Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Taylors Visit Italy: Venice

The finale!  I remember the first time I stepped out of the Venice train station.  You are greeted by the hustle and bustle and instantly overwhelmed with the people, boats, bridges, and buildings, decaying and dripping with elegance.  I'll never forget it and always love to see the reactions of first-timers. 

We immediately hopped onto a vaporetto (a water bus) and sailed away.  The route takes you down the entire length of the s-shaped Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco.  Along the way, you are treated to the most picturesque view of the canal's palaces. 

We arrived to Piazza San Marco with it's raspberry swirl Doge's Palace, ornate basilica, and towering campanille.  After a quick panini lunch, we wandered through the inside of the basilica, gawking at the glorious gold mosaics.

We took another vaporetto to the island of Murano.  Immediately upon arriving, a man directed us to what we thought was a glass factory/demonstration.  Of course it was only the expensive showroom....We window-shopped and gawked at all the glass along Murano's canals.   It was our first visit to Murano as well, and I especially enjoyed the lack of crowds.  There were several interesting modern art sculptures done in glass scattered over the island.

We headed back to the main island of Venice and strolled casually to the Rialto.  The moon was out and glowing over the canal.  From here, we started our dinner pub crawl.  We hopped from one wine bar to the next, ordering a glass and whatever munchies looked tasty.  Afterwards, we crawled over to San Marco to take in the lights and orchestras.  We listened, danced, and laughed in the night air.  To end the evening, we hopped on the vaporetto once more for a flood-lit ride past the decadent palaces, back down the Grand Canal.  

We returned to Venice the next day to peruse just a little more.  We visited the Frari Church in the San Polo district.  Titian's The Assumption of Mary at the alter is one of my favorites.  I especially enjoy how the choir frames it when you stand by his tomb.

We visited the Rialto again and stood at the top, taking in all the activity below.  It was entertaining to watch how all the boats navigated around each other.  There was a full range of sizes- tiny gondolas, mid-size water taxis, and large vaporetti.  Somehow they made it all work while seeming effortless.

We ended the evening with dinner at Zairo in Padua.  It was a lovely ristorante with delcious food and the perfect Italian sendoff.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Taylors Visit Italy: Vicenza, Soave, and Verona

We arrived in Vicenza just before dinner.  We decided to go to Portega Vecchia, a ristorante pizzeria that we frequent often. 
In the morning, we visited the market in Piazza dei Signori.  I've always loved how the city comes alive on market days.  It was neat to share that with my family.  Michael had never been to the weekly market, so it was a first for him too!  We purchased all the makings for lunch and dinner from the many vendors: veggies, cheese, and seafood. 

After a lunch of caprese salad, bread, and wine we followed the tradition of siesta- afternnoon relaxation.
Later, we ventured back out to the center to enjoy apertivi- food and drink that stimulate your appetite for dinner.  Spritz are the common appertivi here in the north of the boot.  I'll share more about spritz later....

For dinner, Michael and I cooked an Italian-American dish: Venetian Mac-n-Cheese with shrimp and radicchio.  We dined and drank wine, hearing about the previous part of his parents' Italian vacation, while planning the days to come.

The next day, we set out to tour Soave in the morning, Verona in the afternoon and evening.  Soave is a small town famous for it's production of the fine white wine called....Soave.  The center is small and quaint, and it felt sleepy compared to Vicenza and especially Florence.  We climbed to the ruined castle on the hill overlooking the town.  It's surrounded by many, many beautiful vineyards.  After exploring the park and hiking back down, we popped into Cantina di Soave for some tasting.  We tried two different varieties of Soave and a Valpolicella, a local red.  After our purchase, we headed to Verona in a happy mood.

Once in Verona, we ate lunch at another fav, Locanda di Juliette, where we munched on a plentiful variety of crostini.  We wandered the streets, checking out Juliet's balcony and her statue along with the frescoed Piazza Erbe.  We paused many times for cafe, wine, and spritz; meandering here and there.  We ended the evening with another wonderful meal at Pizzeria Du de Cope, in our opinion the absolute best pizza place in north of Italy!   

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Taylors Visit Italy: Florence and Pisa

A few weeks ago, Michael's parents traveled across the pond for an Italian vacation.  They flew into Rome, spent a few days there, rented a car and drove to Florence.  I trained down from Vicenza and met them in Florence. 

After dropping of my luggage and grabbing a panino, we wandered the streets of Florence, the birth place of the Renaissance.  We found a wonderful ceramics shop with beautiful pieces, all handmade and hand-painted.  I purchased this olive dish after falling in love with the pattern.

We returned later and my mother-in-law purchased olive oil and balsamic vinegar holders to add to my new collection.  Thank you again! 

For dinner, we ate at a personal favorite and highly recommended place called Trattoria Za-Za.  It was delcious, as expected.

The next day, we visited the Boboli Gardens.  Boboli in Italian means wooded area. The name is perfect for this place.  Sprawling, green, peaceful, and lovely only begin to describe the space.  It's a nice escape from the loud, crowded streets of Florence.  I'm sure the gardens are even more impressive in the spring when every thing's blooming.  In addition to the landscape, the gardens provided a picturesque view of the city, including Brunelleschi's Dome and Giotto's Campanile. 

We found a cute enoteca (wine bar) for lunch, where we had mozzarella di bufala wrapped with prosciutto.  My mouth is watering now just thinking about it.  After lunch, we roamed the art-filled Pitti Palace, taking in the decadent royal apartments.  The palace and the gardens definitely reminded me of  the Chateau of Versailles in Paris.

When we were leaving the palace, I noticed a guy in a Phish t-shirt.  I struck up a conversation and found out that he's studying abroad this semester and will be missing Phish's show at his school, Syracuse, this fall.  I totally understand brah... we missed shows in our own town for the same reason- being abroad...
We capped off the Florence visit with a trip to the Galleria dell'Accademia to pay our respects to Michelangelo's David.  It was my second viewing, and I was in just as much awe as the first.  The scale, the life-like anatomical preciseness and detail down to the muscle origins and insertions always impress me.  There was a special exhibit as well- Robert Mapplethorpe: Perfection in Form.   It showcased his photography of the human form, sometimes only body parts, sometimes comparing the body to other forms in nature or a still-life.  He also displayed the androgyny of the male and female bodies.  The exhibit presented an excellent comparison of Michelangelo's study of the human body through sculpture and Mapplethorpe's through photography and film. I really enjoyed it.  This review describes how the modern photographs compliment the Renaissance sculptures.

We then ventured to Pisa.  We saw the leaning tower and took the obligatory holding, pushing, leaning pictures.  We grabbed a quick lunch, dining on the Bapistry steps across from the tower, among many tourists and pigeons.  Then it was on to Vicenza!


Friday, November 6, 2009

What's for Dinner? Round 1 Wrap-up

I hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual visit to my Cucina Italiana. Round 2 will follow soon. I’m thinking I’ll let you in on the Christmas holidays, Italiano style…

My friends and family can attest that I’ve come along way. My mom always reminds me of when I had no clue how to turn on the stove. Then, “cooking” was following the instructions on a box of Stovetop stuffing. Remember the easy-bake pasta craze? That was next in my cooking evolution. I once tried to make a dessert that required pudding. I purchased cook-and-serve rather than instant, not realizing there was a difference. All my previous pudding experience involved instant and I had no idea what to do. Luckily, my kitchen savvy friend Julie was there to save the day (and the dessert). Not too long ago, I used canned pre-made sauces like “sun-dried tomato alfredo” and thought they were great. Now, I still need a cookbook or recipe but I make sauces from scratch, starting with simple Roma tomatoes. I’ve pick up tons of techniques by watching Food Network (during my USA visits) and there’s always more to learn. Eventually I would like to go to the market, pick out what’s fresh and just come home and make something - cook without the reliance on a recipe.

Other discoveries I’ve made- cooking isn’t that hard but may require some practice plus trial and error. Anything involving basic ingredients takes some extra time. If you plan ahead, you can double your recipe, do the work once and enjoy easy but tasty leftovers. And finally, it helps to have a wonderful husband who will try everything I make.

Check back soon for my next food challenge: home made pasta! I’ll let you know how it goes…

For now, go cook something!
(Leave me a comment. I’d love to read about what you made!)