Monday, October 4, 2021

Cittadella and Asolo

September 10, 2019

On my second day in Cadoneghe, we headed out to Cittadella, a nearby walled city where it is possible to walk atop the wall. This walled city was founded in the 13th century as a military outpost of nearby Padova. The wall has been restored and is 1461 meters long and has a circumference of 450 meters. There are four gates in the wall, that correspond to the four directions. 

By Kromatika - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
We dropped Ilde off at the high school in Cittadella where she teaches maths and then Gianluigi and I walked to the city center, where the the entrance to the wall is located. 

From there, we walked the entire length of the wall and rarely saw anyone else. Heading back to the city center, we stopped for an aperitivo, then met up with Ilde for lunch. 

I was surprised to come across an outdoor sculpture near the restaurant that I had previously seen at an exhibition in Florence in 2010. Mind boggling to wonder how and why it made the journey from Florence to Cittadella?

The last stop on our adventure was the town of Asolo, known for its scenic mountain views and famous artistic occupants, including the poet Robert Browning and the actress Eleonora Duse. 

Oddly, the Asolo Theatre was purchased by the state of Florida in the U.S., disassembled, shipped to Sarasota, Florida, and reassembled in the Ringling Museum in 1952. It is now the home of the Asolo Repertory Theatre and the Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training in Sarasota. 

We spent a pleasant few hours walking the picturesque, mostly empty streets of the village, stopping for and aperitivo before heading back to Cadoneghe. 

That evening's dinner included zucchini stuffed with scamorza (a smoked cheese) and prosciutto, along with minestrone, another great homemade meal. 

I'm deeply grateful to Gianluigi and Ilde for being such gracious hosts and tour guides. After visiting these out of the way villages in their company, I realized how difficult (if not impossible) it would have been to try and visit them on my own, as I usually travel by public transport. At the least, it would involve unreliable train or bus schedules. What's more, their familiarity with the towns we visited added rich insight and information I would have otherwise not been privy to. I'm truly fortunate to have such dear friends who are willing to share such adventures with. Grazie mille, cari amici!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Marostica and Bassano del Grappa

 September 9, 2019

While visiting friends in Cadoneghe, near Padova, I had the chance to visit several unique and interesting villages, thanks to their willingness to provide transport and share their knowledge of the area. Gianluigi and Ilde were welcoming, generous and amiable hosts during my short stay in their home.

The medieval wall surrounding the city of Marostica.
Our first stop was Marostica, the City of Chess, where we spent the morning climbing up to the medieval wall that encircles the hill town like a serpent. The main event in Marostica is a biennial human chess game (known as La Partita a Scacchi), played on a painted chess board that takes up most of the town’s main piazza. According to legend, the original match took place on September 12, 1454, and the tradition usually continues to this day during the second weekend in September.

The main square of Marostica

A view of the main square from above.

Next we drove east to Bassano del Grappa. Some might think (as did I) that the town is named for its production of the strong alcoholic beverage, grappa.  Grappa is produced in Bassano, as in many other towns in Northern Italy, and Bassano sports a small museum touting its history and production.

Bassano's main square

However, the name actually refers to Bassano of Mount Grappa, a memorial to the thousands of soldiers killed in WWI on Mount Grappa. Ernest Hemingway was an ambulance driver during the war and spent many days in Bassano, as did Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemingway drew from his experiences there when writing his book, “A Farewell to Arms.”

The view from Ponte degli Alpini

The main attraction in Bassano is its famous wooden bridge, Ponte degli Alpini (Alpine Soldiers’ Bridge), which has existed in various forms from 1209, though it has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. Palladio designed the current version of the structure, built in 1569. During our visit, however, it was being restored yet another time and was covered with scaffolding, so was not a pretty sight. Still, the views of the mountains to the north of Bassano were spectacular, and we spent a leisurely time sitting and enjoying the view.

Looking north from Bassano

My wonderful friends, Gianluigi and Ilde

Back in Cadoneghe that evening, Gianluigi and Ilde made a splendid meal of polenta and finferli (chaparelle) mushrooms, accompanied by grilled sausage from Gianluigi’s hometown in the mountains. I feel so fortunate to have friends like these, who make my travels so much richer and enjoyable.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

Lago Maggiore 
Spending six days in Stresa, on the western coast of Lago Maggiore, was a real delight. I landed there on the 14th of August, the eve of Ferragosto, the biggest Italian holiday of the summer, if not the year. On Ferragosto, everything in Italy grinds to a halt, and Italians go on vacation,  which often lasts the entire week.

A view from the balcony of my hotel room in Stresa
I had never been around for Ferragosto before, but I'd been warned: Stresa would be crowded with Italians that Thursday, and most of the following weekend. Fortunately, the worst crowds only lasted a day, and I did my best to avoid them. But the accompanying musical entertainment in nearby Piazza Cadorna was fun.

A tourist couple doing the tango in Piazza Cadorna.
The next day, I headed over to the Lido, where a funivia takes you up Monte Motterone, where there is a 360° panoramic view of the lakes.

View from Monte Motterone
 There are three stages to the ride: two separate sections on the funivia (a hanging cable car), then a ride on a seggiovia (chair lift). It was a fun ride, both up and down the 1500 meter mountain.

Coming down on the funivia.
Riding the seggiovia.
The main attraction in Stresa was visiting the Borromeo Islands,  which I'll cover in a separate post. However, there was more to do in Stresa.  Several resort hotels boast large, beautiful gardens, and the long stretch of lungolago (walking path by the lake) is a lovely way to spend an hour.

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees: made famous by Hemingway. The hotel was used as a hospital for recovering war veterans like Hemingway, following WWII. He returned later to visit the hotel,
and the room can still be reserved, for a hefty price.
 Another fun adventure from Stresa is the Lago Maggiore Express, which includes a three-hour relaxing boat ride on the lake to Locarno, Switzerland. Lago Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, and the largest in southern Switzerland, so the lake and its shoreline are divided between Italy and Switzerland. After an hour stay in Locarno, there's a panoramic train ride through mountain passes to Domodossola, Italy, then a regional train back to Stresa.  It was a lovely way to spend the day, with wonderful views of the lake and nearby mountains.

On the Lago Maggiore Express
Of course, the Borromeo Islands are the main attraction in Stresa, and they'll be featured in the next post.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Dozza, The Festival of Painted Walls

I recently went with friends to the small village of Dozza, about 30km east of Bologna. Every two years the village hosts a unique festival, inviting national and international artists to create permanent paintings on the walls of the houses. The Biennale will happen this year from Sept. 9 - 14, but one can go there any time to view the art works.

Entitled "The Angel of Dozza."

Doors and windows are often cleverly incorporated into the paintings.

The festival began in 1960, and there are still some paintings from that time period. Some of the older paintings have been refurbished in recent years to restore design and color.

We spent several hours perusing the art along the winding cobblestone streets of the village, which led uphill to a castle.

Rocca di Dozza dates back to the 15th century, when Caterina Sforza rebuilt areas of former Bolognese fortresses, dating back to 1250. We didn't take time to go in and visit the museum, which charges a 5 euro fee to enter. What was once the dungeon of the castle is now a Regional Enoteca, or wine cellar.

The Rocca di Dozza

A local ristorante is highlighted in this painting.
Perusing the art in Dozza.
The short drive from Bologna was well worth the journey to visit this unique village.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


We spent a rainy day in Bergamo on our way from Milan to Florence last year. We'd arrived in Milan by train from Paris and were eager to get settled in a smaller town, so headed 25 miles northeast to Bergamo. The quaint old town, nestled in the surrounding hills, is characterized by its cobblestone streets and the Venetian walls, once part of a defensive system, that encircle it. If you arrive by train in Bergamo, you need to take a bus from the train station to the funicular on the other side of town in order to get from the lower modern city to the old town, or Città Alta, a UNESCO heritage site.

In the line for the funicular that takes you up to the old town. 

We stayed in a BandB run by two brothers on the top floor of this tower.
It was furnished like a museum, and had been in the family for 500 years. 

This is a sundial on the side of the tower where we stayed. 

Piazza Vecchia

Capella Colleoni next to the larger Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

Where women once gathered to wash clothes. Set in a lovely square, untouched by time.

Two clock towers that generate a lot of interest in Bergamo. 

Some local ravioli-like specialties, including  Casoncelli and Scarpinotti, shaped like tiny handmade shoes.
I had Scarpinotti di Parre, a famous local dish. The pasta was filled with cheese and herbs, in a sage butter sauce. 

A local famous pastry that we meant to try, but never got around to.  This bird nest cake is made with a light sponge cake filled with hazelnut cream, then rolled in yellow fondant. It's topped with a cluster of baby birds, made of marzipan and chocolate. Looks pretty rich!

I've heard that Bergamo has more to offer, but we were there for a short time, and it was rainy, so we didn't have much time to explore. 

Monday, July 29, 2019


The beach at Sperlonga
Here are some scenes from Sperlonga, a small seaside town, halfway between Rome and Naples, that I visited last year. To get there, I took the train from Rome to Fondi, then a bus to Sperlonga, about 10 miles west of Fondi. Sperlonga is favored by Italians in the area, but unknown to most Americans.

A view of the village from the beach: it's a good climb to reach the centro storico (old town).
I spent part of every day at a nearby beach. A section of it was free, and it was a great place to walk, swim, and sunbathe. The beach was a short walk from the B&B where I stayed, which was nice, but pricey.

Bougainvillea covered the walls of many buildings in the centro storico. 
I trekked up and down the various paths to the centro storico: some were easier than others. The old town was mostly geared to tourist trade, and was often empty during the day, but livened up in the evening. On the weekend there was a band playing in a small piazza, as more tourists came to town for shopping and dinner.

Another view of the village from below.
Since Sperlonga juts out into the sea, there are different views from the three sides of the village.

This beach is to the south of the old town.

A view of the north beach from the centro storico.

Torre Truglia.
Torre Truglia was built in 1532 to defend the area against attacks from the sea. Built on the foundation of a pre-existing Roman watchtower, it was then destroyed two years later by Ottoman pirates, rebuilt in 1611, then attacked again by the same pirates in 1623. Between 1879 and 1969 it was used by the Guardia di Finanza, but now belongs to a Marine Education Center. When I visited it, there was nothing to see inside but an old man serving as a caretaker, listening to a transistor radio.

I had some of the best meals I've ever eaten in Italy during my stay...fresh fish creations that were not only tasty, but beautifully presented. And the prices were surprisingly reasonable.  Like Ischia, I could easily return to Sperlonga, again and again.

From Ristorante Altro: Tortelloni asparagi con gamberi. (Asparagus tortelloni with shrimp.)
Scrumptious! I ate several times at this restaurant.

Calamaro stuffed with spinach in a blackberry cream, with black rice. The chef at Altro invented this dish and brought it to me himself. One of the best meals I've eaten in my life!

From Da Martini sul Ponte: Seared tuna encrusted with pistachio and sesame seeds. Yum!