Thursday, June 17, 2010


In Bologna we also took in the Medieval Museum and tried to get to the City collection;

we just missed the entry time but ended up having a nice conversation with the ticket-taker; mostly in Italian! Much of our time that day was taken up by trekking through a gigantic open-air market and questing for a reccomended gelato place, which was well worth the walk;
Dried fig with honey plus lemon! Amazing!
We had a long 12-hour day to take advantage f the "slow train" prices, but it was worth it to have 2 meals in Bologna, even though the second one was apertivo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Towers and Ragu and Musuems and...

It's all going by so quickly. Two and a half weeks left in Florence. It's almost over! I'm desperate to see everything I can here in the city; I have an appointment at the Uffizi tomorrow (if anything is mandatory here that is!), and I managed two musuems yesterday after my Food and Culture of Italy class.

First I attended the Leonardo Da Vinci musuem, which was a bit dissapointing. They had his robot-knight (which I think was not a copy, hard to tell from the placard), and three notebooks as actual artifacts. The rest of the display was composed of working models (mostly in wood) of the more famous machines from his notebooks. The sign said "no photos"but I cheated in the hall of mirrors.
Next, I made my way to the Antiquities Musuem. They have a breathtaking collection of Eutruscan, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts. The pottery collection on the second story is particularly exquisite, with many pieces of astounding artistic quality and expressiveness. Many of these pieces have been restored to be almost complete. There are also numerous bronze sculptures and an extensive collection of sarcophogi; also an intact Egyptian chariot!
I was pretty worn out after spending 3 hours on my feet staring at these treasures, but it was almost time for the San Marco curch to re-open (4:00) so I sat in SS Annunciata square to rest my legs until it opened at ten past. This church is over 700 years old, and I was deeply moved by the gravitas of the place and the heady air of centuries of worship. I am not a practicing Catholic, but I have a healthy respect for spirituality. I was moved to light a candle for my late Great-Aunt Pat, who I felt would like it if I remembered her in at least one of the many beautiful, old churches I have visited this month; in this one particularly I felt her urging me to make such a gesture. She was a devout Catholic, and would have loved to have been with me, and I feel that she has been.

Last weekend my friend Alycia and I visited San Giminano on Friday and Saturday we went to Bologna, this time joined by Alycia's friend Meredith. On Sunday I took a stroll through the Boboli Gardens and the connected Porcelain Musuem and Costume Musuem.

San Giminano is my favorite! The towers, the intact walls, the clearly Midaeval nature of the town have been preserved (though for the unfortunate reasons of repeated plagues and resultand economic hardship).
Alycia and I split up; she to shop, I to explore, and set a time to meet for lunch. First I climbed the Torre Forte
And took a bunch of pictures
Then I walked around for a while, and we met for a tasty lunch. After, we had gelato (of course!) at one of the best places I've been so far, and I had two of the best flavors so far; saffron and blood orange. Yum!
We then visited the torture musuem (big ripoff), and took the bus home.

Bologna was also lovely, with its famous loggia.

I could not visit Bologna without tasting pasta with Bolognese sauce, so I had Gnocci con Ragu for lunch. Delicious!
That's all I have time for today, I'll try to catch up more later this week; Rome this weekend (a change in plans) and San Giminano again for a Midaeval festival. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Weekend Adventures, and More

Last Wednesday, June second, we has a birthday feast for my friend Ali who had a birthday on the 5th. Here is an excerpt from my report on the meal for my Food and Culture of Italy class:

Last Wednesday night I attended my friend Ali's birthday dinner at Il Latin. Her father is a regular and insisted that her friend arrange the dinner for her at that particular restaurant. He also arranged with the restaurant staff that we would be served the full spread and paid for the entire dinner. Ali has been told that this would be a 'nice dinner' with a few friends; when she arrived, she discovered that we were ten, in total; a pleasant surprise for her. Once we were assembled, the waiter started bringing in dishes. Before Ali arrived, the waiter had already opened table wine and served bottles of water. The table was already set for ten when we arrived. Cloths covered the whole table, and we each had a cloth napkin, two forks, a knife, and a spoon.

The waiter was extremely friendly, and explained to us that first he would bring us some appetizers if that was acceptable to us.

The appetizer course began with a plate of prosciutto placed before each diner. They then brought plates of cantaloupe slices, a plate of some kind of cold barley salad, a plate of salad composed of tomato slices, fresh mozzarella and basil, and finally a plate of crackers with warm pate. Each platter came with serving utensils, except the crackers. This was all accompanied with baskets of bread. They gave us time to work on this course for a while then cleared away the plates. I was the only one at the table who ate a whole pate cracker. Flavia (a student from China) tried one but did not like it.

There were other tables nearby with other people dining. As the waitstaff served them, they kept aware of how far we had gotten with the appetizers. They cleared away serving dishes as we emptied them, and once it was apparent that we were finished with that course, they took the small plates that had been placed before each individual along with any silverware we left on the plates. If we left all silver off the plates, they took the one fork we had used.

After this, the waiter explained that for the first course he would bring pastas and soups, and for the second a platter of meats. Large bowls were brought to us and silverware replaced, then we were left with two platters of pasta and two of soup. We finished only one platter of pasta (the ravioli). The waiter stayed aware of our progress, and came over to ask of we were finished once we slowed down. The same protocol was followed once this course was over; new dishes were brought to each of us (large plates this time), silver replaced, and the second course brought. This course was a platter heaped high with roasted meat; beef, chicken, and pork. We were also unable to finish this course. At the end of this course, champagne flutes and a bottle of sparkling wine was brought to the table as the dishes were cleared away.

We were then offered dessert. New plates were brought (small ones), and a smaller fork for each of us, and two platters of flaky pastries for the table to share; each platter came with a larger fork and a knife for dividing the pastries. The lights were dimmed, and one of the platters was placed before Ali with a lit sparkler; the waitstaff and all of the guests in our room sang "Happy Birthday" in English. Then they brought glasses of limoncello, them finally glasses of amaretto and biscotti to dip in the amaretto. They offered coffee, but we were all too full to even think of drinking or eating anything more. We all then thanked the waiter and went for a long walk.

Last weekend I also took three separate day trips. On Friday, June 4th I went on a class-sponsored wine tasting in Suvereto. Gualdo del Re is the name of the winery. They grow their on grapes (and olives), press and ferment on site, and offer meals and accommodations.
First they showed us around the production facilities,

Here are the fermentation vats for red and white wine.
This is the aging cellar, where red wine is aged for 12-18 months.

Red wine aging in bottles.
Then they showed us the fields.
Grape vines.
Olive trees.
We took a walk to the town of Suvereto,

then came back for lunch.

First course; pasta with wild boar.
Second course: roast meats (all pork) with potato.
Dessert; Fig squares.
Each course was served with its own wine; the appetizers with white, the first course with a blended red, and the second course with a merlot. I am bringing home a bottle of the merlot!
After a long, leisurely lunch, we took a very short trip to the beach, then went home.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting There: 12 Hours in London

The last couple of days have been fairly sedate as classes are getting more serious and I'm concentrating a little more on just settling into the city after a fabulous weekend day trip to Cinque Terre. My excursions have been limited to scoping out the various open-air markets around the city; a useful task, but not narly as exciting. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to catch up on some of the experiences I skipped over since this trip began.

First, started this trip with almost no sleep. The night before my flight, I had the chance to spend some time with friends I haven't seen in over a decade- in Boston. It ended up being a late night. My fellow student, Alycia, had offered to have me stay in her parent's guest bedroom and have her mother drive us down to the plane together, as we had an early flight. I got to her house after 2, and we left at about 5:30 AM.

Once on the plane in Logan, I was able to doze for a couple of hours. We landed at Heathrow Airport in London, before I felt like more than a couple of hours had passed. We sorted out the tube and made our way to King's Cross

and the hostel where we were to stay for a few hours before getting up early (again) and jetting off to Gatwick to catch our flight to Florence.

78 Clink is an interesting building; once a courthouse that Dickens worked in (that apparently inspired some of his works), the courtroom is now a cybercafe!

I had to take the opportunity to sit in the judge's chair to go online.

The accommodations were minimal, but at least there were beds, and the bar was still open. We "nipped off for a pint" before bed, then sacked out for 4 hours or so; up at 5 for a shower (inasmuch as we slept at all; our room slept 14), then back on the tube.

We took the tube to Victoria station, changed to the National rail to Gatwick, then took a completely unnecessary ride to the wrong terminal. This is what happens when airlines consistently use "Partners" and you don't read the fine print on your ticket. The British airways clerk didn't help by being extra snooty.

"I have a flight to Florence and your kiosk says I can't check in."
"Oh, we don't fly to Florence. You must need another airline." With a sneering smile, and no motion to take my ticket or continue the conversation.
"Well, you sold me a ticket to Florence!" Forcefully, and with no intent to leave her desk until she took the ticket from my outstreched hand and dealt with my problem.
Taking the ticket, "Oh, I see. You're flying Meridiana. South Terminal. You can take the shuttle over there."

So we run to the other terminal and get in line. Meridiana apparently enforces their (checked and carryon) baggage restrictions with a heavy hand; Alycia was charged an ungodly sum for her overage.

In security, my bag was pulled from the x-ray machine. After sorting out that my coat hanger were not, in fact, some large arcane metal object, we finally boarded the plane! We touched down in Florence a couple of hours later, were met by friendly and helpful staff from the Institute, and herded onto taxis to our apartments.