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Preview: Il Giorno Italiano Sogna

Il Giorno Italiano Sogna

2 people, 1 dog: We moved to Italy in 2007 and now we are back living in Southern California but still dreaming of our move to Italy and our next trip!

Updated: 2014-10-05T02:39:43.193+02:00


We've moved!!!


You can find us here now:

Nobu San Diego: No Bang for our buck!


We headed downtown to eat at Nobu San Diego on Monday night. All three of us opted to try the Omakase, the multi-course chef's tasting menu. We were really excited to try the omakase at Nobu since we had tried and really enjoyed the omakase at Makoto in Washington DC. Needless to say, the omakase at Nobu was not worth the money. Even though the restaurant was fairly empty (it was a Monday night) they seemed to rush us; we were also the only three people sitting at the sushi bar! All of the courses were decent, but overall nothing special like you would assume for the price! The first few courses were the best part of the dinner.Course 1: Lobster Ceviche with AvocadoThis was our first course and a great way to start out the meal. Definitely one of my favorites, even if it was only a bite!Course 2: Fatty Tuna Sashimi in a ponzu/soy broth with a Japanese peachThis, while only a bite, was also very good. I wish there had been a little more....Even though it is a tasting menu! The tuna was topped with caviar.Course 3: 3 piece sashimi platter with traditional Japanese brothThis was one of the other good courses featuring a traditional Japanese broth which was very flowery and three sashimi dishes: red snapper, fluke, and hamachi.Jaime's favorite was the hamachi which was served with serano chilies:Reed and I preferred the fluke:Course 4: Hamachi and Salmon SushiThe presentation on this dish was nice. There were two pieces of hamachi sushi (yellow tail) and one piece of salmon which was wrapped around rape (broccoli rabe). The salmon was excellent and one of the highlights in my opinion. For garnish there was an anchovy crisp and a traditional Japanese herb (can't remember the name).Course 5: Lobster with Asparagus and MushroomsThis was our first "warm dish." It was ok. Not my favorite. There definitely was a decent amount of lobster meat; it was however a little difficult to eat with chop sticks! Reed really liked the mushrooms but we all agreed that the sauce was kind of heavy and really dominated the dish.Course 6: Seared Kobe Beef with Asparagus, Mushrooms, and YuzuAnother ok, but not great dish. I think we all enjoyed this dish more than the lobster but it was disappointing to see the same asparagus and mushrooms that we had in the previous dish. We were looking for some originality and diversity that seemed to be missing in these dishes. Reed felt that the citrus aspect of the yuzu was a little too much in the dish.Course 7: Miso Soup with a submerged clamThe miso soup was good and a pleasant break from the two previous courses which were quite heavy, but nothing really spectacular.Course 8: SushiWe probably had about 6 pieces each of sushi (some we were told to eat with soy sauce and others without). I can't remember all the pieces we had but we had a tuna, a few different white fish sashimi, Uni (or sea urchin which I thought was interesting...but Jaime and Reed loved!) and Unagi (or eel...aka EEK!). I enjoyed the majority of it (Reed's favorite was the white fish pictured below), but somehow I could not get past the "swimming snake" image and enjoy the eel.Course 9: Fruity Granita with OrangeCourse 10: DessertI somehow managed to forget to take a picture of our last course which was a cake with chocolate and cherries along with a frozen cherry slush. Not bad.With our meals, Jaime and Reed enjoyed a bottle of Nobu Sake and I had a bottle of Nobu Beer.Nobu San Diego207 5th AvenueSan Diego, CA 92101619.814.4124[...]

Highlights of San Diego: Balboa Park and a Padres Game


With my sister in town for a few weeks, we decided to enjoy our proximity to San Diego and head head downtown a few times, once to Balboa Park and once to a Padres game.Balboa Park is one of the country's largest urban parks with 15 museums, gardens, and the San Diego Zoo! The origins of Balboa Park go all the way back to 1868 when 1,400 acres of land on a mesa overlooking the "New Town" (the current downtown) and the Pacific Ocean were set aside. Throughout the early 1900s, there were many plans created for the development and beautification of the park. In 1910, roads were created throughout the park, many of which still exist today.Balboa Park circa 1910: (Image from the Balboa Park Organization Website)It was also during 1910 that the park's name was changed from "City Park" to "Balboa Park" after a city-wide naming contest. The name was chosen Harriet Phillips, the winner of the contest, because the Park offered a wide view of the Pacific Ocean and explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean.The Park was the site of the 1915-16 California Exposition which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal. The exposition created a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it is seen today with a number of the Park's current buildings, including the Spanish-Renaissance style buildings along the El Prado pedestrian walkway being built at this time.Poster commemorating the 1915 World Fair at Balboa Park:(Image from the Balboa Park Organization Website)The park is a great place to visit while in San Diego with so many attractions...........and one of my very favorite restaurants ever: The Prado at Balboa Park. Check it out next time you are in San Diego!We were also luck to procure two free tickets to the San Diego Padres/Minnesota Twins game. Too bad the Padres lost![...]

July 2, 2008 Palio Winner is......


......Istrice or Porcupine!

The Istrice contrada won the July 2 Palio; the first Palio of 2008. The second and final Palio race will be held on August 16.

We were really hoping to be able to see a Palio race after living in Siena and seeing all of the festivities that occurred months and months after the race day. I can say that after having lived in Siena, the Palio is VERY important to the Sienese: there is even a local TV station devoted almost entirely to replaying Palios of the past. Many a night was spent watching this channel! The Oca (Goose) and the Lecorno (Unicorn) won last years Palios and there were festas, dinners, and decorations throughout the entire fall commemorating their victories!

Decorations in the Oca contrada commemorating their victory in the July 2, 2007 Palio:

Our contrada, the Onda (or Wave), for some reason seemed to be less active than the other contradas. Only on a few occasions did we see the contrada practicing with their drums and flags and only around Christmas time did the contrada hang their flags and light fixtures.

The Onda flag and light fixture decorations:

Although the Palio itself is a simple bareback horse race around Siena's Campo, there is nothing simple about it. Not all the contradas compete during each Palio and there are races prior to the main race which help determine which contradas compete. Scheming and plotting by the contradas occurs all year, culminating in a 90 second race around the Campo! The winning jockey and horse are heroes; the runner-up is the biggest loser of all!

One day we hope to make it to the Palio. Hopefully the Onda will win that year!

Matera: The magical city of the sassi


(Actual date....January 5, 2008)We were on our way to Basilicata, the region in the "instep" of the boot. We were sad to leave Puglia and Ostuni behind but we were excited to see Matera as well.Basilicata is often described as Italy's last true wilderness. As described in Lonely Planet, Basilicata "is a chaotic landscape of tremendous mountains, dark forested valleys, and villages melded into the rockface...." It is a remote and poor region. We didn't not have too much time in Basilicata so our only stop was Matera, a unique city that is the backdrop for Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. Matera is famous for the sassi, or stones of Matera. The sassi are cave dwellings that people lived in for thousands of years, until the 1950s. During the 1600s Matera served as the capital of Basilicata but by the 1950s, half the population lived in the sassi and there was an infant mortality rate of 50 percent. Carlo Levi wrote about the situation in Matera and in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the inhabitants of the sassi were forcibly relocated to government housing. In 1993, Matera's sassi became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, many of the sassi are being refurbished and it is possible to stay in one: We did! There are two sassi districts: Sasso Barisano, which is the more modern section that we stayed in; and Sasso Caveoso, the more impoverished section that gives you an idea of what the city was like at one point.Our guidebooks recommended stopping at a panoramic overlook to get a good overview of the city. The overlook is on the Taranto-Laterza road and you follow signs for the chiese rupestri. The road takes you to the Murgia Plateau, which is separated from Matera by a giant ravine.The ravine......Across the ravine are great views of Sassi Caveoso. Despite the gale force winds and freezing cold, we got some great skyline views of Matera.The many caves in the area....After seeing Matera from a distance we were even more excited to see the city up close. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our hotel: B&B Del Casale, a great find (see contact info and the end of the post). We highly recommend this place if you want to stay in a sassi. What a deal for 65 Euros!After finding a map it was time to explore!There are a decent number of stray dogs, however, all strays are rounded up one a year and neutered which apparently helps with preventing fights.Most stores were closed but we enjoyed just wandering around and getting the feel for the area. Reed quickly decided that Matera was his favorite place!Near the main piazza, we found a great bakery and bought a bread that was loaded with olives! We decided that we would stop there the next day to get some snacks for the long trip to Sicily. We also found a restaurant that looked like it would be good. It turns out it was one of the worst, most expensive meals. Not even worth writing about. What a disappointment!Even though dinner was horrible, we still had a great time. Heading back to our own sassi, we tried to absorb the atmosphere of this very special place!For your own sassi experience:Bed & Breakfast del CasaleVia Casale 43 Sasso Barisano 75100 MateraTel: 0835 337304Cell: 3397362067Next we head out of mainland Italy and get our first taste of Sicily, not to mention some amazing foccacia![...]

Ostuni Highlights


(Actual date....January 5, 2008)I love Ostuni! It is by far one of my favorite Italian cities. Before leaving, we walked around the city one last time to get some more pictures. This is one place I can't wait to go back to!As we were walking around out of nowhere came a pack of 6 or 7 stray dogs. Ollie who is not submissive started barking. We were able to quickly step into a tabacchi and avoid any confrontation. We were not so lucky in Sicily...thats for later.One of the best things about living in Italy is that we were able to go to places that you might not pick if you were only going for a week or two. Ostuni being one of them. The city itself reminds me a lot of the island of Mykonos in Greece, just more subdued.[...]

The Highlights of Puglia: Alberobello and some Trulli


(I'm behind posting....Actual Date: January 4, 2008)On Friday morning we woke up early to a cloudy day with weather forecasts predicting rain!I was disappointed since this was our only day to head to Alberobello and visit the trulli. The trulli are traditional stone structures with conical roofs that can be found in the Valle d'Itria in the Italian region of Puglia (the "heel" of Italy). One of the theories behind the origin of the design is that these structures is that they were built so they could be easily dismantled when property inspectors were in the area. (To read more about this area, check out two of our other posts: Alberobello and the Famous Trulli and Our First Taste of Puglia: Trani and Ostuni).We grabbed a quick espresso at a cafe in the center of Ostuni before picking up the car for the 40 minute drive to Alberobello, our first stop.We had a little trouble finding the exact road we were supposed to get on, but in no time we were heading on our way. Within a few minutes we had spotted our first trulli! We pulled off the side of the road and took some pictures.The trulli are really amazing and the landscape is breathtaking. Even though it was January, was overcast, and was cloudy, the colors were amazing. I am sure that on a sunny spring day with a bright blue sky it would be even more stunning. As we rode along towards Alberobello, passing through the town of Locorotondo, there were more and more trulli!As luck would have it, just as we pulled into Alberobello it started to rain. We quickly found a parking spot (benefit of traveling during the off season) and headed off to see the highlights of the town, not before stopping at a bakery to get some traditional bread from Puglia: bread stuffed with olives. We took our time wandering the streets but were kind of disappointed with how touristy the town was. I had read how signs throughout Alberobello are written in English, German, and Japanese, but was stilled shocked at the "Disney-esque" aspect of the town. Every few steps we took someone was asking us to come into their store or to see their trulli. After about an hour, we felt we had pretty much exhausted Alberobello. Before leaving, we stopped back at the bakery to pick up another loaf of olive was that good!In our guidebook I had read that there was a panoramic overlook where there was a great view of the trulli. We searched but with no luck! We decided to head to our next stop....the city of Martina Franca.In my exhaustive internet searching for our trip, I had read on the SlowTravel forum (a great website for travel planning!) that the best trulli were on a secondary road between Alberobello and Martina Franca and that in order to find this road and the trulli, you follow the signs pointing to the agriturismo Green Park. This is definitely the road to take! It was very scenic and we got\ to see how spectacular the trulli are! We both definitely agree that a visit to the trulli is a must, but that the experience of seeing the trulli in the countryside is far better than in Alberobello. A car is also a must because without one there is no way to experience it!Inside of a trulliWe found ourselves in Martina Franca as it began to rain harder! Martina Franca is an amazing baroque city, completely different than Alberobello. It was founded in the 10th century by refugees fleeing the Arab invasion. It only became really prosperous during the 14th century when Philip of Anjou granted the city a tax exemption. (Franchigie being the French word for tax exemptions, hence the name Franca). In addition to wanting to wander the baroque streets of Martina Franca we were looking for capacollo di Martina Franca: a D.O.C. meat that is cured in brine and soaked in mulled wine.Martina Franca detailsMartina Franca's duomoIn the main piazza with the duomo, we found a great store selling all handmade cheese and meats including the capacollo and bura[...]

Easy Tortilla Soup


Tortilla Soup
(adapted from a recipe from Simply Recipes)

I was searching for dinner possibilities today on the internet and came across this one. I made a few changes and the result was great. Not only was it easy to make but it was really tasty too!

6 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1/4 cup oil
1 onion, chopped (can use red or yellow onion or a combination of the two)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T cumin (less if you are not as fond of cumin as I am!)
1.5 jalapeño chiles, seeded, veins removed, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained (preferably fire roasted)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 pound chicken (boneless and skinless), cooked then shredded
1 ripe medium avocado
1/2 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese (2 oz)
Chopped green onion
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. The recipe says you should try to use old, dried out tortillas. If not put them on a baking sheet in the oven at 200°F for 10-15 minutes . Cut tortillas into 1/4-inch strips. In 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry strips in oil, 1/3 at a time, until light brown and crisp. Remove from pan; drain on paper towels. Reserve.

2. To cook chicken, place in a pot with 6 cups of water. You can flavor the water with whatever you have on hand. I used some spices (thyme, oregano) and 3 vegetable bullion cubes. Cook chicken until done. Remove chicken and shred after it has slightly cooled. Reserve 4 cups of liquid.

3. In a large pot saute onion, garlic, and jalapenos for 3-4 minutes. Add cumin and mix well. Stir in reserved chicken broth, canned tomatoes, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

4. Using either a blender, cuisinart, or immersion blender, puree soup. Add chicken to the soup and heat through.

5. To serve garnish with sliced avocado, green onions, pepper jack cheese, corn tortilla strips, and a lime wedge.

California Strawberry Cinnamon Muffins


(image) One thing that is great about living in California right now is the abundance of strawberries. The other day while at the store I got 4 pounds of strawberries for $3.99. What better way to use them up then to make some muffins.

Strawberry Cinnamon Muffins

(adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 3 T vanilla fat-free yogurt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
2 cups chopped strawberries
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375º.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Make a well in center of flour mixture.

3. Combine yogurt, butter, milk, and egg in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add yogurt mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

4. Add chopped strawberries.

5. Place 12 foil cup liners in muffin cups; coat liners with cooking spray. Spoon batter into muffin tin. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

6. Bake at 375º for 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; place on a wire rack.

A Day at Del Mar Dog Beach


On both Saturday and Sunday Oliver and I headed out to the dog beach in Del Mar which is only 13 miles from Carlsbad. On one portion of the beach, dogs are allowed off leash. The other two miles or so, dogs are allowed but they must be leashed (these rules apply from Labor Day until June). Oliver has become quite the ocean dog!

Proof of a fun day!


Southern California: Trading Pizza, Pasta and Vino for Tacos and Margaritas!


So it looks as though the next stop for me, Reed, and Ollie is going to be Carlsbad, CA, in sunny Southern California! Hopefully by the beginning of May we will be moved in.

The other day when I walked down to the beach from the hotel, I found a beach where dogs are not only allowed but also allowed off leash. A great find as the majority of beaches in Carlsbad are state beaches that do not allow dogs! This is the beach:

I know Mr. O is going to enjoy the walks along the beach!

(image) I'm way behind in posting about the rest of our travels through Southern Italy. Hopefully soon I'll get them all posted in the January archives!

Stay tuned for posts on:
  • Alberobello/Martina Franca
  • Ostuni
  • Matera
  • Messina
  • Siracusa
  • Palermo
  • Capri
  • Napoli

We are back in the U.S!


Reed, Ollie, and I arrived in the U.S. two weeks ago today after a less than impressive flight on Lufthansa from Munich to Boston (more to come). We had a great time traveling together, had a few minor mis-haps, and were able to take some great pictures along the way! We hope in the next few days to write some posts about our adventures through Southern Italy. Meanwhile, we are busy planning our next move.....

Back in Sorrento: A ferry later and all the wiser


I awoke early on Friday morning, around 5:30 am, before the alarm had a chance to go off. We were scheduled to arrive in Naples at 7 am, but what do you know, we were early. Sure enough, we were pulling into the port. We hastily got everything together, during a time like this it was hard not to wish that the ferry ride was longer. Longer ride=more sleep! We got off the ferry, passing carabinieri who did not seem to care that Ollie had obviously spent the night in the cabin. It was pitch dark outside and we had no idea of our exact location and where we needed to be in order to catch the hydrofoil to Sorrento. I'm not going to lie, the next half hour was quite stressful. It involved trying to speak with a cop who was all drugged out and insisted on repeating "F-E-R-R-Y" over and over to us in English, being surrounded by more stray dogs, and finally Reed having a cab ride from hell to an ATM machine. By the time we got to the hydrofoil office it was around 7 and we learned the first hydrofoil for Sorrento was at 9:30. It started to rain, which made the long wait even longer.

By 12ish we had arrived back at Casa Mazzola and were glad to take a shower and go to sleep!

Saturday was pretty uneventful. We were still tired and the weather was pretty bad: cold, cloudy, and rainy. Reed and I went down to Sant'Agnello to drop off some laundry and then walked around Sorrento for a bit. We went to dinner at La Rosa for dinner with two other guests who were staying at Casa Mazzola who were from Virginia. Ironically, the guys name was also Reed spelled the same way! What a coincidence!

Tomorrow we head to the mystical island of Capri, braving wind, waves, and storms!

Palermo Day 1: Are we in Italy????


We woke up Thursday morning and had a busy day ahead of us. Considering that we only had one day to see everything we wanted to see we were going to be busy! The one thing that I was interested in seeing after doing my research but we had to eliminate was the catacombs. Maybe next time if we ever make it back to Palermo. On our list of things to do, was check out the markets; Lo Spasimo, the church without a roof; some really interesting trees; and Palermo's cathedral. Along the way we were also hoping to find some goodies to bring back with us!Our first stop of the day was the Ballaro Market in Palermo's Albergheria district. Along the way, we passed the Quattro Canti, or the "Four Corners." It is located at the intersection of Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda and is a quartet of baroque palaces left over from the heyday of Spanish rule. Each of the corners is decorated with a niche in three tiers. The first tier of each niche contains a fountain and a statue representing one of the four seasons. The second tier of each niche displays a statue of one of the Spanish viceroys. The third tier of each niche is dedicated to a statue of one of the patron saints of the city: Christina, Ninfa, Olivia, and Agata. If there was not so much traffic it might have possible to get a better picture!The Ballaro market was not a disappointment. It was almost worth the trip to Palermo to get to walk through here, especially for Reed! This old market is where the Saracens did their shopping in the 11th century -- joined by the Normans in the 12th century. Talk about history. We asked a number of people, and this market is now considered one of the best in all of Palermo. We wandered for more than an hour easily, just amazed at the sights, finding some time to buy some pistachio pesto.From the Ballaro market, we headed towards Lo Spasimo, cutting through the older parts of Palermo while commenting on how we seemed to be in a different country other than Italy!Along the way, we found this great coffee shop and bought some of Palermo's finest coffee beans to bring back to the U.S.They grind everything at the store.These are the two types we purchased.Lo Spasimo is located in a fairly derelict area of Palermo that had been heavily bombed during WWI. Construction began on the church in 1506 but was never completed. As time went on, the the church was used as a theatre, a lazaretto (quarantine station) after the plague epidemic in 1624, a wheat storehouse in the mid-17th century, a theatre again in the late 17th century, and a poorhouse in the 18th century. In the 19th century other premises were built for use as a hospital, which functioned until 1986, while the church continued to be used as a storehouse, especially for works of art. Today it hosts a wide variety of major cultural events, including concerts, plays and exhibitions.Lo Spasimo is characterized by the fact that it does not have a roof, and large trees grow from the interior. I bet it is even more spectacular at night!Check out the scale!We stopped briefly for lunch and to grab some "supplies" for our ferry ride before heading off to the park to take some pictures of the special trees that grow there. I can't remember the name of the trees or the park but the trees are quite amazing!The park is a really nice urban oasis, away from the smog and noise of Palermo.Hi Reed!The trees are really massive! It is hard to get a sense of the scale.By this time, the heat and pollution were getting to us and we were quite tired. We had about an hour to spare before we planned on heading back to the hotel, collecting Ollie and our stuff, and leaving. We had one last stop in mind: the Cathedral.Check out the haze!One thing that clearly sets Pa[...]

Palermo, Sicily: Kebabs, a horrible hotel, and a really expensive glass of wine


Wednesday was a long hard day! One of those days that makes you wish you could snap your fingers and be back home. We awoke early in the morning eager to leave Siracusa behind and ready to try our luck in Palermo. I had read a decent amount about Palermo and we had opted to stay there for three nights and were at this point hoping it was not a huge mistake! Because we both refused to have a train "lay over" in Catania after Monday's incident there, we were forced to change trains back in Messina and therefore were looking at about 8+ hours on a train. Yikes! We were glad we had made this decision after we pulled into Catania and saw that all the stray dogs that had attacked Reed and Ollie on Monday were barking at the people getting off of our train and running along the platform. That would not have been fun!The train ride from Messina was long and slow. There were some pretty views of the Aeolian Islands off of Sicily's northern shores. Besides that, it was pretty much one small unimpressive town after another. Like I said, we had pretty much had our full of Sicily by this time!We arrived in Palermo around 4:30 pm with high hopes off enjoying the rest of our time in Sicily. We had already decided that we would take a cab to our hotel/B&B, Arte Palermo. I had read some reviews of the B&B and one of the reasons we chose it, besides the fact that they allow dogs, is that the B&B claims to have a kitchen that the guests share. We were eager to head to Palermo's markets and were looking forward to spending some time in the kitchen. This is far from the truth. This hotel is horrible! It made such an impression that we wrote a review that is posted on Trip Advisor here.Question: Would you be happy if this is what greeted you after 8 hours on a train?????Answer: Probably NOT!Anyway, the cab pulls up to a very small side street that was basically an ally. We get out, and all I can think about is the smell: the ally was covered in dog crap and smelled of that and urine.I thought that there must be some mistake! The entrance to the hotel was shabby and a used pizza box was the "welcoming mat." We hiked up to the top floor to find our hotel. We were greeted to the owner who was fairly unwelcoming. Within the first few minutes she had totally turned us off to her and her "hotel." Not only was her dog unfriendly and mean, this "hotel" was her home. We were to share the bathroom and the "kitchen" with her and her Tunisian husband, who we only saw in his bathrobe. People have better "kitchens" when they camp then what we had. And the bathroom.....was a tub with no curtain or anything. The owner made us sit through a long explanation of what there was to see and do in Palermo even though we were exhausted from 8+ hours on a train. She also told us in great depth of how mean the street dogs were here and how it was best for us to carry a stick for defense as she was frequently attacked while walking her dog! Very nice of her to mention all this when I made the reservations.At this point, the disappointment over the hotel room and the general fear of taking Ollie outside, made it blatantly clear to us that we had to get out of here! We had ferry tickets and a cabin reserved for Saturday night's ferry from Palermo to Naples and we decided to walk down to the ferry and try to change the tickets to tomorrow (Thursday) night. Luckily, for a fee of less than 1 Euro, we were able to change our ticket! Yes!! We planned on using Thursday day to see the highlights of Palermo before our ferry left at 8:30 pm.On the way back to get something to eat, we stopped into a bar to grab a glass of house wine, which normally costs around 2-4 Euros. [...]

Our First Taste of Puglia: Trani and Ostuni


*** A series of posts about our travels through Southern Italy****January 3, 2008Puglia was probably the place that I was most excited about visiting...I was not disapointed. My only regret is that we did not have enough time there...we'll just have to go back! The writer, Carlo Levi, who was exiled in Puglia referred to the region as "that other world...which no-one may enter without a magic key." It is a very special place that should not be missed and we look forward to exploring it more in the future. If you are planning a trip to Italy in the near future, check out Puglia! If you want suggestions, contact us!We got up bright and early on Thursday morning to go into Sorrento to pick up our rental car from Avis (FYI: stay away from Avis in Sorrento!! We are currently battling them over incorrect charges on our credit card!). Within an hour we were on our way, heading east towards Puglia, Italy's heel! One of the reasons why I was really interested in visiting Puglia, is that it seems to be gaining popularity; in the past year almost all of the main newspapers, including the New York Times, has featured Puglia in at least one article. With beautiful landscapes and charming cities, Puglia has it all. It doesn't hurt that Puglia is a wine and food lovers paradise and we definitely ate well here, having our best meal in all of Italy in Ostuni!Within 3.5 hours we had left Campania and were in Puglia, the drive was quite beautiful: rolling hills (that look similar to Tuscany) some of them with huge windmills covering them. It was amazing to see the colors, especially the greens! We also learned Ollie hates windmills as much as hot air balloons!Trani was our first stop....Trani is known as the "Pearl of Puglia" and has a magnificent portside cathedral. During the Middle Ages, Trani rivaled Bari, another city in Puglia, for importance, and Trani became a major point of embarkement for merchants going to the Near East. The town's business interests grew so much that Trani devised the first maritime code, the Ordinamenta Maris, in 1063 to help regulate their business interests.Trani portWe were hoping to make it to Ostuni before dark so we stopped in Trani only long enough to snap some pics of the cathedral (a great example of the Norman style of Architecture), and to have a quick lunch of cavatelli con fagioli e cozze (pasta with beans and mussles) at a portside restaurant.Cats in TraniThe port and AdriaticThe cathedralIt really was interesting to see this cathedral, which is completely different than any other in Italy that we have seen. The ocean makes a beautiful backdrop!It was just starting to get dark as we approached the city of Ostuni. Ostuni is known as the "White City" and is perched on three hills surrounded by olive groves. The view on the approach is absolutely stunning and I'm sure much more beautiful when it is not as cloudy. We were staying for two nights in an apartment right near Piazza della Liberta. Although the lodgings were merely adequate, we both fell in love with Ostuni and hope we have the opportunity to return some day!We spent some time wandering around the maze like streets up the cathedral.The duomoDuring the day from the cathedral there are views of the olive groves at the blue adriatic.Piazza del DuomoThe owner of the apartment we were renting, Francesco, also owns his own restaurant. He told us to stop by for dinner and I am so glad we did; it was the best meal we had in all of Italy! Locanda dei Sette Peccati (Seven Sins) is fantastic. For a starter we split a mixed antipasto platter that was superb. We did not know what half the things were, mainly vegetables, but there was not one bad t[...]

Naples, In the Shadow of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Pizza


****A series of Posts about our travels through Southern Italy*****January 1, 2008-January 2, 2008We arrived in Napoli on New Year's Day after seven hours of traveling on trains only to find out that the circumvesuviana train (the metro system in Naples) was not running. Just our luck!! Our hotel, Casa Mazzola (which our friend's Lawren and Steve from Verona had recommended), was in Sant'Agnello, a hill top town near Sorrento and 50 km from Naples. We had many bags and Ollie, so taking a bus was out of the question! We ended up taking a taxi for 150 Euros that took nearly 2 hours! We were so glad that we had agreed upon a price before the taxi driver saw how much traffic there really was (heading back towards Napoli)! Our taxi driver was really friendly, albeit sexist, and many times wanted to pull off the highway so we could take pictures of Vesuvius or the coast. He was so proud of Naples, which was really nice. As we came to find out, our taxi driver was only interested in what Reed had to say and could care less what I had to say! At one point he asked when Reed's birthday was and also when Oliver's birthday was (he knew Ollie was a boy), commenting on both of their astrological signs (something that a lot of Italian seem to be interested in) but never once asking about my birthday! Just an observation.....We were a little worried when we arrived at Casa Mazzola because it was definitely not near the Circumvesuviana train line, like the owner had said. Instead it was about 2 miles up a winding road. (A Note: Casa Mazzola is def. budget friendly at 50 Euros a night, however without a car it can be difficult. There is one bus with infrequent service down to the Circumvesuviana. In addition, without a car it is necessary to get a ride from the owner to get to any restaurant.)We were not quite sure that anything would be open for dinner or even sure how we would get to a place if it was open. The owner, Luigi, found a restaurant that was open, La Rosa. This place was great and cheap. We were the only people in the restaurant and we shared an order of gnocchi alla sorrentina (with bufala mozzarella) and both had a margherita pizza (Reed's had sausage and onions). After a long day it was time for bed!Wednesday, January 2, we woke up early to head to Pompeii. The views from out B&B out towards Naples and the Gulf of Naples were spectacular.Mt. Vesuvius and the sunriseGulf of NaplesVesuvius and vineyardsThe circumvesuviana train was running and in 30 minutes we had arrived at Pompeii. We planned on spending a few hours at Pompeii touring the main sites (The Basilica, Casa del Poeta Tragico, Lupanare (brothel), and the Terme Stabiane (thermal baths)) before heading to Naples for lunch.Mt. Vesuvius behind PompeiiSome of the more interesting things we learned from the audio tour was that the basilica was not used for religious purposes; instead it was the center of law and home of the tribunal. It's name, the basilica, was adapted later because of the similarity in appearance to Christian basilica's. The Lupanare was one of 25 brothels in Pompeii. The name, Lupanare, comes from the Roman word "Lupa" which means prostitute. The lupanare had 10 rooms and the price for a prostitute was equivalent to 2 glasses of medium quality wine!Ruins of the BasilicaWe were shocked when we got to Pompeii and saw that dogs were allowed at the ruins. Not limited to the stray dogs that make Pompeii there home, but also a number of tourists had brought their dogs along!Preserved human Preserved dogOne of the other interesting things I learned from the audio guide was that Pompeii was pretty much under constructi[...]

Last Post from Siena


Our Last Post from Siena. We are handing in our internet cable box later this afternoon and on Tuesday heading to Napoli. From there we head to Puglia (Ostuni), Matera, Messina, Siracusa, Palermo, Sorrento, Lucca, and then to Milan to head out. Hopefully along the way we will have some internet access and will be able to post some pictures and notes about our trip!


Ashley, Reed, and Oliver

Back in Siena: Oliver will not be getting a pet passport


After coming back to Siena from Cortona, one of the main priorities of the week was to figure out how to get Oliver a pet passport, which would facilitate travel back to the U.S. We were able to find out where the office of the Azienda Sanitaria Locale per Veterinaria was in Siena, and luckily there was a very nice vet who spoke English that I was able to talk to. He told us to come in on Thursday morning with all of Oliver's paperwork.

Thursday we took a 12 Euro taxi ride out to the ASL only to find out that Ollie could not get a pet passport because he was born in the U.S. and they only give pet passports to dogs born here in the E.U. or to dogs which are owned by people who are residents of the E.U. Luckily the vets looked over all of the paperwork (his E.U. entry form, rabies certificate, microchip information) and said this was all acceptable and that they would sign an export certificate for us. The catch is that this needs to be done within 48 hours of our departure! We were originally planning on completing this at the ASL office in Verona but they could not confirm that the office in Verona would not require more-such as a trip to the vet! So, we have decided that we will have these forms completed here in Siena instead of Verona.

Thursday night I also had one last dinner with Anna and Cristina at a restaurant near the Duomo!


Cortona: Wine and Food. And then more wine and food!


On Friday we headed off to Cortona for a long weekend visiting Tania and Keith. We had a really great time and ended up spending an extra day and only coming back on Tuesday! There was lots of food and lots of wine! A great weekend all around.....Cortona is in eastern Tuscany on the border of Umbria. It is perched high on mountain overlooking the Valdichiana. On Friday night we headed into town to have dinner....the Christmas lights were up and it was quite festive!We headed to Osteria del Teatro for dinner. The restaurant was really good!Reed had the fagottini al caprino e carciofi (pasta with goat cheese and artichokes) followed by the caramelle al radicchio con pancetta e pesto di pinoli (hand-made pasta made into "caramel candy" shape with radicchio, pancetta, and pine nut sauce). I had the ravioli al ragu di chianina e funghi porcini followed by the same caramelle pasta.Along with dinner, we all shared two bottles on wine: one from Basilicata and the other from Puglia (both regions that we are about to visit!).For dessert we opted for the il mio tagliere di cioccolato where the serves comes and shaves a number of different chocolates tableside. There were to many to count but there was one with black peppercorns and another with balsamic vinegar! As we left the restaurant we noticed that it had started to snow!Saturday we headed out to a vineyard, Faralli, that Tania and Keith had learned about at a wine festival in Arezzo.We tried quite a few wines, all were really good. The interesting part is that it is a very small vineyard that produces about 3,000 bottles annually, but they have their own bottling machine (something small vineyards rarely have).Ollie got a chance to play with Murphy too! It snowed on and off the whole weekend and you can just make out some flakes in the picture.Sunday we headed to Torrita di Siena for the Christmas Market. Every year Torrita has a "Palio," in mockery of Siena, in which they race donkeys instead of horses! The main piazza was all lit up with Christmas lights and we stopped by to see a huge indoor nativity scene that had been built.After getting back from Torrita, Reed made a non-Italian dinner: Shrimp and vegetable tempura and Thai Red Curry.Monday Reed and Keith decided to cook one last meal, using a huge piece of pork.They grilled it on the fireplace upstairs....Final product:We have been really busy and have lots more to post about in the next few days as our last days in Siena and trip to the South quickly approach![...]

Trucker Strike!!


There is officially a full blown trucker strike going on here in Italy! The 5-day strike began on Monday as a result of truckers protesting the high price of fuel. Some drivers blocked highways and roads with their trucks, while others formed convoys that deliberately slowed traffic on major highways. This is causing a crisis as no food, merchandise, gas etc. can be delivered anywhere! With more than 70 percent of Italy's merchandise delivered by truck, this is a huge problem! By this morning, almost all gas stations had run out of gas and the ones that did have gas had huge lines on people waiting (even emergency vehicles-ambulances, police cars, fire trucks-are running out of gas).

(image) Google News picture

Being that we don't have a car, we actually did not realize this was going on to be honest until today. Yesterday we stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and sure they were out of a few things but nothing to really take note of. Today we walked down to the new huge grocery store near the train station and it was empty! Almost as if they were going out of business. Reed went in and said that there was barely any food, and what was left (spinach and tomatoes were the only vegetables) was about three times as expensive at it usually is!

This is what a lot of the grocery stores look like here:

No joke! And there is still two more days of this strike to go!

There are more consequences....The pharmaceutical association is warning that there could be drug shortages if this strike continues and Fiat, the Turin-based car manufacturer temporarily closed a number of it's factories and laid off 22,000 workers because parts were not being delivered.

Only in Italy!

A Taste of Puglia: Orecchiette with Garbanzos, Tomatoes, Arugula, and Feta


One of the stops on our Southern Getaway is Puglia, also known as Apulia. This region is the heel of Italy and has only recently become a tourist destination. It looks beautiful! It is very Greek and very Italian at the same time (it was actually part of Greece at one point). On our trip we are heading to Alberobello, Trani, Locorotondo, and Ostuni.Alberobello- the trulliTraniLocorontondoOstuniMost people know little about the region or it's products. In fact, Apulia produces 20% of the world's olive oil and 43% of Italy's olive oil! As a region, it also produces more wine than any other region and has 25 D.O.C. wines. I guess the Tuscans have just been more successful at marketing their product and their region!The cuisine of Apulia is known as the poor man's cuisine. Vegetables have the leading role in the Apulian diet, including pasta sauces. Most sauces are simple, barely cooked and usually made from vegetables-barely cooked tomatoes; creamy ricotta; toasted breadcrumbs and garlic; broccoli and cauliflower, beans and chickpeas, fennel and arugula.This recipe utilizes orecchiette or "little ears," the typical pasta of this region. It's made with hard flour and water rolled into sausage shapes and then cut into little disks with a knife.They are then pressed with a thumb to resemble little ears that catch and hold the pasta sauce.Adapted from an Epicurious Recipe:Orecchiette with Garbanzos, Tomatoes, Arugula, and Feta1 pound orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta)1 pound tomatoes diced (liquid reserved)7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided1 small thinly sliced red onion (can also use green onions)1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley plus sprigs for garnish4 garlic cloves, minced (or to taste)4 cups Arugula1 15 1/2-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained, patted dry2 cups feta cheese, coarsely crumbledPreparation:1. Combine diced tomatoes (and tomato juice), garlic, onions, oil, and parsley in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit at least 30 minutes.2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garbanzo beans and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add garbanzo beans, arugula, and pasta to tomato mixture in bowl; toss to coat. Add feta; toss briefly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley.Serve warm or let stand at room temperature up to 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)This came out quite good. Stay tuned for more information about our trip to Puglia and what we specifically plan on seeing while we are there!Further reading: To read more about Apulia check out this post or the New York Time's article The Heel is Rising.[...]

Christmas Time Has Arrived in Siena and a few other things of note


Christmas time has finally arrived here in Siena. Yesterday I happened to be walking by Palazzo Salimbeni (the home of Monte dei Paschi bank) and noticed that they were putting up the Christmas tree. Today as I walked home with Mr. O, they were putting the finishing touches on the lighting. It is quite nice......even if it is a little scraggly. We've seen a few other "public" trees around town set up in piazzas or on streets. We joked the other day that they were worse than Charlie Brown's Christmas tree! They are really small! I walked by a stand tonight on the side of the road selling Christmas trees and the majority of them were about 3 feet tall-and that's being generous.Still, it is starting to be quite festive around here which is great! Not to mention there is a chance for snow this weekend.....!We have had a mildly successful week so far accomplishing a few things that we need to get done. We have basically booked all of our hotels for our 2+ week trip in January and because it is low season we are paying less than the advertised price at almost every hotel-yippee!! That means more money for food! I've had quite a good time planning out our agenda and I know we will barely see (or taste) all that the regions have to offer, but we are looking forward to many more trips here in the future!We have had slight success in trying to figure out exactly what forms we need in order to bring Mr. O back (not going to leave him here)! Yesterday we hiked out to the closest vet...took about 30 minutes to get there (very reassuring if there was an emergency) only to turn back around again. I had my first real taste of the "Italian System." First of all, there was one waiting room but NO receptionist (this is apparently what all doctors offices are like as well-I'm just glad we have not experienced this in person!), just a bunch of other people waiting to be seen by the vet. All I wanted to do was ask about getting Mr. O a pet passport (which is apparently free) but the room was filled with people and pets and who knows how long it would take to get to ask this simple question! So back home we went.Our trip to the vet being a bust, today, we decided to try to find the Azienda Sanitaria Locale because apparently (from my research), this "mysterious" organization can give you a pet passport as well as issuing you your export certificate which allows you to export your dog after you pay a $30 fee at the post office! I find it quite ironic that I need to pay Italy to be allowed to leave with Mr. O! Anyway, I say that the ASL is mysterious because on one hand they issue these export certificates but they are also the organization that is equivalent to 911 in the U.S. Weird. Anyway, the ASL main office is located in the old psychiatric hospital here in Siena (great!). We head over there and they are actually quite helpful. But of course, this is not the right place to go. They tell me we need to go to a different office which is outside the walls and you need to take a bus to get there! AHHH!!! We'll be doing that soon....The other thing I really wanted to do this week was look into trying to take a tour of the bottinis (especially since we have a bottini in our apartment). I had read just the other day on the internet how it is possible to take a tour and I thought it would something that would be really neat and interesting for me and Reed to get to do. So today we headed over to the information center. They told us t[...]

Siena, It's Like Living in a Museum.


Two Italian girls that I know here (both from southern Italy) always describe Siena as a museum and say that living here is like living in a museum. It is kind of true. There is so much history within the walls and when you stop and read about the city it is quite interesting. On Saturday (while Reed was working), Ollie and I took a walk around the city to get pictures of some of the more interesting buildings around Siena.Siena was on the main pilgrimage route from Northern Europe to Rome and the south and was a frequent stopping point for pilgrims. The constant influx of of pilgrims helped establish the Monte Paschi di Siena bank and also was responsible for the establishment of the Spedale di Santa Maria della Scala, the hospital. Although this is no longer the hospital (thank god!) it served as the city's hospital for more than 800 years and was in use until the 1980s-Yikes! Today it functions as a museum.Santa Maria della Scala is part of Piazza del Duomo and is right in front of the Duomo (the Duomo faces the spedale). Santa Maria was one of the first hospitals in all of Europe! Legend says that the hospital was established in the 9th century by a cobbler turned monk who took care of orphans. However, it is more likely that the hospital was established by canons from the cathedral (duomo) to provide hospitality and medical care for pilgrims (the hospital also was an orphanage, taking in gettatelli, abandoned children).Siena was on the Via Francigena, the trade route between Rome and Northern Europe. The route passed right below the city walls of Siena. As a result, numerous rest stops (ospedali) sprung up around Siena. There were more than 40 ospedali within the Sienese territory and Santa Maria della Scala was one of the most important ones.These ospedali were established with the intent of serving as an abode and shelter for pilgrims, not necessarily a hospital by modern terms. Santa Maria and the other ospedali were to function as a hospital that looked after the sick, but also could serve as refuge and a food kitchen for the entire town during periods of plague and famine. The credo of Santa Maria was "hospitality rather than hospitalization."The church controlled the hospital until the 14th century and used donations to support itself (the earliest recorded donations are from 1090!). By the 14th century the city had taken control of the hospital.Some of the funds donated to the hospital were diverted away from humanitarian purposes to artistic and architectural commissions. During the 1500s, the exterior facade was frescoed (these works were destroyed by the elements) and an interior room, the Sala del Pellegrinaio, was also frescoed.The Basilica di San Domenico was built in the 13th century by the Dominicans and dominates the area surrounding it. Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Siena, was said to perform miracles here. If you go inside the church you can see Saint Catherine's face and thumb preserved (although ironically her face and thumb are on opposite sides of the church!). It is a little freaky!A crumbling old building....The Loggia Mercanzia is located at the intersection of Via Banchi di Sopra (the main street in Siena) and Via Banchi di Sotto (which leads to a Porta Romana, and onwards to Rome). It was designed as a tribune house for merchants to do their deals and also a site where the daily exchange was established.It was also at this place where traveling pi[...]

Wurstel, Brezen, and Plans for January


Since getting back from Verona on Monday night, we've had a busy week. Our number one priority has been trying to plan our time once we leave Siena (at the end of December). We thought about trying to spend one or two more months elsewhere (one in the South and/or one in Verona) but realized there are a lot of places we want to travel to and we could either travel for a short period of time (three weeks) and see the places we want to see, or choose one of the many places and move there and not travel. We chose to travel!We've been working hard to try to create an itinerary that works with our budget and our time constraints (we are looking to fly home around January 18th-flights are very reasonable at that time!). We've even been able to be in contact with a few hotels and have one confirmed reservation already! Our tentative plans include heading to Sorrento (near Naples) for a few days; Ostuni and Alberobello in Puglia (to see the trulli); Matera (a crumbling old city where Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ was filmed); on to Sicily to see the Greek temples in Siracusa and the fabulous food markets in Palermo; then back to Verona for a few days before heading out of Milan)I've also been working on figuring out the requirements for bringing Ollie back. Luckily the U.S. only requires that the dog been given a rabies vaccination within one year. Italy though, apparently has a few requirements for you to be able to export your dog.With all this planning, we have still had some time to do a few things. On Wednesday (in between dealing with our landlady) we stopped by the weekly market:We did not end up buying any artichokes-maybe this Wednesday. On Friday we headed over to the Christmas market that they had set up the week before in the park near the Fortress.They have a weird mixture of stands: a spice man, people selling trinkets, and food stalls including crepes, wurstel, pretzels, beer etc. Very little Italian Food. Someone told Reed that it was a Northern European Christmas market.Reed opted for a wurstel con crauti.....It was huge!Not being the biggest sausage/wurstel (hot dog) fan myself, I opted for a Brezen. At the time I thought it was like a pretzel (shape) but it tasted a lot like a doughnut.There were many options to choose from....In the end I chose the Brezen Krapfen.....It was huge too!! And sweet!Then it was back to more trip planning....On a side note, Reed got to meet Al Gore at Osteria Le Logge on Wednesday. Al Gore was in town to celebrate the birthday of the restaurant's owner. They all got to drink a really old Brunello too![...]