Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Bull in the Arcade: the Living Room of Milano

In the 4 storey galleria/arcade built in 1861 (to 1877) in Milano, and  named for the first King of the Kingdom of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, there is a BULL. 
It's a particular bull, made of ceramics, with the power to bring women happiness in their emotional and love relationships.  Or good luck to anyone, who knows the secret .
Near Louis Vuitton there's a Torino Coat of Arms, and inside it  is the bull:

Gently place your right heel on the bull's genitals, and spin 3 times: this is sure to bring good luck!!

It's not encouraged overly  by the local ufficials as it causes damage to the mosaics.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tripe tripe tripe: yum yum yum

 A popular lunch time treat in Firenze/Florence is a panino filled with tripa and your choice of sauces and condiments.  A busy tripe cart can be found most days opposite the ancient San Ambrogio church, not far from the San Ambrogio market, outside the famous upmarket Cibreo restaurant in Firenze. 
And who said Italians don't queue?

Monday, October 14, 2013

What a Find in Rome! Meid in Nepols

En route from Capri and Napoli  to Toscana, a recommendation from a friend was a great way to unwind from our tour on the Amalfi Coast and Capri.  At 7.30pm, usually far too early for Italians to be out dining, there were already groups gathering at the door of Meid in Nepols, a Napolitana Cucina and Pizzeria, not far from the Stazione Termini. 
 Luckily, I was snuck in on the condition that I'd be out by 9.15pm.  A glass of their good local (to Napoli) house red, a half bottle of Acqua Nepi "effervescente naturale", grilled zucchine flowers fillled with ricotta, and a serve of Napolitan fried vegetables and sardines was all I needed after eating generously and very well for 11 days with a fun group.  On the large screened wall, instead of raucous game shows on TV was  a a slow slide show of personal photos and scenes of Napoli, Capri and surrounding areas.  Some dating back to early 40s, a variety of modern and old.  Suddenly a full screen of the owners' dog, his hair swept back, leaning out of a fast moving car, smile on his face.

At 8.15  three generations of a family started to arrive, the first being mother and baby girl in a pram, the latter of course becaming the focal point of the group.  The table was set for 16, although the stroller and chairs moved continuously, as the pride of joy moved around.   The 6month old was a little overcome with so many relatives pinching her cheeks in greeting. A game of peek-a-boo by Nonno saved the day.  Together with many "chee chees" . All drank local water, not bottled.

By 9pm the trattoria had filled up with groups of young people - all Italian.   Eventually young Uncle arrived apparently with a new girlfriend, as she was introduced to all members of the family.

At another table set for 4, the early arriving couple who had been waiting since 8pm,  finally greeted their friends' arrival with much kissing and laughter.  I wonder what happens in Italy if one doesn't have a partner?

Pignoletto in Bologna

A new grape for me: pignoletto. And, for a usually red wine drinker, a wonderful surprise: Classico Pignoletto at a winery in the hills just outside Bologna.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dottore Dottore!! a Ferrara

In October many university students around Italy were receiving their first degree.  In Ferrara this young man, according to tradition, was wearing a wreath of leaves on his head, carrying a bottle of wine, surrounded by friends: at every stop point his friends sing "Dottore, Dottore!", and he has to have a swig of his bottle.

Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy

In October six of us on Ciao Bella Tours' "Food for Thought: Wrapping Emilia Romagna" tour dined at the best restaurant in Italy.   Or, more accurately, nominated as the best restaurant in Italy according to the 2013 Michelin Guide, the Espresso Guide, and the Pelligrino Guide.  And the 3rd best in the world. Chef: Massimo Bottura
What an experience!
We all chose the degustazione menu with paired wines (although it started with a beer!) .

This was the menu:

Memory of a mortadella sandwich

Prosciutto from Parma by F.lli Galloni Langhirano

Massimo Spigaroli Culatello aged 42 months DOP

Tagliatelle with rag├╣

Traditional Modenese Tortellini served with
cream of “Bianca Modenese” Parmigiano Reggiano

Mora romagnola ribs lacquered with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena

Warm and cold “zuppa inglese”

And the wines:
Beltaine beer smoked chestnut and juniper

Timorasso Farewell 2011 Massa GLOCAL

Ribolla gialla 2008 Damijan Podversic

Friulano 2010 Marco Sara

Croatina Stagioni 2008 Massa GLOCAL

Moscato d’Asti Lumine 2012 "Ca’d’Gal"

Saturday, September 14, 2013


We've tried a variety of aperitivi at our "Happy Hour" over the last few weeks: Negroni, Campari, Martini, Limoncello to mention but a few.

And a variety of gelati of course.

Here's a new one for  me, apparently a favourite of Catanian locals: Fiori di Pistacchio

Bellini , Catania Sicily, Pizza

Sadly today was the final day of our tour in Sardegna and Sicilia.
We left Siracusa after breakfast to check out the amazing Fish Market of Catania, and a visit to the nearby Duomo of Catania. Probably the most famous son of Catania was Vincenzo BELLINI, born here in 1801.  A child prodigy, he composed several operas  one of the most famous being "Norma" in 1831. So we've been eating a few versions of "Pasta alla Norma". 
Although Bellini lived most of his short life in Italy, he actually died in Paris in 1835, and only later were his remains brought to the Duomo of Catania, where stands his large marble memorial. And the opera theatre here of course is Teatro Bellini.

So tonight, alone after a wonderful fortnight of dining with our fellow travellers, what better than a "Pizza alla Norma", delivered to my door at a cost of only Euro4.  Hard to believe!  So here's a promo for Pizzeria La Principessa, in via Sebastiano Catania, 175 - in case you're ever in Catania searching for an excellent wood fired pizza.
P.S. we also enjoyed drinking more than a few "Bellini"s.... same surname, different family, artist not composer.

Orgosolo, Sardegna

Orgosolo, in the mountains of central Sardegna, is steeped in history, hundreds of Murals on the walls of houses, rocks and shops telling stories of shepherds lives, people's struggles, and political  comments.  Allow yourself an hour or more to stroll down the main street, and other more secret places.

Alghero sunset 3 September 2013

Sail boat in Sardegna


A wonderful day on a sailboat in Sardegna.  Great weather and great company.  Hoisting the sails.  Swimming and snorkelling in the clear clean waters of the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Zibella, the king of hams, as an antipasto at Hotel Villa Malpensa, near Milano, Italy.  "Millefoglie di culatello ICP Zibello con mouse di Caprino e pane Carasau"... the carta di musica bread.

Mo Vida Restaurant Bocconi at MoVida, Sardegna, Sardinia

Lunch in sunny Alghero, Sardegna at MoVida ristorante on Bastioni Magellano (the fortress walls) overlooking the port.
We tried and ate Bocconi, in shells a little like conce.  Dig out the meat with a skewer, salt it , dip in the olive oil based liquid.  Maybe an acquired taste, but Tim learnt the skill quickly.

Vegetarians don't look !

Antipasto at Hotel Villa Malpensa: "Grand selezione di salumi Italiani con Castelmagio e miele do castagno".  Selection of various cold meats with castlemagio cheese and a dipping sauce of chestnut honey.Yum

Secret near Milan

Only 900 metres from busy Malpensa airport is the small town of Vizzola Ticino and Parco Ticino.
Amid many deserted buildings (renovator's
dream), this green woodland/park is a delightful way to relax after a long haul flight into Milano Malpensa airport.  Heading off down via Don A Sacconago towards Piazza Giulio, where is the fresh water pump, handy for locals to bring their bottles to fill.    Onto Mulino di Ferno, past the 2006 shrine to the Madonna di Medjugorje (a new Madonna for me!).  There are 6 walks or roads listed, ranging from 5.9km to 18km in length, and the road appears well used by cyclists.  Past the once-beautiful cast iron gates now almost overgrown with ivy, to the iron bridge built in 1883 by the "Societa nazione delle officine di Savigliano",  the Canale Villoresi, and finally via Strada del Salvetto - far enough for me.  Then back to my hotel, Villa Malpensa.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nuclear Intervention

This sign , of a business named Nucleo Intervento Rapido, was recently spotted in the Piazza Duomo in Milano.  Surely a cause for  confidence.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A new Bridge in Rome: Ponte Fabricio

Well, not really new, but maybe a new one to seek out.  No doubt you've walked past it many times - right in the centre of the city. Ponte Fabricio (not far from the Ponte Garibaldi).
It's named after its first builder Lucio Fabricius, built in 62BC to join the left bank of the river Tevere to the island of Tiberina.  It's 57.3m long, 5.6m wide, and faced with traventina stone.  It's also known as the Bridge of the 4 Heads: legend tells they represent the architects who restored the bridge - although sadly later  a Pope had them beheaded because of their non-perfect life styles in the late 1500s.
In 1746 history tells us there were 8 mills, most floating mills, and most anchored to the pillions of the bridges.

Nowdays, if you walk across the bridge to the island you'll find a Piazza with a Basilica, another church, a ristorante, a gelateria, and a large fountain.  What more do you want?
Antico Caffe dell'Isola is a good spot to stop for a caffe or bite to eat.

Piazza Navona early

Piazza Navona is one of the main hubs of Rome, and usually filled with locals and tourists alike.  But if you get there early (like, before 10am!!) it's interesting watching the stand holders setting up their wares.  Quite a social occasion for them, chatty, finding the best spot - or at least the best one available without honing in on someone else's pad.

Beware on the Spanish Steps

If you are in the habit of singing or shouting, BEWARE!  On the so-called Spanish Steps (La Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti in fact) it is forbidden to shout, squall or sing.  Just to let you know! And keep out of the way of cleaners when they're working.

Tripa: a Fiorentine Favourite

I remember as a child being expected to eat tripe.  No doubt the way it was prepared, cooked, served put me off this dish for life.  But then there's Maria's trip - synonymous with "WOW" amongst her friends.  First 10kg tripe is purchased from a specialist tripe "factory" nearby.  Whilst the basis for the sauce is slowly cooking, the vitello (veal) tripe is then carefully sliced up into small thin pieces.  It's washed several times, tehn added to the base, along with tomatoes, and cooked on top of the stove for at least 3 hours.
If you don't know Maria, there are many other places to try tripa in Firenze - including several tripa trolly shops (usually one near San Ambrogia church next to Cibreo, and another behind the small market with the bronze cinghiale),  for a tripa panino at lunch time - or at Mario's trattoria, or  Nerbone at the San Lorenzo market.   Try the tripa Fiorentina..... much better than the tripe we've been used to!


Monday, June 10, 2013


Anchovies or sardines? Still not sure, but marinated in various ways on the Amalfi Coast and Capri, they have been absolutely delicious. So much so that at our final dinner together and on our last night in Capri we all chose ALICI for our antpasto or Primo.



After we arrived at our villa in the hills behind Lucca, and decided to make bruschetta to snack with afternoon drinks, we immediately noticed the absence of salt at the villa. It's usually provided.  So yesterday when in San Gimignano we headed off to buy some.  With no supermercato to be found, we bought some excellent local Extra Vergine Olive Oil, and enquired after salt.  Where can we buy it?  None of the many delicatessen type shops were selling it. "Tabaccheria" a young woman outside a leather shop told us.  I knew that's where you go not only for tobacco, but also postage stamps, SIM cards and to purchase recharging, but salt?? With a little trepidation, I found a tabaccheria nearby, and asked if he sold salt, expecting to be looked at as if yet another strange or stupid straniero.  To my surprise , not only did he stock salt, but I had a choice of fine or coarse, big or small packet.  And even more surprising , the cost was only Euro 1.20.

Medieval Corteo Florence

June 24 is a special day in Firenze/Florence, and a holiday for their patron Saint San Giovanni. The Medieval corteo (The Parade of the Forentine Republic) commenced in the afternoon at Palagio di parte Guelfa, led by 2 police on horseback. At the first corner, 20 metres from the start, one of the horses pooed, so for the entire corteo it was necessary to slightlt break ranks to avoid the large round yellow pat, causing some toilet humour, so to speak, moments . This Medieval corteo is fabulous, and worth planning your trip in Italy to ensure you are in Florence on June 24.

Buffalo Mozzarella

Does Mozzarella cheese actually come from Bufalo?
YES the real mozzarella does! And as we were interested in finding out more about the genuine Italian soft and delicate Mozzarella di Bufalo we visited an organic farm not far from Napoli.  The milking was all done by machines and the big black buffalo were well trained and extremely patient. After being milked they walked straight to their individual food boxes, with a greeting and a nuzzle from their neighbours on arrival.  Later we watched the cheese makers - such strong thumbs!   And realised why Mozzarella is so called: "mozzare" translates as "to cut off", and the mezzatura is the skilled process of doing that by pulling pieces off the main cheese stock. A simple light lunch served in the Vannulo dining area was perfect: wonderful  baby deep red pomodori, fresh bread, and mozzarella naturally. With a touch of Ricotta.