Italy: Where to go? What to do?

Mon 23 Feb, 2004 11:05 pm
When in Rome, do as Romans do.
(This means having your caffè freddo on summer, not on winter, as I mistakenly wrote).
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 12:22 am
I think I've only had semifreddo once in italy, have made it at home, but a while ago (lost in translation that time).

FB, help, we'd love to hear more about your time in italy.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 12:26 am
On Villa Sant'Anselmo, I would guess it is virtually the same place as when you were there, just with some more paint on the outside. We came back from one of our city scouring walkathons one twilight to see the villa San Pio (downhill to Anselmo) with its shutters painted. Not only the shutters but a circle encompassing much of the surrounding walls in deep forest green. Over apricot, or peach, or whatever it was. I trust they fixed that, and yes, next time, they had gotten around to it.

Not to sneer. I'm a fan of ital craftsmanship... practical, ebulliant, individualistic, generally more than competent.

It's still high for my wallet, but possibly low for the ordinary middle class traveler.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 12:39 am
eoe - It was very important to my wife to make the trip to Rome. I love my wife dearly. She puts up with an awful lot living here in Saudi while I work, so doing things like this for her is the least I can do.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 01:09 am
Haven't you been in Rome before, or am I remembering wildly wrong, eoe?
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:32 am
Well, now I'm sad. I can't eat ice cream! Maybe those lactose pills will help.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 10:11 am
Oh, but lots of gelatos are just ices, I think, without cream..
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 10:33 am
Really? Okay, I'm happy again! Thanks.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 12:57 pm
kickycan, like I said, when they say it's apple, it's apple. Not cream and some nice sugary artificial flavor.
In English, you say "ice cream". In Italian, they say "gelato": frozen. No cream in the word.

Osso, is Villa San Pio the one you look through the keyhole and see an arch of plants and, in the center, the magnificent dome of San Pietro?

A word of two about two musts: Firenze and Venezia.

By all means, arrive BY TRAIN to Florence. It is the most magnificent entrance to any city.
Galleria degli Uffizi has the exact size for a museum. And the shops at Ponte Vecchio are not to be missed.

Venice "on the flesh" is much more than you can imagine or have seen. No matter how many documentaries, stills or stories. You have to be there to sense the grandeur, and the decadence.
There are some affordable hotels in Venice. Small houses with romantic decorations. Great for couples. Can't remember the name of any. But they won't come in a pre--arranged package.
There is a magnificent hotel, next to Piazza San Marco, Albergo Danieli. It's worth it to go to the bar and have a drink there.
If you appreciate your wallet, don't eat at the restaurants in Piazza San Marco (and don't have a gelato in the Pantheon Piazza in Rome).

All Italian cities are prone to what Osso has described as a "walkathon". (Yet, Rome is so big, that actually the best way to see it is by moped, "motorino", the favorite teenage vehicle).

If I were going to Italy for the first time, and had only a week or so, I'd stay 3-4 days in Rome, make a one day trip to Naples-Pompei and get 2 full days in Venice.
If I had more time, I'd add Florence.
If they were 2 full weeks, I may also make a trip to Orvieto-Perugia-Assisi in Central Italy or go to the islands of Capri and Ponza near the shores of the Naples province.

Now, that would leave out all of Sicily, some beautiful Toscan cities as Pisa (hard to get by train), Pistoia or Siena; all of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma are all wonderful), the city-state of San Marino; and northern jewels like Mantova, Verona (where you can actually visit the real Juliet's balcony) and the towns surrounding the lake of Garda.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 01:11 pm

I'm fairly sure we made Pisa by train. Mind you, this is going back 20 years, when you could still climb the tower. It's entirely possible things have changed since then.

Keep on talking about places to see. My trip this year has been postponed, but I'm hanging in for next year (fingers crossed). Our focus then, I hope, will be the northern lakes, Florence and Venice, over a couple of weeks.

Any clues on the lakes, places to stay, things to see, or just hang around, will be more than welcome. My entire experience of this area is a day trip from Turin, when we saw, ever so briefly, Como and Bellagio, and drove around a lake. It looked just stunning - and I've been keen to get back ever since, and travel more slowly.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 07:37 pm
My little heart is beating faster, faster, ohhhhhhhhhh! ohhhhhhh! Blinking in pleasure at fbaezer's and margo's posts..

If I was going to italy the first time again, I wouldn't do the trio of Rome, Florence, and Venice, especially in ten days, not to knock your trip if you did. They are wildly different places. I'd pick one and then do side trips, or A side trip. Italy is not all that big, but has differences from town to town within a region, has layered history with a lot of invasion, to and fro, leading to strong connection to the family hearth and location, perhaps as opposed to any governmental body..

I suppose I should mention religion. I think it is a rich place for Catholics to visit; I used to be Catholic, am SO not any more, but I wish my mother could have visited. It also has a rather stiff anticlerical history, antipapal history (consider Scarpa in Venice..) There are so many layers of history and art that I hope people who aren't fortified by the presence of churches dotted about don't assume their own points of view are excluded, even in Rome.

Back to gelato - I remember a deep burgundy gelato named 'mori' or 'mora', from some south american fruit.. I took pictures of Giolitti's gelati, and will post them if I can jump start the scanner one of these days.
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Tue 24 Feb, 2004 08:02 pm
Rome side trips, in no particular order, and no doubt there are more

Tivoli, Villa d'Este, a famous italian garden - actually a primo waterworks. We saw it empty of visitors as it was starting to rain and we sat and had espressos at a table next to the caretakers who were playing with the cats with string toys. This is an extravaganza place, old style extravaganza, as opposed to tempered elegant design. Worth seeing though. The current key water designers must have noticed this villa.

What I didn't know until we got there, and I had looked and looked, is that there is at least one hotel there in the town of Tivoli. (This was in '93, before google blew all our minds.) We walked around as the sky was threatening, and checked out the Hotel Sibyl, and yep, there on the terrace restaurant you could view the Temple to Sibyl (sp?) and waterfall.
Looked really nice to me, as we turned and left to catch our bus. Our bus stopped about a mile back towards Rome at Hadrian's Villa stop, and we didn't get off, my hub had left his umbrella in our room; besides, it was a mile walk from the bus stop into the villa proper. Well, the villa is huge. I am actually really interested in it, but it wouldn't be the first thing I would suggest to most travelers. But... if we had stayed overnight in Tivoli, we could have seen it. Perhaps of keenest interest to space designers like me.

As to the town, two things in my memory - a gentleman who showed us how to find the entrance to Villa d'Este, and our passing through the small street market, a particularly charming one in retrospect.

Then, the Alban Hills and Nemi, all in guide books, I've never been to them, have friend who likes the area a lot.

Ostia Antica and further/farther, Herculaneum, Pompeii, Salerno
another post

on my list to go to, for the horses, another post

Orvieto - well, Orvieto and beyond, read a guidebook, pick a place..
If I had to choose between Orvieto and Siena on a first trip, I'd pick Siena, unless it was mid tourist height time, and then I might pick Orvieto, Todi, Perugia.. Umbertide, I haven't been to Umbertide, but m'list, it's on it..

Some of the prime rivalry (hard to pick, italy is a thick compilation of complex rivalries) was between Firenze (florence) and Siena. Both have elegance and long history, both worth knowing about. If you read up on the history there is not so much intertwining as different points of view. If you have only ten days, and land in, say, Pisa or Rome, I'd get to know one and throw a smile and promise at the other. Florence wins on architecture, yikes, but Siena has one of the key town plazas (piazzas) on earth, don't get me started. Siena's art sang earlier, Florence's, unsurpassed. But as to government, Siena's early take interests me much more than Florence's, by far. See, for example extremely early paintings about good and bad government. My heart is more with Siena, but I care about both places.

On being a tourist in one or the other...the florentines seem more tired of us, only an impression, of course.
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Sat 28 Feb, 2004 03:09 pm
I just dug out a book titled Hotels and Country Inns of Character and Charm in Italy - it's a Fodor's guide, has maps, photos of the hotels, and has a restaurant guide too.

Those listed for Rome -

Hotel Giulio Cesare (near piazza del Populo)
Hotel d'Inghilterra
Hotel Sole al Pantheon
Hotel Raphael
Hotel Carriage (pic has view of Spanish steps)
Hotel Gregoriana (right near Spanish steps)
Hotel Locarno near piazza del Populo
Hotel San Anselmo (that was one I recommended) - I am not sure I believe the price listed, I'd check the website (it seems too cheap)
Hotel Teatro di Pompeo
Hotel Villa del Parco looks good, not pricey
Pensione Scalinata di Spagna - said to be elegant, nicer than the Hassler next door, very handy.
These are all probably on Fodor's website.
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Sun 29 Feb, 2004 12:56 pm
Hey, a friend of mine just told me about the Amalfi coast, and Capri, which she said is as close to paradise as she's ever found. Do you know anything about these spots?
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Mon 1 Mar, 2004 12:44 pm
Capri is a lovely island, even if too touristy.
Not to be missed is the fabulous Villa San Michelle, a house-museaum built by Swedish writer Axel Munthe in the nearby town of Anacapri.


Another great place, and not that full is the island of Ponza (you get the ferry from Gaeta). Part of it is uninhabited and it has formidable secluded "stone beaches".
I went there with a girlfriend, stayed at some peasant's house for bed and breakfast and had an unforgettable romantic week.
(I feel like I'm giving up a cherished tourist secret)


The Bay of Sorrento must be one of the most beautiful in the world.
I haven't been there, but since it has inspired the most beautiful song that I have ever heard ("Caruso", by Lucio Dalla), then it's got to be great.
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Sun 7 Mar, 2004 04:24 pm
There's an article on some good places in Rome in today's new york times -
NYT article on Rome today

I've eaten at the Settimo d'Arancio, liked it. Took a picture of the fried artichoke - I have never seen anything quite like it, like a large brown flower... and it was delicious.
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Sun 7 Mar, 2004 04:30 pm
Lucio Dalla! I have a cd... Hmm, I also like Zucchero Fornaciaro, playing loud as I drive down California 101..

I have to add some quotes on an article I dug up about gelato. It seems there are several kinds and yes, many do have eggs and cream, but not all. I'll add that in another post to follow (type type type)
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Sun 7 Mar, 2004 04:50 pm
Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.
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Sun 7 Mar, 2004 06:01 pm
The Ice Cream of Rome
Maureen B. Fant
New York Times
August 19, 1990

Sometimes during the Roman Empire an anonymous genius poured fruit juice over snow and ate it. The difficulty of obtaining and keeping snow meant that only the priveleged could enjoy this proto-sherbet, which disappeared with the decline of the empire.

It was not until the 13th century that anything similar was known in the West. Marco Polo brought back a recipe similar to the Roman but with the addition of milk.

The history of ice cream, gelato in Italian, is not well documented. One school says it migrated to Italy from France when Catherine de'Medici became the wife of Henry II in 1533. From France it spread north to England and back to Italy. It reached the American colonies in the 17th century.

Today gelato is as much a pillar of italian life as pasta. ut the attitude to gelato is freer. it seems that in Italy individual epression is cultivated to the point where everybody does as he likes whenever he likes, with the resulting famous but simpatico chaos. In the really important areas of life, however, a ritualized code of conduct keeps things under control.

The most important sector of society is the gastronomic. A genuine conservatism exists, be nevertheless it allows genius to make itself known. People seek out the same dishes over and over, much the way Athenian audiences watched the old myths performed at the theater: to see how Sophocles handled the Oedipus story.

The apparent similarity of one gelateria to another is belied by the subtle differences in preparation. Such differences are the mark of the true gelateria artigianale, the craft of ice-cream making, says the Sophocles of ice cream today, Nazareno Giolitt. He represents the fourth generation one of Rome's great gtelato-making families. Are the hazelnuts toasted more or less for the nocciola? Does the crema depend on added cinnamon or vanilla or, like Mr. Giolitti's, just lots of egg yolks?

But ice cream has to be fun, especially in a country that enjoys life the way Italy does. Where a hungry Italian might balk at trying a new pasta dish, he feels more adventurous with something as frivolous as ice cream.

A well-stocked gelateria can have some 40 flavors at any one time and more than a hundred in its repertory. Most people combine at least two or three flavors, and I will never understand how Italians can be so careful about not mixing foods - at an Italian meal you eat one thing at a time - and then put chocolate ice cream and lemon sherbet together in a cone with whipped cream on top. In other words, all restrictions are off.

[interruption by osso, I dunno about that, we were instructed in selecting flavors that sing together...]
back to the quote -

Gelato, simply the Italian word for frozen, is used generically to describe a number of confections.[/color] "Gelato is a modern term, an invented term," says Mr. Giolitt. "The correct word for what we think of as gelato is 'mantecato.' " The term derives from the action of the machine in which the ice cream is mixed.

Sorbetto (sherbet) derives from the Arabic via Turkish, indicating that it wasn't just the Romans who knew the snow trick. But similarity to Latin and Italian words makes this a somewhat contested etymology.

The granita, a third member of the gelato family, is coffee or fruit juice, usually lemonade, frozen and reduced to grains (grani).

The grattachecca, or ghiacciata (literally "iced"), is crushed ice with a fruit or mint-flavored syrup. The "gratta" derives from the traditional grating of the ice, the "checca" is of uncertain etymology.

pause, back with more, much more, in a minute
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Sun 7 Mar, 2004 06:36 pm
continued quote

The good Roman gelaterias, like Giolitti or the even older Fassi, as well as many less famous, use only fresh, real ingredients and highly individual recipes. The base of the non-fruit flavors is a zabaglione of egg yolks and sugar, to which is added cream and other fresh ingredients. Inferior producers may use freeze-dried eggs, powdered cream and bottled flavorings and follow the recipes of the manufacturer of their machines or the products they use.

The reason Italaian ice cream seems lighter than American is not that it contains less fat but that it contains more air. Gelato made in small batches contains about 15 percent air. Industrially produced ice cream, like the foil-wrapped cones at the movies, contains up to 70 percent air. The air serves to balance the inside and outside temperatures to aid preservation.

The classic flavors inclue caffe' (at its best made with freshly brewed espresso), nocciola, crema, pistacchio, malaga, stracciatella and maybe half a dozen kinds of chocolate and several varieties of fruit sherbet.

Alongside these are always new flavors. Many are sublimely successful experiments destined to be imitated for years to come. Others are gimmicks that may not last a season.

Exotic fruits - dates, papaya, pineapple, mango, banana, even avocado - are being used with increasing frequency. Kiwi, now grown domestically, is
ubiquitous, and melon and watermelon are well established. Fig gelato is reminiscent of the Fig Newtons of one's childhood. Strawberry and peach are not ice creams, as in the United States, but sherbets. Fruitti di bosco, wild mixed berries, are divine.

Sometimes grains provide the flavor, Mais, corn, may or may not catch on. Riso, rice, is becoming more common no but is unlikely to spread very far as it is difficult to make well. It takes long and careful cooking, explains Mr. Giolitti, to make it smooth and creamey with no hard, incompletely cooked grains.

Many flavors are based on other sweets. Thus we find liquorice, bacio, torrone, gianduia, and After Eight, all candies), and cassata siciliana, tiramisu', creme caramel, zabaglione and zuppa inglese (all elaborate desserts in their own right).

Drinks too can provide the inspiration. Fior di latte and firo di crema for the dairy set, acqua minerale (a gimmick flavor) for the dieter, and "champagne" and "Grand Marnier" for the more sophisticated. The last two, difficult to produce, were successful experiments of Nazareno Giolitti himself. Champagne sherbet, made with spumante (sparkling white wine) is alcoholic, while "Grand Marnier," flavored with orange peel, is harmless.

A characteristic of ancient Roman cookery was that food was dressed up to resemble something it wasn't. In modern Rome you can find "spaghetti" made of ice cream put through a sort of potato ricer, and "poaced eggs" of crema gelao with peaches or apricots for the yolks.

Another new phenomenon, made possible by the vegetable centrifuge, is health-food gelato of carrots or celery.

You can, in short, make ice cream or sherbet of just about anything - and many do. But as the university student Roberta Capasso points out, "You might try mushroom ice cream once, but in the end most people go back to the classics.

How can you judge a gelateria? "You certainly can't evaluate a gelateria on the basis of its mushroom ice cream," continues Ms. Capasso. "There's no basis for comparison. You have to taste the chocolate."

Nazareno Giolitti says that the best way to tell a good gelateria is if people keep going there. I require of an ice cream only that it give me a general sense of well being and happiness, as though I've left this world for a better one. Giolitt's blackberry sherbet gives me that feeling.

End quote.
Notes from osso, I think the blackberry is the Mora I was talking about before.
Another comment - this article didn't hit the color bath you see as you approach the counter... the colors are wonderful..

back later, two posts to go, type type type.
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