No matter which way you walk, all streets seem to lead to the historical center’s Piazza Umberto I,

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where there is a travertine fountain, (formerly an ancient cistern), dating back to 1473.

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The piazza is surrounded by a few eateries and shops, including our favorite – Bar del Gallo, (lower right).

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The staff is always friendly,

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and the melanzana (eggplant) is always delicious.

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Of course, there are other menu items, but for us, it’s too good to pass up. And Fernanda agreed it was one of the best she has ever eaten.

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Perhaps best of all at Bar del Gallo is the owner, Aldo Gallo, a man whose warm smile and genuine hospitality keeps one coming back for more.

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Today we learned that Bar del Gallo earned a gold cup award in a coffee competition, an award well-deserved. Complimenti Aldo!

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We said our goodbyes and drove the long way home, stopping at a nursery to select our plants: 10 tomato (three varieties), and nine zucchini.

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Why nine zucchini, you might ask? Well, last year, we had an ever-lasting supply of zucchini flowers, (actually too much of a good thing!) and very few zucchini, so Len did some research. Apparently, zucchini should be planted in “hills” of three plants, close together. This is because when the plants flower, they produce both masculine and feminine flowers, and apparently, they need to do their thing “nature-ly” (cross-pollinate) to produce zucchini! Who knew???

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Well, we’ll see what happens. Updates, and hopefully zucchini, to follow in a few months.

Grazie, Aldo, for another lovely afternoon in Panicale. See you again soon. 

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And that’s how we spend a very productive day in a most relaxing way, Italian style.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Weekend In Cortona

22 Apr

Throughout Italy, Easter week is filled with religious and cultural traditions. Each town has its long-held ceremonies, and Cortona is no exception. Children who held their grandparents’ hands as they were first introduced to the Good Friday procession now carry those same heavy and beautifully crafted statues through the streets of town as their own children watch in awe.

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The solemnity of Friday evening fades Saturday morning as people gather along the streets and in the markets to shop for their Easter meal. Friends are greeted with Buona Pasqua and the double cheek kiss as they exchange pleasantries and best wishes while shopping.

One dessert staple is the Colomba di Pasqua, a traditional Italian Easter cake, which comes in various sizes and a few flavors, but is always shaped like a dove.

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On Easter Sunday, although most cook and eat at home with family, there are also many restaurants offering multi-course traditional meals.

And then comes La Pasquetta, Easter Monday, or Little Easter. This is a national holiday when families pack up Easter leftovers, head to parks or beaches for picnics, or stroll around towns like Cortona. And stroll they do. I always need to remind myself to slow down on these days.

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La Pasquetta is a time for relaxation, and a midday Aperol Spritz seems to be the colorful  beverage of choice for many.

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Amid the crowds and festivities, we always manage to find time for quiet walks, alone or with friends, taking in some views that newly trimmed trees now offer,

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as well as the magnificent signs of spring.

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And then, of course, there are the sunsets, with or without aperitivo, no description needed.

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Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring!

Ciao
Judy

 

 

Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

Our Montalbano Tour

18 Dec

Although many people visit Taormina to get close to Mount Etna, Len and I had a different plan. Our goal was to visit many of the shooting locations of one of our favorite Italian detective stories, Il Commissario Montalbano. The episodes are based on novels by author Andrea Camilleri. They are set in the imaginary town of Vigàta but many shooting locations are in the province of Ragusa. Montalbano is played by the Italian actor Luca Zingaretti.

We got hooked on watching Italian shows many years ago as part of our never-ending quest to speak and understand Italian better, and also to learn about parts of Italy we had yet to visit.

Taormina is certainly not the best base to begin this excursion as the sites are hours away, but that didn’t deter us. I found an excellent driver, Alessio Patanè, (info@sicilygrandtour.com), who met us at 8 AM in Taormina.

Our first stop, and the opening shots of the episodes, are overlooking Modica. We were stumped on the significance of this view – the open center being the shooting location for Livia’s bus stop.

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We did, however, recognize the Cathedral of San Giorgio, aka the Church of Vigàta.

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Next stop, (not Montalbano related), the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. Need you ask if I bought some?

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From there on to Scicli, aka Vigàta.

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The show’s police headquarters and commissioner’s office are both housed in the local town hall.

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Filming for the episodes happens on location during many months of the year, but the office set ups are often broken down and moved to Cinecittà, a large film studio in Rome. We were fortunate as they had recently been shooting scenes, so the offices were completely in tact when we visited.

Stepping inside, one immediately recognizes the staircase Montalbano climbs to visit his boss, the commissioner,

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as well as the commissioner’s office.

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After hearing about the some of the artifacts in the office, we headed downstairs to Montalbano’s office.

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Immediately on the right is Catarella’s office.

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then Fazio’s office leading to Montalbano’s.

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Enrico, our wonderful tour guide, was so knowledgeable and entertaining.

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He was also eager to show us a filming stunt. Below is the familiar door to Mimi’s office, which is actually not an office at all but a wall. Mimi’s only office exists in the studios in Rome.

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One highlight not visible in the series is the incredible ceilings in the eighteenth century building.

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After thanking Enrico, we walked the familiar streets of Vigàta before heading to lunch.

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Then time for Len’s one request – to eat along the sea at the place Montalbano frequents, and so we did. Picture perfect.

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After lunch, we walked along the beach in Punta Secca (aka Marinella)

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until we came upon this sign…

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and then the very familiar home of Montalbano.

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It was easy to see why this house was selected as Montalbano’s home and equally funny to see a pizzeria a few doors away – oh what fame can due to a town!

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In reality, it doesn’t appear that fame has spoiled this quiet beach town at all. No one was even home when I knocked.

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From here, on to our final stop, the incredible vistas of Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla, which we learned about from episodes. As Camilleri once said:

….there is a literary Vigàta, which is based on my hometown, and then a Vigàta used as the set for the TV series, which is based on beautiful places such as Scicli, Modica and so on. Now that happens to me when I’m writing a new Montalbano story: I’m influenced not so much by the Montalbano TV character but the scenery seen on television..   Andrea Camilleri

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Whether or not you are a fan of the Montalbano books/tv series, these sights in many remote parts of Sicily are enticing and beautiful. At first we had wondered why so many widely dispersed and remote filming locations were used, but seeing them made it all so clear. Camilleri truly wanted to share lesser known parts of Sicily with his audience, and indeed he did. Clearly, his intention is what brought us to areas we might never have known, and given us another great adventure on a road less travelled.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Taormina Sicily

12 Dec

Our first visit to Sicily was in the spring of 2016. Len and I had planned a month stay, from west to east coasts. However, as we learned, March is not the ideal month as the winter winds nearly knocked us over.

Fast forward to last October. We met Benita and her friend Christina in Rome, flew to Catania, and headed to Taormina, a resort town Len and I had skipped on our last trip.

We arrived on a Sunday night to views from our room that were painted by the sunset.

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After a bit of unpacking, our first stop was one of Benita’s favorites: Pasticceria D’Amore, or pastry of love.

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On the menu – fresh to order cannoli, “filled at the moment”

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and then dipped in freshly ground pistachios. They certainly lived up to their reputation!

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Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily, flanked by Mt. Etna, an active volcano with trails leading to the summit. The town is a heavily visited tourist location, but fortunately the monster cruise ships seem to depart late afternoon, leaving plenty of space to stroll leisurely and visit attractions.

The streets are filled with restaurants, bars and lovely stores of every kind;

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and the piazzas are filled with artists and musicians.

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Perhaps the best known attraction, and truly my favorite, is the Teatro Antico di Taormina. This ancient Greco-­Roman theater, built in the 3rd century BC and modified by the Romans, is still used today for concerts and live performances. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

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Near the theater, cliffs drop to the sea forming coves with sandy beaches and always providing spectacular views.

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Checking online, we were able to find the less crowded times to visit the theater, and it seemed as thought we nearly had it to ourselves.

Another lovely and peaceful attraction, away from the crowded streets, is The Public Gardens of Taormina. The vast property was originally settled by Lady Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman and animal and nature lover, who married the Italian mayor, Salvatore Cacciola, and settled forever in Taormina.

The park and its views are peaceful and beautiful and provide welcome space away from the often crowded streets.

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Late one morning, we took the tram from the main town to the beach to visit Isola Bella,  also owned by Lady Florence Trevelya until 1990, and now a nature preserve.

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As it was very hot, we concluded our walking tour in a short time and returned to main town for lunch and gelato.

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As for food, Sicilian pistachio is king. You can get pistachio on, in, or over just about anything you can eat or drink…steak, pasta, cheese, seafood, coffee, liquors, etc.,  and we loved trying almost anything that included pistachios.

Pistachio liquor, creme, and spreads

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Pistacchio Gelato (their spelling!)

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Pasta with Pistachio Sauce

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Another favorite of ours was the homemade caponata, an eggplant dish, made a bit differently at each location, but always good.

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Our last night, we decided on dinner at a restaurant named Ferrara, that being my mother’s maiden name. No relation, of course, but the dinner and service were both great and a fun place to take a final photo of our time in Taormina.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 2: Udine, Cividale and Venzone

27 Sep

After leaving Trieste, we took a train to Udine, which would be our base for the next two days. While we didn’t spend too much time in the city center, one of the most impressive sights is Piazza Libertà, the oldest square in the city and considered one of the most beautiful.

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Created in Venetian style, the piazza includes columns, statues and, if you’ve been to Venice, several recognizable symbols of Venetian power.

Next stop was Cividale, founded as a Roman city by Julius Caesar around 50 BC.

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The small town, although no longer an important regional power, still attracts tourists due to its historical medieval center and lovely location on the Natisone River.

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The Devil’s Bridge, (Ponte del Diabolo), which attaches two parts of the town, is accompanied by legend.

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According to Cividale.com, “The popular fantasy has connected the construction of the bridge to the supernatural…, according to which the devil would have facilitated the construction of the bridge overnight in exchange for the soul of the first person passing through… But the inhabitants of Cividale mocked the devil, sending through the new passage  an animal, (dog or cat), according to the versions.”

The most interesting place we visited, however, was the Lombard Temple of Santa Maria in Valle. After touring the monastery, we arrived at the Oratorio, the most important and celebrated monument of the era. In 2011, the Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle and the Longobard Temple were declared World Heritage Sites [Italia Longobardorum. Places of The Power {568 – 774 AD}].

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What made this especially fascinating was our ability to see the restoration effort occurring in real-time in a nearby church. Piece by piece, the restorers are working to recreate what once existed.

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This man, I was told, is the head of the project.

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Before leaving, we lingered a bit longer to soak in a view only nature can provide.

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Our final stop of the day was Venzone, a town hit by a major earthquake in 1976. Per the pictures below, you can see that almost all of the historic center was destroyed.

What is of great interest is how, over a seven year period, the town was rebuilt. After the quake, stones of collapsed buildings were carefully catalogued and stored, providing the foundation needed to rebuild what once existed.

In 2017, Venzone was chosen as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. Borghi Belli judges said one of the reasons was because it was “one of the most extraordinary examples of architectural and artistic post-earthquake recovery”. Bravo Venzone!

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The next day, we would take the train to Verona, the last stop of our northern adventure. It was time, however, to bid arrivederci to Carlo’s wonderful cousins, who not only shared so much of their time with us, but also served as excellent tour guides for the area they call home. Grazie tantissimi!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

19 Sep

Of the 20 regions of Italy, there are only a few we have not visited, and now we can check Friuli-Venezia Giulia off that list. This region, not to be confused with Veneto (home of Venice), is Italy’s north-easternmost region.

Our trip began in Trieste, the regional capital.

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As an important seaport lying between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia, its history has been influenced by Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. It was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, dating from 1382 until 1918. The world wars brought various occupations, and in 1947, the area was divided into two zones, A and B. Finally in 1954, in accordance with the Memorandum of London, the vast majority of what had been Zone A – including the city of Trieste – joined Italy.

A visit to Castello di San Giusto provided interesting history,

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as well as incredible views.

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I call this Regatta between the Branches.

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After lunch in a small fishing village, we headed to Grado, an island town situated between Trieste and Venice, and one of the nearly 120 islands in the Marano-Grado Lagoon. Once mainly a fishing center, today it is a popular tourist destination, known commonly as L’Isola del Sole (“The Sunny Island”).

The old town is filled with restaurants, bars and – for one’s viewing pleasure, a harbor right in the center of town.

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Although it was hard to leave, our next destination was Aquileia to see the Basilica started around 313 AD. Because the Edict of Milan had ended religious persecution, the Christian community was able to build its first place of public worship.

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Over the centuries, and after the destruction of the first church, the locals rebuilt it four times, each time using the previous structures. Today it is in Romanesque-Gothic style.

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One of the most significant aspects is the floor, a 4th century colorful mosaic refurbished between 1909-12.

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Another is the history of the altar and crypt below.

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As we headed back to Trieste, the shadows were long as the sun was just beginning to set over the Basilica of Aquileia.

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Our final “to do” after dinner and a wonderful day was to see Trieste at night, and it did not disappoint.

Piazza Unità d’Italia is the main square of Trieste, often said to be Europe’s largest square located next to the sea. It was built when Trieste was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and includes palaces and the city’s municipal buildings. Waiting patiently, I was able to get a few almost people-free photos!

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Another beautiful sight was the Grand Canal, built between 1754-66 as part of an urban renewal plan, right in the heart of Trieste. This is the view to the sea…

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and this the view toward the city.

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How did we accomplish so much in one day? Lucky for us, we have friends who live in Udine, about an hour away, and they were excellent tour guides. In fact, our next two days of the trip would be based in Udine. Stay tuned.

For a person who loves the sea, our visit to Trieste and surrounding areas provided new insights, wonderful memories and incredible views. In the future, when we see shows that have been filmed in Trieste, (Len and I watch several), I’m quite sure I’ll smile as I recall the beauty of the city and the tranquil, peaceful, and simply spectacular sunsets over the harbor.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

BOCCE Cortona

24 Aug

When we lived in Austin, we actually had a bocce set. As I recall, non of us knew the rules, so we made them up depending on who and how many were playing. And that held true until yesterday, when we learned to play bocce at the hand of a champion!

Many years ago, we are told, Cortona had a bocce court in/near Porta Colonna, before it became a parking lot. Today, however, bocce is played just outside of Cortona in Tavernelle.

There we found  BOCCIODROMO Communal, or the community bocce dome. Not just any dome mind you, but a semi professional one that held the special olympics some years ago. And according to the Special Olympics website: Next to soccer and golf, bocce is the third most participated sport in the world.

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Inside are three bocce lanes made of cement and covered with a special resin. Championship banners and trophies of all sizes adorn the walls.

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We were graciously met by Lidio, a local champion, who proceeded to demonstrate several methods of tossing the bocce.

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We divided ourselves into two teams and learned basic rules as we played. First team to 12 points would win.

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I must admit, I was hooked. Although the basic principle of the sport is to roll a bocce ball closest to the pallina or target ball, there are so many styles and strategies as well as a great deal of competitiveness at play.

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And the more we learned, the more competitive we became.

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Lidio even helped with measuring who was closest to the pallina.

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Unfortunately, I was not on the winning team, but it was such great fun for all that these two characters decided to play one more time while Lidio gave some of us more advanced instruction.

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Many thanks to Lidio for his time, instruction, and most of all, patience,

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from his new BOCCE fans!

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Ciao,
Judy

Mille Miglia Cortona 2018

17 May

Cortona was ready…the Mille Miglia was passing through the town for the first time ever and the spectators eagerly awaited their arrival. Although the main viewing area was Piazza Repubblica, where each car was announced as it arrived,

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each car first had to pass through the adjacent Piazza Signorelli, my first vantage point. I was in place as the first car arrived in this three-day Italy event from Brescia – Roma – Brescia.

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Other cars soon followed. Given that I took nearly 200 photos today, I leaned on Len to help choose a good sampling.

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As the cars passed from one piazza to the next, the delighted crowds cheered and waved flags. I love that some drivers seemed as taken with Cortona as the spectators were with them (see driver in the red sweater!).

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And then the parade continued, sometimes in single file 

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and sometimes in clusters.

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Stopping isn’t as easy as one might think – these cars have mechanical, not power brakes.

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An exception, of course, is this Ferrari pace car which Len said was too beautiful to leave out. Ok, ok.

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I decided to head toward the area where the cars were entering Cortona. On the way, I passed this vintage car on Via Dardano.

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Entering Porta Colonia is a rather tight turn, and I was interested in seeing how the drivers were maneuvering. This driver made it look pretty easy as these cars also have no power steering. 

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However, when I passed through Porta Colonia to Piazza Mazzini, I discovered the answer. The usual parking lot had been turned into a wide turning radius, greatly minimizing not only the tight turn but also the chance for scratches and scrapes.

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And then the cars kept coming and coming and coming. Whatever the final count, the original estimate was around 600 – with such an impressive array of makes, styles, colors, and sizes. 

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Not quite sure I could spend three days/1000 miles in this!

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Kudos to Cortona for making its debut in the 2018 Mille Miglia circuit and for a job well done! 

Arrivederci, Mille Miglia, hopefully we meet again.

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

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