Posts Tagged With: Duomo

Lucca – A Secret Gem

Another week has passed by in a bit of a haze. After spending 4 hours every morning in Italian lessons trying hard to look on the ball and somewhat engaged, I find that my head is spinning by 1.00pm. The lessons are conducted all in Italian – totally from wow to go. To add more pain the use of dictionaries is prohibited.  When you have a question, the teacher attempts to ease your dilemma by using a convoluted example in Italian and by the time he has finished his explanation, you have hopefully grasped the concept.

This week we had a new bunch of recruits from Holland and Germany and Australia plus the same 2 chaps from Japan (one of which is a right pain in the backside!) -10 in total.  Consequently, the group exercises are like deciphering Morse code with cotton wool stuck in your ears. It is all babble!

What really did my head in was our final exercise on Friday – a passage (about an A4 page) that we had to read, translate and then undertake some grammar exercises. The subject was about a scientist who became fascinated by snails and wanted to write a book about the life of snails. However, no matter how he tried to conceal himself in the bushes, the snails were up to his tricks and hid inside their shells. So he had a bright idea of disguising himself as a snail. He made a shell out of paper mache that he could fit himself into, a rubbery nose with rubbery horns that waggled about and silvery saliva that he painted onto the ground. This pastime quickly turned into an obsession, and eventually he was sleeping in his costume and asking his wife to make him worm fritters.  She in the end, told him he was a loon and he could stick his worm fritters and left!

Now – I am confident that in my next conversation with someone about snails and worm fritters I will be able to acquit myself well. Handy don’t you think?

On the plus side, I feel more confident in conversing with the locals in Italian (not about snails). Some are very patient and will give you time to express yourself. Others revert to English straight away.  At least no one is speaking German to me.  There are plenty of Germans and Dutch here but very few Asians.

Lucca is a really pleasant and friendly place. The city is flat and cars are not allowed in the walls unless you have parking permits and a place to park, which are very limited. Consequently, this is a great place for a bicycle and which there are hundreds. The streets are narrow and cobbled with the buildings rising up on either side for three or four stories containing 4 to 8 apartments where the residents live in close quarters with each other.  So hearing the domestic chatter (and arguments) from your “vicini” is not unusual. For example the family who live behind me have a toddler named – wait for it… Galileo! My goodness he has a big name to live up to.

IMG_1201Yesterday the weather was a lovely so I spent a couple of hours wandering the main shopping streets (lanes) and poking my head into a number of stores.  But the highlight was another lingering lunch in a quiet corner, watching the passing crowds go by. On perusing the menu, I was unable to make up my mind between the chicken liver pate or the Tuscan salami and figs – so my very congenial waiter suggested that I have a half portion of both. This I followed up with a light main of vitello tonnato.  One of my all-time favs – cold sliced veal with a mayonnaise made with tuna and capers.  This was accompanied by a lovely local white wine – Trebbiano which dates back to the Roman times. (This photo is for my brother Peter who is the most patient husband of a champions shopper – Mary)

The best sight of the week was when I was on my way home from class, I passed a couple of older ladies (70’s) – done up to the nines. Blonded hair (yes, I am a culprit of some chemical assistance in this department), large pouting red lips (possibly some filler, and Botox to boot) skin tight black pants and patent black boots, rather flashy jewellery and pushing a very smart baby pram with a hood. From the back they looked like a couple of glamourous (!?) grannies out with the new baby while mum is at work. As I drew closer, I looked into the pram  – my jaw hit the ground – there sitting in pride of place was not a baby but the biggest, white, furry cat I have ever seen. I have since discovered that this was a state of the art bespoke cat pram. Can you believe it!

Today I am indoors as it is raining and thundery. So I have been busy doing some catch up homework in readiness for class tomorrow. Please God, no more stories about invertebrates please?

ci vediamo

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italy – Painting Under The Italian Sun

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Borgo San Fedele is a little slice of heaven in the Chianti hills close to the small town of Radda in Chianti and only a 15 minute drive to the wonderful Medieval city of Siena.

However – heaven can be a noisy place during the wild boar-hunting season. The quiet is punctuated with the sound of gun shots and the baying of dogs on the scent of cinghiale (wild boar). Hunting is a weekend recreation as the hunters scour the hillsides for these elusive beasts. They are certainly not a pretty sight face-to-face (the boar that is, not the hunters) – dark, bristly and with sizeable tusks. However, on a plate they are a very appealing and yummy meal – made into a rich stew with homemade pasta, in sausages, salami, dried and served in all sorts of ways this is a local delicacy.

Here is a recipe for you to try when you next get a wild boar in your garden…

• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 500gms cubed wild boar,(substitute pork shoulder)
• 1 teaspoon fine salt
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoon diced onions
• 1 tablespoon diced carrots
• 1 tablespoon diced celery
• 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
• 2 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 tablespoon plain flour
• 1 bottle red wine
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 sprig rosemary
• 1 sprig thyme
• 1 sprig sage
• fresh or dry pasta, cooked al dente (for 4 to 6 serves)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Once the meat is browned, add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Reduce the heat and cook until the moisture is gone. Add the tomato paste and flour. Add the red wine and herbs. Cover and cook for about 2 hours or more depending how tender the meat is), stirring occasionally. The sauce is done when the meat is fork tender.
Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. Strain the sauce, blend, and return to the pan. Pull the meat apart and add back to the blended sauce.

Serve over pasta and a generous dusting of parmesan cheese. Eat with a bottle of full-bodied red wine and crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Borgo San Fedele, our home for the week, is a marvelous story of discovery and rescue from near ruin. It was a thriving monastic community which was built in the 12th century but in 1982, after a gradual decline, the last priest in residence died and San Fedele was abandoned. Like many abandoned monasteries and convents all over Italy, San Fedele fell on hard times and neglect and nature took over. This saw the wonderful stone buildings fall into decay as roofs collapsed and walls gave way under the pressure of encroaching vegetation.

The current owners – Nicolo and Renata happened on this derelict site and fell in love with the notion of rescuing this wonderful piece of local history and bringing it back to life. It is now a place where individuals and groups can come and experience Renata’s and Nicolo’s hospitality and enjoy a unique place steeped in history and surrounded by the lovely Chianti countryside.

I came to San Fedele to attend a week-long water-colour painting workshop. On the first day, our instructor Pat Fiorello was very encouraging and explained that… “painting requires your full self – the left and right brain, the eyes, hands, heart and soul. The technique of painting, the technical aspect of putting paint on paper involves a motor skill (eye/hand coordination) that I truly believe anyone can learn, but that is just the beginning. There is also the emotional expression, the artist’s personal vision, selection of subject, colors, shapes, etc and the intuition and sometimes magic that goes into creating a piece of art. So to think of it as mechanical – doesn’t really do it justice, it is so much more. And I do believe every one can learn and share their own expression”.

With Pat’s careful and positive encouragement, I am hopeful that I can bring all these aspects together to achieve some level of success. However, talent might have some small part to play. As the days unfold, I am amazed that the paint on paper is taking shape, and amazingly enough, it appears that the subject is somewhat recognizable. Thanks Pat!

During the week we explore the local area and visit a number of very quaint hillside towns including Radda in Chianti, Castelino, Pienza and of course Siena.

This wonderful medieval town which has the amazing and famous shell-shaped Piazza del Campo where the colourful Palio (horse race) is run twice a year in summer. Siena is divided into 17 ‘contrade’, that means ‘little boroughs’, which have their own traditions and colours. They are fierce rivals, and the Palio is an event where this rivaly is played out to the enjoyment of the boisterous and partisan crowd. The race is run in the piazza and the riders ride bareback and grip on for dear life as their horses tear around the square.

There was no horse race there on the day we visited but there were plenty of tourists. This is a great opportunity for a spot of people watching at any one of the cafes and bars that surround the piazza. Sitting there in the warm autumn sun, drinking an espresso (or a wine) and watching the passing parade is a real Italian pastime. As one of the ancient cities of Italy, it is a small city with winding lanes and small alleys, so a good map and a sence of direction are needed to navigate this labarynth.

The day passes quickly with a visit to the Duomo – a magnificent structure, striking in its black and white external façade which is adorned with sculptures. The towers, turrets and spires are all richly decorated. The present building was begun in the early 13 Century and the cupola was finished in 1464. The dramatic interior has a pavement of marble mosaics — the work of masters of the fifteenth century depicting scenes from the Old Testament.

Siena is famous for its confectionaries that include Ricciarelli biscuits, gingerbread and delicious sweets made of honey and almonds. However,  a day cannot go by in Italy without a gelato. You must make a trip to GROM. This is a unique gelato experience. They make gelato and sorbet the old-fashioned way with real seasonal ingredients and methods that are reflected in the quality and taste of their gelato. Here are some of their exciting flavours…

• Caramello al sale
• Cassata siciliana
• Liquirizia
• Marron Glacé
• Tiramisù
• Zabaione

Interested in painting? Visit
More info on San Fedele –
Need a holiday

Next blog I will be in Roma… stand by for some food, fun and fantastic sites….

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Language, Photography, Recipes, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Italian Job

Italy here I come. The flight from Amsterdam was uneventful and me and my bags made a safe landing. However, the impending chaos around the baggage carousel can only be found in Italy.

Firstly, it is a trick to find the appropriate carousel as there is an absence of signage. However, if you have your wits about you and have noted some of your fellow passengers on your flight it is a good bet that you are at the right carousel. After half an hour, three bags tumbled down the conveyor belt onto the carousel and this immediately set off a herd Italians, like a stampede, to rush over and grab their bags. However, this was just some cruel joke by the baggage handlers, as these three bags were obviously not from our flight and they then spent the next half hour circling waiting for their owners to claim them. Finally, after another 15 minutes, our bags streamed out and away I went to meet my car to downtown Rome for an overnight stay at the Hotel Lord Byron. This was just a brief stop before the main act, which was Orvieto in south-western Umbria, about a two-hour drive from Rome.

Orvieto, a centre of ancient origin and is situated at the top of a single mass of tufa (known as “la Rupe”, or cliff). It rises above the agricultural plain at 325 metres above sea level. It has been inhabited since the Iron Age, and became famous for the earlier Etruscans, who were present on the cliff from the 8th Century B.C. At the destruction of the city by the Romans in the year 264 B.C., there followed a long period of total decadence which lasted for at least six centuries. Italy then became the scene of barbaric invasions as the Roman Empire became increasingly unstable. Orvieto rose again as a “garrison” to protect and represent its people.

Beneath the city there are an incredible number of artificial cavities, and an intricate labyrinth of tunnels, galleries, cisterns, wells, caves, and cellars carved into the tufa.

Today, there is little evidence of the Etruscan or Roman civilisations but now, there is the enchanting Medieval Orvieto with its palaces, towers, and churches. Of particular note is the Duomo, called “The Golden Lily of Cathedrals”. This Italian Gothic masterpiece has always been the most representative image of Orvieto around the world. It was begun in 1290 and was completed over the course of three centuries.

This is one of the great masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It is covered in the most glorious mosaics depicting various biblical scenes and central to the mosaics is the large rose window built by the sculptor and architect Orcagna between 1354 and 1380. It truly is an impressive building and breathtaking when you see it for the first time. In the late afternoon the sun falls onto the façade and the richly coloured and gold mosaics shimmer as though they are lit from within. I spent many early evenings sitting in any one of the bars in the Piazza del Duomo sipping on my apertivo of choice – Spritz. This is a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day – Aperol, prosecco and a dash of sparkling mineral water.

I am living in the medieval part of Orvieto, a maze of twisting, cobbled streets, lined with ancient 3 – 4 storey stone buildings. There are a number of churches around me so I am regaled by church bells on special days, masses and weddings, and of course every hour and quarter hour the time is rung out – no watches required here.

The entrance to my building is gained through huge wooden doors from the street and you climb the ancient stone stairs to the apartment. The walls are 3 feet thick and the ceilings must be at least 15 feet high. It is cool and restful inside. I open the windows and hear the sparrows, pigeons and swallows (and the bells). There are thankfully, no trains, cars, sirens, garbage trucks or yobbos as in Sydney.

Living in the old quarter is close communal living as every room has a neighbour. Outside my bedroom window my vicini (neighbours) are anziani (pensioners) who bicker and shout at each other. Across the stair well reverberate battles at all times of day and night. La Mama mutters to herself, but just loud enough to irritate him into action, so he shouts “che”? (what?), and that then gives rise to a stream of frustrated shouts from her at him. He shouts back grumpily. The louder she shouts the louder he turns up the TV. She then crashes the pots and pans muttering to herself and then finally it all goes quiet. I lie there wondering if she has finally put a knife in him because he complained about her cooking for the last time!

Another irritant to my vicini (neighbours) which is constantly coming under fire – is their cat. At right angles to my bedroom window is theirs, and both open onto a stairwell. Their bedroom window has a metal venetian blind which is open and closed, raised and lowered according to the time of day and the position of the sun. As you can imagine, as this blind is metal there is a considerable amount of percussion that goes with its tidal movements. The cat adds to this cacophony by pushing through the blind so he can sit outside on the window sill and survey the sky and wish that a bird would land near him. However, he has not worked out how to get back inside. Consequently, he will brush up against the blind and create a clattering of metal as the slats rattle. This sets off Mamma – “Vieni qua! Vieni qua!” (Come down Come down!). Meanwhile Papa has been woken from his slumber and the domestic sparing match is on again.

Outside my lounge room window, there is a young couple with a tiny crying baby – Carlo. They seem to be at a loss of what to do when Carlo gets into top gear and is screaming his lungs out. However – the last couple of days all has been quiet and there appears to be no one home. I wonder if they all have been packed off to a sanatorium for new parents.

Upstairs lives my landlady Sabrina, her husband Cesare and 3 year old Alessandro who gallops around all day. They also have a three month old who is a happy and smiling baby. Also living with them are Cesare’s parents who own a small enoteca (wine and food store) around the corner.

Living at such close quarters with your neighbours must create many tensions along the way, particularly if you have a “un ficcanaso” next door. This is the Italian for a busy body – “Ficca” being derived from the verb ficcare – to stuff, to put in the “il naso” – the nose.

Everything is so close – that is the beauty of living in a small country town. No car is needed here and there is no traffic on the streets, just an occasional delivery van or local car so the whole town is virtually pedestrian friendly.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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