Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Villas of the Veneto; Villa Thiene (Quinto Vicentino)

Located at Quinto Vicentino's main intersection, Villa Thiene's brick facade does not look like much.  It's simplicity makes it blend well with the other buildings around it, making it very hard to spot while driving even though there are approximately five or six signs within a mile of the villa telling the driver that it is in fact in the immediate area.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Graffitti Fridays: Cute, Folgaria

Idleness and Being-Back-ness

Hey all--sorry for sitting idle for a few days, I have been out doing some travelling.  Shockingly, for that short span of time it seemed like Italy's economy went on the brink of collapse, then its prime minister quit, and a possible Bilderberg Group tool replaced him, and now everything might just be OK again.  Oh, and Liguria suffered some major floods again and United Colors of Bennetton forced a whole lot of powerful men to liplock for their latest humanitarian campaign to sell jumpers.  The world, I guess, has its way for correcting its imbalances I guess.

In the meantime, Romania is great, and everyone should go.  Modern in parts, almost medieval in others, its a perfect portrait of a Europe that isn't quite there yet.  The people are friendly, the food is good, and the landscapes are spectacular.  Sounds like a no brainer to me!

Fortified churches all along the central part of Transylvania

Bran Castle...allegedly Dracula's

Streets of Sighișoara

Celebrating St. Martin's Day in Sighișoara

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Italian Beer Series: San Gabriel "Birral della Scala" (Busco di Ponte di Piave)

Founded in 1997, San Gabriel is a brewery located near Treviso that is committed to the "purity" of the Reinheitsgebot and the greatness of the products of the Veneto.  Following the basic Bavarian recipe, the company sources much of their barley and hops from local producers, and they take great pride with their local source of water.  However, they also produce seasonal beers from local products that are definitely not kosher with the Bavarians:  figs, radicchio, and chestnuts from Treviso; yellow peppers from Zero Bianco; rice from Isola della Scala.  Despite their professed adherence to the Bavarian law, this brewery is, in the end, an Italian type through and through.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cinque Terre's Unlucky Month

Only a little more than a week ago, Cinque Terre was engulfed in fire.  Now, the torrential rains that hit Northern Italy threaten to drive the whole place into the sea.  "Monterosso no longer exists" may be a bit of a dramatic flair in part of the town's mayor, but the exaggeration may not be too far from the truth.  Here, too, are other pictures of the town.  I have visited Cinque Terre three times before, and was planning on visiting again during the sleepy winter.  It has always represented to me that Italian heaven everyone dreams of, and that Italian heaven that has become, finally, a reality for me.  One of my most cherished memories is hiking from Monterosso to Riomaggiore and seeing Vernazza for the first time and being amazed at the tenacity of those people who dared to build not only a village at what seems to be the end of the world, but create beauty out of a seemingly impossible enivronment.  Alas, I may not be back for this winter at all, for I'm sure the trails, the roads and possibly the railroad tracks will be blocked for weeks if not months.  Hopefully it comes back to life, and soon...

EDIT:  Here is a link to instructions on how to donate to rebuild Cinque Terre.  A worthy cause, and a much needed help, considering Italy's current financial situation. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Although a mere 30-minute drive from Vicenza, Padova to me was mainly Ikea, Decathlon, and a couple of Indian restaurants.  I visited the city center more than two years ago, but it was at the hieght of summer, and the town mostly seemed large and quiet to me and nothing else.  In addition, the overabundance of industrial areas and modern buildings that ring the city center made it look like a large and important city, but definitely one that made it comparable to say, Baltimore.   Being the closest "big" city to my apartment, it was a place to run errands and nothing more.  But on my second visit to the city center, armed with a better understanding of Padova, I was able to really appreciate the wealth of heritage the city has to offer. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Cordellina Lombardi (Montecchio Maggiore)

Villa Cordellina Lombardi in Montecchio Maggiore is possibly one of the most elegant villas in the Vicenza area, an obviously baroque homage to Palladio's neoclassicism, introduced a little more than two hundred years before this villa's construction.  It has all of Palladio's symmetry, if not Palladio's concern for the totality of the building.  (The back and sides are a little ho-hum.)  However, just like Villa Valmarana ai Nani, the architecture is not the highlight of this villa, but the colorful, swirling frescoes by Tiepolo to be found inside.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Palladian Villas Mapped

If you're like me, you are probably very excited to be in such close proximity to great architecture in Vicenza, but are always completely frustrated by the research involved in even trying to figure out where these villas are in Vicenza's countryside.  There are many Palladian villas in Vicenza, let alone the Veneto, and most of them are surprisingly hard to find despite their importance in the world of architecture.  A lot of times, an afternoon spent "villa-hopping" (such an exciting word, for such an inherently mundane task...i.e., looking at people's houses) quickly devolves into villa-hunting, and not villa-finding.

With this in mind, I decided to map all of Palladio's villas in the Veneto and especially in the immediate Vicenza area to make the hunt for them more enjoyable and less frustrating.  As you can see, some of these villas stretch out the all corners of the Veneto, occupying even the smallest little towns and frazione imaginable.  Hopefully all the efforts help you in your quest to understand Palladio's style and influence through his works.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Italian Beer Series: Birrificio Artigianale Scaligero Mastino II "Beatrice" (Mezzane di Sotto)

Birrificio Artigianale Scaligero Mastino II (really long name! BASM in short...) is a Veronese brewery specializing in classic, traditional recipes from Britain, Germany, and Belgium.  Seemingly characteristic of the many breweries located in the Veneto and in opposition to the breweries of Lombardy and Piemonte, BASM does not try to fiddle around too much with the classics.  Whereas breweries in Milan and Torino may add grapes and fruits to their beer, BASM keeps it simple by adhering to the basic ingredients: malt, yeast, hops, and water.  This may or may not be as a result of the brewery's relative inexperience--it is just under three years old, previously specializing in providing the equipment fo commercial brewing--but their relatively simple approach nevertheless produces well-tasting brews.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Leather in Florence

Other than its beauty and its art, leather seems to be Florence's main tourist attraction.  Every street and ever piazza contains at least a few leather shops, selling nice jackets, bags, belts, and whatever else that can consist of leather.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Transumanza in Bressanvido

Every Spring and Fall, communities around the mountainous regions of Italy--the communities around the Alps and the Apennines, specifically--celebrate the departure of cattle for the greener mountain pastures in the Spring and the milder winters of the plains in the Fall.  This constant movement of livestock has been enacted even before the Romans came around, and many communities to this day still celebrate the day their cows and sheep return.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sarajevo on My Mind

Reading this article reminded me of a quote from Safe Area: Gorazde of a Bosniak partier's reason for having so much fun in the midst of a bloody and seemingly endless war: "We don't party like there is is no tomorrow.  We party because there is a tomorrow."  It really demonstrates the resilience of the Bosniaks who, having gone through so much during the wars of the early 90s, chose to celebrate not the end of a conflict, but the continuation of life as it was.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sagra di Bosco di Nanto

Catching the tail end of Bosco di Nanto's sagra, we honestly didn't know what to expect.  What would they serve?  Would it be busy?  What kind of entertainment would they have?  Little did we know, none of it mattered.  Except for one: our introduction to the Italian urban cowboy. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog Goes Boating

This past weekend was a long weekend for Vicenza, celebrating the 300th-or so year anniversary of an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Monte Berico that ended a terrible plague.  Devotees walk from the base of the hill all the way to the Santuario della Madonna to offer their prayers.  Below, citizens flock to the city center to enjoy the luna park and the fun energy in general. 

For me however, the 8th and the 9th were workdays.  So the weekend had to be an away weekend to avoid the feeling of depression borne out of having to work when everyone else gets a vacay.  So, I packed a tent, some sleeping bags, and some meat for the grill and headed out to my favorite lake, Lago di Ledro.  Above was the pooch, enjoying a bit of sun while we rotate peddling duties for the boat.  I overly underestimated the pedal boat: mostly relegated to artificial lakes in city parks, I thought it would be boring and relatively limited to within a few meters from the shore.  But it was the little boat that could:  it chugged along effortlessly from one end of the lake to another and safely accommodated two peddlers and two sunbathers.  Mixed with a bit of sun bathing and swimming (not me—the water was too cold and I was born in the tropics), it was the perfect, relaxing weekend. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Palio of Castelfranco Veneto

Our recent trip to Castelfranco was largely a chance encounter, the result of a search for a new diversion after Treviso proved largely a bore.  I have been to the small, walled town before, to see the Giorgione exhibit which brought together all of the master's known works for the first time (including the town's own, "Castlefranco Madonna," which is housed in the town's cathedral).  This time around, I witnessed an example of one of the country's more typical autumn celebrations: the medieval festival.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Valmarana ai Nani (Vicenza)

Only a few steps away from the church in Monte Berico and Palladio's masterpiece the Rotonda, Villa Valmarana ai Nani is certainly not an attention seeker.  Within the compounds, protected by high walls topped with statues of dwarves, is a modest villa with no striking feature other than a disproportionately small pediment and a grand view of Colli Berici.  Inside, however, are the Tiepolos' Rococo masterpiece.   

Movies in Italy: Lo sceicco bianco (Federico Fellini, 1952)

In Fellini's early critique of patriarchal Italy, a couple, Ivan and Wanda, travels to big-city Rome for their honeymoon, to meet Ivan's extended family, and to meet the pope.  It's Italian provincialism coming home to roost in its big glittering capital that, for all intents and purposes, operate along the same codes of conduct.  The proud Ivan wants everything to be perfect so that his family sees his picture-perfect wife, but Wanda has other plans.  When her husband takes a nap, Wanda escapes to the Cinecitta, where she meets her film idol "the White Sheik".   However, what was supposed to be a few minutes of fawning turned into hours of discovering the reality behind the film industry, while Ivan spends his time worrying about his family's reputation if they find out that his wife left him for a foreign royalty.  Even though the woman is shown as a victim not only of social repression but also the illusions provided as a form of "escape,"  the husband is ultimately seen as the one who shoulders much of society's demands, trying to coordinate the conflicting wants of his society, family, and wife.  Throughout the film, Ivan sports a discombobulated and helpless look, and for much of the film he is reduced to a sobbing boy incapable of maintaining his crumbling world.  When he finally reunites with his wife, he goes back to his domineering demeanor as he meets his family in the Vatican, in a symbolic return back to the stability of the family and church.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another sign of autumn in Italy: the Luna Park

The bright lights of the luna park (also known as the amusement park for us English-speaking folk) have been up in Vicenza's Campo Marzio for a week now, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marola Beer & Bruschetta Fest

Marola's beer fest is all about beer and bruschetta (both of which were sadly underwhelming), but there's no fooling anyone: the real specialty of the town's sagra is the carefully produced musical acts featuring "tribute" bands.  Tonight, the show was provided by a performer giving tribute to Michael Jackson, who was clearly very obsessed with the king of pop.  And what is a sagra entertainment if it didn't include some sort of rendition of John Denver's "Country Roads"?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

L'incompiuta in Brendola

The imposing yet hauntingly incomplete church of Brendola, a few miles outside of Vicenza at the edge of the Berici hills.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sagra Season Begins!

August is usually fairly dead because while you are staying behind and working, taking care of kids, etc., everybody else is out having fun a getting a fab tan.  But according to this article, August is the beginning of sagra season in Italy, where towns celebrate local products, local saints, and/or local traditions with good food and lots of dancing.  Realizing this, I promptly did my research, and found two sagre going on this last weekend: the Festa del Ciclamino in Fontanelle di Conco and lucky enough the Gran Gala de Baccala in the next town over, in Gomarolo di Conco.  Sagra season begins!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Latemar, Lago di Carezza, and the Agatha Christie Walk

After being inspired by this blog post, this past weekend a few friends and I headed north towards Bolzano to hike the area around Lago Di Carezza, a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by the beautiful Dolomiti.  Following walk #36 in Walking in the Dolomites, we were brought to the beautiful Latemar Group, then down to the lake to see its many shades of green.

Italian Beer Series: Birra Amarcord Gradisca (Apecchio)

Originating from Rimini, the makers of Birra Amarcord pays an homage to the city's most famous son, Federico Fellini.  Their beers are named after the enigmatic female characters of Fellini's "Amarcord," his extremely exaggerated story about growing up in Rimini.  In the film, Gradisca is the town's celebrity beauty queen, the classy seductress that all the young boys fawns over but reserves her beauty and charm for the town's powerful Fascist officers.  The beer I'm sure was likened to her "classiness" and classic beauty, but the fieriness of Gradisca's sexuality was lost on the brew's limp and almost watery taste.  The pleasant earthy and grainy aroma delivered by a white creamy head held promise, but it didn't necessarily translated into rich flavor.  Instead, the beer tasted like a light beer, with its 5.4% alcohol barely registering or making an impact.  Judging by the loftiness of claiming inspiration from one of the best movies ever made, this beer was quite a disappointment. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Authentic" Venice: Redentore and a Tour of the Bacari

Last Redentore weekend was all about experiencing "real" Venice, so what else to do other than the baccarata?  Baccarata or giro dei bacari is for all intents and purposes a bar crawl, where--I feel silly explaining this--one goes and samples wines and food from bars especially those clustered around the Rialto. Unlike a typical English or American bar crawl however, the baccarata occurs in the day time, the idea being that these bars--the bacari--were originally a place where workers could grab cicchetti (small plates of finger foods, not unlike a tapa)  and ombra--a glass of wine--during their lunch time.  Although many now open all day to accommodate the constant hunger of the tourist, some still only serve food during lunch time, then shut down until the early evening to serve alcohol.   Sadly the heat, coupled with vast amounts of food and the very idea of drinking at noon got to us, and we couldn't make it past the third bar without simply giving up.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fishing at Redondo Beach, Southern California

 A beautiful day at the beach, but too unseasonably cold.  (Obviously, this was a scenario that took place long before the recent heat wave in the US)  What to do?

Graffitti Fridays: I Heart Vandalism, Ljubljana

Beer Flavored Gelato

The weather lately has been cool and spring-like, yet the urge to go for gelato every afternoon is still there.  To my surprise, somebody finally thought of mixing those two favorite summer past times together: ice cream and a drink al fuori.  I was too tired to go nuts with the selection, so I went for the traditional panna cotta, but maybe next time I will find out why an ice cream flavored with birra rosa turned out white.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Gazzotti (Vicenza)

Largely forgotten and allowed to rot and crumble, Villa Gazzotti is definitely not one of Palladio's greatest achievement.  It looks more like a barn than a villa, its modest size dwarfed by the modern buildings around it.  It is definitely assertive, and it is clearly apparent as something other than just a regular ancient abode built simply to satisfy that need.  However, although left unrestored in the middle of a field somewhere in the northeastern part of Vicenza, the villa is an important milestone in Palladio's evolving use of decorations to mold the shape and look of a building, and a great display of the use of cheap materials (sadly, only apparent due to the building's state of disrepair) that made Palladio the Reniassance version of a McMansion designer.    

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Graffitti Fridays: Talking Heads, Dijon

New UNESCO World Hertiage Sites near Vicenza

This is kind of late news, but it is good news nonetheless.  Two new "sites" (both were really for a string of sites tied together by a singular theme or "significance") were added by UNESCO to the World Heritage Site List, both within driving distance from Vicenza.  One is hailed by the Italian press as more significant due to it being completely housed within the country's borders, the other scattered across six countries but no less significant nonetheless.  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Los Angeles Chinatown

 On a cloudy day, I avoided weekday traffic going downtown by driving in mid-day, away from the crush of cars that happen before 9, after five, and any time between eleven and one when the lunch-time diners head out to the great eateries in Chinatown, Little Tokyo, or Olveira Street.  It's a weird of way of thinking about one's day, in terms of peak times for traffic, but this is LA, and one is licensed to exist between worlds that don't normally exist anywhere else. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Farmer's Market, Southern California

Although I enjoy food in Italy and the Italian relationship with food, my visit to a farmer's market in California (where I'm from) this weekend was a reminder that in terms of food, California still holds a very special place in my heart (or stomach).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Meknes, Morocco

Apologies for the lack of updates folks, but unfortunately this month I find myself staying very little in Italy.  I will still be updating, but I will be posting about the things I found or will find myself within the next few weeks.  First, Morocco.  I went to Fez, but its tendency to harass its tourists into submission (not merely by having no tourist infrastructure, which would be great, but for having a rampant cottage tourist industry with all that the term "cottage" implies) makes me not have much interest in talking about it.  But only 40 kilometers away is Meknes, another imperial city whose shorter time in the limelight compared to Fez made it have much less name recognition and thus more latitude for enjoyment...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marostica Flea Market

Marostica itself is a nice town to visit at any other time, but on the first Sunday of every month the town is taken over by stalls selling everything from vintage clothing, paintings, war memorabilia, and the ubiquitous kitsch.  Not only is the market a nice place to get your local acquisition of random useless stuff, but the setting itself is also perfect: sit in a cafe and people watch, walk around with a gelato, and maybe even hike all the way up to the castello superiore.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pasubio: Cima Palon, Dente Italiano, and the 52 Galleries

Although its beauty and its height--it is the tallest chain of peaks in the Prealpi mountains--are reasons enough to hike to the top of the Pasubio Mountains, it is really the remnants of the battles fought here during the first world war that are the real reasons for visiting these mountains.  Everywhere are reminders of the terrible battles fought here, from crumbling barracks, networks of underground tunnels, rusted shrapnel and bits of artillery, and even human bones. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Barbaro (Maser)

Built in the 1550s, Villa Barbaro, located on the feet of the Asolani hills and right on the prosecco-producing hills of northern Treviso, was a turning point in the construction of countryside villas.  For the first time, the barn--the two adjacent wings that are dominated by the large series of arches leading to the two outer towers used to hold pigeons--was united with the central villa, used to house both the business of the agricultural operations of the villa, as well as the living quarters of the owners.  This was the start of the five-part profile, with a central building harmoniously flanked by two elements on either side. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Italian Beer Series: Birrificio Italiano Vudu (Lurago Marinone)

Like Tipopils, Vudu is one of Birrificio Italiano's rifts on classic German recipes, many lost in time due to changing beer consumption habits.  In this case, the dark weizen, a version of the typical German weizen that went away due to the increasing popularity of the pilsner.  Unlike a bock-weizen, this beer is not so strong, at 5.6% alcohol.  Although dark like a dunkel, the flavor of roasted fruits or chocolate is not so pronounced, maintaining the clean fruitiness of a summer weizen.  On pour, the cloudy, dark amber beer produced an off-white large head that lingered on the sides of the glass.  The aroma is of chocolate and the grasiness of weizen, even with a little bit of banana.  The taste is of roasted fruits balanced by the lightness of very prominent carbonation, finished off by a pleasant bitterness.  A surprising beer from Birrificio Italiano, a balancing act of heavy and light that is pulled off with perfection.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I visited Orvieto during a three-hour stop on my train ride from Rome to Vicenza.  I have heard much about its famed duomo, with its lushly decorated facade and frescos depicting Judgement Day by Signorelli, but unfortunately I visited on a Sunday and the church was closed for services until the afternoon.  But it wasn't a complete waste:  the facade is itself a marvel to look at, and Signorelli's frescos were terrifying, even if viewed from afar through the metal gate that closes it off from the public.  And the town itself is pleasant to walk through, with its high position affording it great views of the surrounding Umbrian landscape and its devoid of visitors early in the morning made it ideal for roaming.  I'm sure there were a lot to discover, but I am convince the few hours I spent were enough.  The town is special, but its appeal--like ever charming town in the country--could be had in many other towns fortunately far more convenient for me to visit. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Via Ferrata Angelo Viali (Arzignano)

I have never done vie ferrate before, but knew about them and have been itching to do them.  Hikes in the mountain and skipping and yodeling in big malga open fields will always be fun, but after a while one starts to want another view of the mountains.  In this case, the view from the rock faces one can only gape at when hiking.  Finally, me and my friends decided to "try-out" this via ferrata, to "prepare" ourselves for the bigger vie ferrate in Marmolata in the Dolomiti or the Via Alta in Pasubio.  Although the trek itself is short--no more than 90 minutes--it was tough going, especially for beginners.  The biggest draw for vie ferrate is that it is essentially an inanimate guide walking you through a well-marked path through the mountain, but in this case, at times that's where the "draw" ends.  In parts, the trail is just like mountain climbing, where one has to muscle one's way through vertical climbs with little to no footholds.  It was a great trek nevertheless, and I'm looking forward to tackling the bigger trails in the Dolomiti

Perfect Timing

Taken at around 3:00 AM, this was the earliest time that the Trevi Fountain really cleared out of other visitors so I could have it all to myself.  Hardly the time when romance is at its peak, the perfect lighting and the relative silence (except the water echoing throughout the piazza) made it a worthwhile wait nevertheless.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Italian Beer Series: Acelum "Freya" (Castelucco)

Brewed by a company that made the switch from producing equipment for wine production to  producing equipment beer brewing, Acelum only started making beers as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of the machineries and parts that they produce.  A year later, the company decides to commercially manufacture and bottle their "sample batches" due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback they receive.  One of the four beers they produce is Freya, named after Freya Stark, the turn of the century British travel writer who wrote about exotic locales in the Middle East but called the hills of Asolo her home.  Freya is a 4.5% Belgian style ale perfect as a session beer, the lightness of which is made more pronounced by the fizziness reminiscent of the area's prosecco. The color is a deep and hazy gold that produces a god solid head.  The aroma is of citrus and hops with the sweetness of honey.  The flavor is nice and balanced, with the bitterness of hops and citrus peel coming in the middle.  A great beer--hopefully the company decides to make more than just a side project of their brewery!