Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wandering Around Villas and Gardens

A view from Villa di Petraia

In contrast to my previous post about Italy being a culture where "less is more," yesterday I had the chance to visit remnants of an era where the opposite (''more is never enough") was a way of life in Italy, at least with the nobili (nobility). I visited three villas of the Medici and their gardens, seeing an area north of Florence that was new to me. It was part of a free tour sponsored by the city, called Per ville e per giardini, running from June through November 14.

Amidst the trees near Villa di Castello

It started with another adventure, of sorts, as I was unsure which bus stop to get off at. A woman at the tourist office told me the name of the street, via Giuliana, but neglected to mention there would be 10 different stops on that street. Naturally, I got off at the first stop when I should have waited for number 10, which added over thirty minutes of walking time to reach the villas. But it was well worth the effort!

The first stop on my itinerary was the Garden of the Villa di Castello. It was extraordinary! The villa itself houses the Accademia della Crusca, (a society of intellectuals who oversee the Italian language), and is not open to the public. But the gardens, once used by the Medici, are open to the public and free.

A path in the gardens of Villa di Castello

First, I wandered through the wooded area of the gardens, at home amidst the trees. It was a cloudy day, and only a few other people had ventured out to view the parks that morning. Then I visited the formal gardens with herbs and citrus trees in profusion.

The citrus gardens, with Villa di Castello in the background

There was also a grotto in the formal garden area, called Grotta degli Animali, which has a menagerie of animals sculpted by Giambologna and his assistants.

The mosaic on the ceiling, made of stone and shells, is spectacular. I spent over an hour walking through the gardens at Villa di Castello.


Next on the itinerary was the Villa Corsini di Castello, which had a display of Roman statues, along with Etruscan items that were recently excavated from the plains around Florence. There was also a formal garden here, but no public access. I didn't spend much time at this villa, and photos were not allowed inside. One highlight: a Roman copy of the Greek sculpture of Ariadne sleeping.

Arianna_dormiente


The gardens at Villa Corsini di Castello

The last villa on the agenda was a short walk up the hill, to Villa di Petraia, and the most spectacular view of all. Here, there were not only formal gardens to explore, and a panoramic view of Florence, but one could also take a tour of the sumptuous villa, complete with frescoed walls and furnishings.


I spent several hours at Villa di Petraia, as there was a lot to see, and the tour of the villa itself took an hour. Some highlights: a panel by Botticelli and Giambologna's statue of Venus. Photos were not allowed, but you can get an idea of the place by accessing the following link. It's in Italian, but the photos are great, and there's even a short German video with views of the villa.

Villa_La_Petraia

I can easily imagine i giovani (young people) from Bocaccio's Decameron hanging out in this villa in the hills north of Florence, fabricating stories to amuse themselves as an escape from the fear of the plague and its devastation. In the gardens there were still-blooming herbs (lavender, sage, rosemary) and remnants of hydrangea and iris. I'm looking forward to coming back in the spring to view the gardens in full bloom.

My visit to the villas took about six hours from start to finish, and I was walking for at least four hours. It turned out to be the perfect excursion on a cloudy day, and I returned to Florence filled with wonderful images of the gardens I'd explored.

For more photos, click here: LeVille#

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Today (Sunday) I finished the tour by visiting Palazzo Riccardi-Medici here in Florence, where the Medici once lived. It's now a museum, and it was a good place to hang out on a rainy day. Walking through town, I noticed long lines of people under their umbrellas, waiting to get in several museums. Tomorrow is a national holiday, so many Italians have come to town for the three day weekend. Unfortunately, rain is forecast for the next three days!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fare la spesa: shopping for groceries

A typical shopping cart in Firenze

In the news today: Firenze è la città dove fare la spesa costa meno.

What does that mean? Believe it or not, it states that it is cheaper to buy groceries in Florence than any other city in Italy (according to recent surveys). In particular, shopping at the Coop store is less expensive and convenient. The Coop is a large chain with big stores, much like Dillons and Safeway stores in the U.S., and are usually located in the periferia, or outer areas of town. But there's one not far from me, so I'm going to check it out and see what the prices are like. I can certainly agree that grocery shopping is inexpensive here, even though I do most of my shopping at small stores. In addition, buying fruit, vegetables, and cheese at the open market is usually a bargain.

As for other kinds of shopping, I've also been lucky with clothes. In fact, once in awhile I come across an item of clothing, sometimes brand new, just lying on the sidewalk in front of me. So far I've found a scarf, a nice sweater and a lovely new handkerchief. Unexpected gifts! I've bought several used sweaters, a scarf and a pair of gloves for 3 euros each. I'm looking for a nice pair of boots, and am hoping to find a bargain, though I'd really like to get pair that is made to fit my feet.

One of the things I like most about living here is that Italians know how to "make do" with what they have. I've always lived that way, and enjoy being in a culture that fosters this mindset instead of one that thrives on having an excess of goods and replacing things before they even have a chance to wear out. "Less is more" is definitely the Italian way of life, and mine as well.

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Update: 2 novembre
I went to the COOP store today. What a wonderland! I wish I'd known about it when I first arrived in Florence. More selection, lower prices, and no need to carry a "member card'' for discounts. However, shopping is even cheaper for Coop members. It's a good 15- minute walk from my apartment, but I'll be going there often from now on. Guess I need to get one of those nifty wheeled shopping carts that I see so many people using.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dante, aperitivi, e altre cose

I have a work project that will keep me in Florence for the next two weeks, but there's enough going on here to keep me occupied in my spare time.

My street on a Sunday morning.

I've made several new acquaintances and a new conversation partner to do things with. I met Patrizia, a native Florentine, via a note she'd posted at the Paperback Exchange store that is nearby. She was looking for someone to converse with, and it turns out we don't live far from each other and get along quite well. Her daughter attends a university in Scotland, where Patrizia often travels to visit her.

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture on Dante at an American University here. Three students at the school gave some background information on Beatrice, who served as a muse in Dante's world famous poetry (The Divine Comedy). After the short lecture, we walked to my area of town to view some plaques on the walls of several buildings, with quotes by Dante. The plaques were erected by the city of Florence in 1907.

"I was born and grew up, on the lovely river Arno, in the great city."
(Dante, Inferno, XXIII, 94-95)

I've been a fan of Dante for many years and am pleased to live in the area of town where he and Beatrice lived. Their family homes are just down the street from me, as well as the Chiesa di Santa Margherita, the church where Dante first met Beatrice.

At the lecture, I met a woman from Boston who is here to study Italian and Dante, and we had a good chat over coffee. Today I'll attend another lecture, this one on famous women in Florence's history, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), who also have memorial plaques.

Carrying a heavy weight.

I've also met some people through a Meetup Language Exchange group that gets together occasionally for dinner, movies or aperitivi (wine and appetizers). I went out for aperitivi with the group last week (similar to happy hour in the U.S.), and had a great time. Tonight the agency I'm renting from is also hosting aperitivi for their clients, which I'll attend.

(P.S. I went to the aperitivi tonight and ran into two people I'd met in other places this week: one from the Meetup group, and another from the tour I went on today. I also met two young women from Kansas City this week. It makes Florence seem even smaller, or at least the expat community.

Sorridi! (smile)

At the aperitivi, I met people from Austria, England, Mexico, Ireland and New Zealand who are renting apartments from the same agency as me. The food and wine were also quite good!)

Birth announcement: Tommaso is born!

I've made some progress with the laundry and heating hassles I mentioned in previous posts. If I fare il bucato (do the laundry) before 7 am or after 7 pm during the week, the rates are cheaper on the utilities I use. I've come to understand that it's best to run the riscaldamento (heating) for 2-3 hours in the morning and again in the late afternoon. In addition, I can put my towels and clothes on the radiators to warm them up in the morning, and do the same with my sleepwear at night, making them cozy and warm! If I wear a sweater and a scarf around my neck, I'm able to function just fine when the apartment is around 65 degrees. Little by little, everything becomes manageable. It makes me wonder how much energy we'd save in the U.S. if everyone learned to live this way?

Two approaches to artistic expression

The cold snap we've had the past week seems to be lifting: the sun is out and warmer temperatures are forecast for the next week. So even though I'll be working, I can enjoy the weather and the view from my terrace.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marradi, Sagra delle Castagne

Chestnuts in their "skin"

On Sunday, I got up early, took a chance on the weather and rushed to catch an early train to Marradi, about an hour northeast of Florence, to attend the Sagra delle Castagne or the chestnut harvest festival. It had rained heavily during the night, and cloudy weather was predicted, but I was hoping to see some lovely fall colors in the countryside. I was not disappointed!

Fall colors in Marradi

I took the 8:40 train, knowing it would be two hours before the next one came along, and it was crowded with people going to the festival. The landscape was a panorama of multi-colored trees filling the hills on both sides of the train. I've heard so many wonderful stories about the sagras during the fall harvest, celebrating everything from grapes to truffles, chestnuts to mushrooms, and I've been eager to attend one. Too often, they are in small hill towns that one can only reach by car, but I've discovered a few I can attend this fall by taking the train. For this festival, they even had a steam engine train you could ride from Firenze and a few other towns to Marradi last week, but I missed the chance to ride it because of the rainy weather.

Roasting chestnuts the old-fashioned way

As soon as we arrived in Marradi, I could tell I had hit the jackpot: I'm pretty sure I was the only non-Italian in the trainload of people that spewed out of the train from Florence. This meant I was attending an event by Italians, for Italians, giving me an opportunity to experience a truly traditional festival, not something skewed to appeal to foreigners' tastes.

Oodles of chestnuts!

I tried several of the dolci, or sweets made from chestnuts: boiled chestnuts in pastry "boats," which I really liked, castagnoccia, a chestnut torte that I didn't much care for, chestnut brittle, which was odd because the nuts are so large, and caldarroste (roasted chestnuts), which I brought home with me and am still nibbling on.

A selection of dolci

For lunch, I chose polenta al cinghiale (polenta with wild boar sauce), which was quite delicious, along with a glass of the local red wine. By noon, I was ready to head back to the station, knowing that if I missed the train scheduled for 1 pm that it would be a four-hour wait for the next one. Many other people had the same idea, and the train was packed with people when we left the station. I can imagine what the later train would be like, as more and more people were arriving in Marradi as we left.

Vendors in Marradi

I enjoyed the sagra much more than the chocolate festival, mainly because it was simple and local...no vendors selling name brand anything. Just plain folk selling plain food: the real deal. I'm looking forward to attending more sagras when I can.

For more photos, click here: Marradi

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Festival della Creatività

For four days this weekend, there was a Festival of Creativity in Florence. In the past, it's been held at Fortezza da Basso, near the main train station. I went to the festival several years ago, but at the time I didn't know much Italian, everything was presented in Italian and the affair seemed to be attended mostly by Italians, so I didn't get much out of it. The Fortezza, one of the first Italian citadels, is a big conference hall away from the center of town, and most tourists don't even know about it.

This year they decided to try something different, placing 33 exhibits in many areas of town, which proved to be much more effective in attracting not only Italians, but tourists as well. Fortunately for me, many of the exhibits were near my flat, so I had an easy time of getting to most of them.

This exhibit, offering spectators the chance to participate in creating African art, was in the piazza just outside my door.

These photos are from an exhibit that focused on art created from recycled objects.



The next exhibit, located in a yurt near the Duomo, was called "città infinita," (infinite city), which allowed people to "use waste materials (mostly wood) from industrial processing to create and recreate urban landscapes."

Kids of all ages enjoyed this one.

And here's a street artist creating a masterpiece.....on Friday:

And the finished work on Sunday:

Alas, it rained the next day, and the the masterpiece is gone. But in a few days, another marvelous creation will take its place.

Creativity is everywhere you look in Florence, and I enjoy being overwhelmed by it. I'm curious to see how that influence will direct my life in the future.

To see more art by some very talented street artists, click here: The road is our canvas

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Perugia and the Eurochocolate Festival

A sea of clouds as seen from Cortona

The next day I woke up early to catch a train to Perugia. There was only one morning train, and I'd have to wait four hours for the next one, so I wanted to make sure I caught the early train. It was a clear day in Cortona, but the valley below was covered by a sea of clouds. It provided an amazing view.

I met a couple from Texas in the train station, and we sat together during the 45-minute train ride south to Perugia. They were headed to Athens, where the husband plans to run a marathon at the end of the month, but they were spending a few days in Italy on their way to Greece. In Perugia, we boarded a bus that took us up a long, steep hill to the city center, where the Eurochocolate Festival was being held. I parted ways with them once we reached Piazza Italia in the centro storico.

A view of Perguia from above

I'd heard about Eurochocolate for several years, but this is the first year that I managed to attend. I was hoping to see an exhibit of Kallari chocolate that my niece in Ecuador has been involved with for many years, but they didn't seem to be there this year. To be honest, I was disappointed in the show and would like to see Perugia sometime without all the vendors crowding the streets. I love chocolate, but eating a small amount at a time is sufficient, and I wasn't in the mood to spend much money on expensive chocolate when I can get it freshly made just down the street from me in Florence anytime I like. (I don't buy it there, either, as it's so expensive!)

Discs of chocolate in many flavors

They had a gimmick where you could buy a "ChocoCard," which entitles you to 10 tastings or gadgets at various booths in the festival. It only cost 5 euros, and it seemed a good way to make a tour of the different booths. Well, three of the 10 booths were closed, and three of them gave samples of things like chocolate shampoo and a new brand of artificial sweetener. So there were actually only four chocolate "tastings." After a while, the smell of chocolate was a bit nauseating, and there were bees swarming around many of the exhibits, which was another reason to avoid them.

Piazza IV Novembre

The historical center of town was lovely and interesting, but I only visited a few of the buildings, as I was there for just a few hours. I'd like to go back with someone and see the city in more depth, without the crowds. The highlight of the day was a cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) that I ordered from one of the local shops. It was made with dark chocolate, orange and cinnamon, and it was one of the most heavenly, delicious drinks I have ever tasted in my life. Truly decadent, and I enjoyed every sip of it!

I enjoyed my time in Cortona and Perugia, even though Eurochocolate was a bust, secondo me (in my opinion). Many people don't mind paying 5 euros for a few ounces of the stuff, but I'm not one of them (unless it's free trade, organic dark chocolate, that is). The big vendors at Eurochocolate are multinational brands that can be bought in many cities around the world. I prefer festivals that feature local foods and products at reasonable prices, making it more affordable for anyone who attends and more profitable for local artisans.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cortona

A view of Camucia and the valley below Cortona

On Wednesday morning I caught the train to Cortona, a hill town about an hour south of Firenze. Cortona was made famous by the book and movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun," as the town that Frances Mayes fell in love with and decided to move to. I almost didn't make the train, as I bought my ticket from a machine for the first time and had trouble understanding the instructions. The forecast had promised "brilliant sunshine," but it was cloudy and cold, and it started pouring as the train pulled out of the station.

Halfway through the journey, the train porter came through to punch our tickets. A young man ahead of me got into an argument with the porter, something about missing a train because it was late and demanding a refund. He badgered the porter until he got his money. Then the porter turned to me, and charged me a 10 euro fine for having a 2nd class ticket in a first class carriage. I had boarded the train in 2nd class, but could not open the door to the carriage, so went into the next carriage, not realizing it was 1st class. I've made that mistake before, but have never been fined. It seemed that the porter was "kicking the dog" after being berated by the guy in front of me.

I enjoyed watching the hazy, foggy countryside: the muted fall scene was like a watercolor painting passing by me. Up ahead the sky was clearing, and I hoped to find sunshine in Cortona. I was the only person to get off the train in Camucia-Cortona, and found an empty station as well, which seemed quite odd. I thought Cortona was a popular place on the tourist scene. Before leaving the station, I bought my ticket to Perugia for the following day, from another machine that took some time to figure out. Then I found a bus to get up the hill to Cortona.

Cortona

For the first time in my travels, I had not made any lodging arrangements in advance, but had several suggestions from a Rick Steves book. After arriving at Piazza Garibaldi in Cortona, I headed down to Casa Betania, a former convent, about 5 minutes down a steep hill. The note on the door said that they were closed for several hours, so I would have to return.

The entrance to Casa Betania

I went back up the hill to town and did some exploring, and stopped to eat a bowl of ribollita, a Tuscan soup made with beans, vegetables and bread. It was pretty chilly in Cortona, so the soup really hit the spot.

One of the steep streets in Cortona

I made my way back down to Casa Betania, found someone in the office, and when I asked if there was a room, the custodian, a very nice man, said: Purtroppo, no. (Unfortunately, no.) My response: Non è vero. Stai scherzando! (That can't be true. You're kidding!) The place was huge, and no one was in sight. How could it be full? He looked at the ledger, then back at me and said: Forse, forse... (maybe, maybe....). Then he called someone to ask a question, and when he was done, took some keys from the wall and led me down to the hall, offering me a choice of two single rooms, for 32 euros. (When he took down my passport information, and noticed my date of birth, he remarked that I seemed much younger than my age, which is always nice to hear!)

Casa Betania, by the terrace

It turns out that 50 French schoolchildren had taken over the place for a week, and the two rooms had been reserved, but were no longer needed. The kids were out on an excursion, which explained why the place was so quiet. There are 35 rooms, a huge terrace, and many large rooms for eating, meeting and hanging out. I was happy to stash my backpack and head out to explore more of the town, and by the time I left the building, the custodian was no longer in the office. It seems I was lucky to find him there at all that day!

An ancient path down from the top of the town

I climbed a steep hill to the top of the town, and by the time I reached the summit, the sun was out, which made everything seem worthwhile. Later, I found a tree-lined city park, just perfect to stroll through as the sun was setting. The trees were changing colors, and the sun filtering through the leaves was lovely. Like the rest of Cortona, very few people were in the park, and I seemed to be the only tourist among them. Once it started to get dark, I headed back towards the center of town to find a place to eat. Many restaurants were already closed for the season, so I settled for pizza and a glass of wine, then headed back to my room.

The entrance to the city park

I hung out for a while in the living room, watching a documentary on Italian tourism on cable tv, and had some tea and biscotti that were available for guests. The place was warm and cozy. The kids had come back, and I could hear their voices echoing in the halls, but they never bothered me. Casa Betania is an amazing place with very modest prices. Here's more information: Casa per ferie Betania

Traveling to Cortona was initially stressful for me, but in the end, as usual, everything worked out, and I'm glad I had the gumption to go. It was definitely worth the effort!

To see more photos, click here: Cortona

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All'improvviso, é già freddo qui!

Suddenly, it's already cold here! A few weeks ago I didn't even need a jacket, and now I need warm clothes and gloves. I wasn't expecting such an abrupt change in the weather. The past few days it's been cloudy and in the 50's. Back home, temps are still in the 70's! When I was packing my clothes in August, I didn't consider that I would need winter clothes, so I only brought a few warm things and several jackets, but no heavy coats. I've managed to find a few inexpensive sweaters and a pair of gloves at the outdoor markets, and am layering the clothes I have.

Some of my scarves.

Scarves are a common sight in Italy at any time of year, but in the fall and winter, they are a necessity. Both men and women wear scarves, and not just for fashion. The streets are drafty and cold, and scarves help to minimize the effect of the cold. I've always enjoyed wearing scarves, and have a nice collection of them that grows every time I'm in Italy. But I could use some lessons in how to drape them creatively as I see many others do here. Scarves are also handy in cold, drafty apartments, another common experience in Italy.

This week I turned on il riscaldamento for the first time...the heating system. Many buildings have riscaldamento centralizzato, which means that every flat's heat is controlled by the owner of the building, who decides when to turn on the heat and at what temperature to maintain it. Often the city regulates when heat can be turned on and off, due to the limited and expensive resources in Italy (gas, electricity, etc.). I have riscaldamento autonomo in my apartment, which means I can turn the heat on and off as I like. But I'm not sure how to read the gauges yet. I have a small travel clock with a thermostat on it, and that helps me keep track of the temperature.

The heating system in my flat uses radiators, which are also nice for warming clothes and towels. But unlike my furnace at home, I can't keep the heat on all day and night, as it would be much too expensive. So I'm learning to live with temps in the low 60's, and turning on the heat for a few hours at a time. Once it gets warm, the apartment stays comfortable for many hours, and I don't need the heat at all during the night. One thing I miss having here is a bathtub, but it's best not to have one because of the expense of using so much water and heating it. That's one thing I'll look forward to doing at home this winter.

The sun is shining again today, so that will help heat the apartment during the day. Ah, simple pleasures!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Il cibo italiano: Italian food

There's no question about it: the temptation of delicious food is everywhere in Florence. Most of the time I'm able to resist, due to the cost of buying the food and the fear of gaining back the weight I've worked so hard to lose the past few years. It's a constant battle every day, especially in Florence, where pastry shops, gelato stores, restaurants and kiosks selling specialty foods are so prolific.

There's a pastry shop just next door, with freshly made creations displayed attractively in the windows everyday. I ate gelato often when the weather was warmer, but now that it's cooler, I'm not often tempted. However, with four gelato stores within a block of my apartment, and several along every street block, I can't escape the sight of people eating the stuff wherever I go. There is also a chocolate maker down the street, but I've been able to resist going into the store. Coffee is another Italian staple that I enjoy, but limit myself to buying it only a few times a week. Otherwise, I often fix a decaf version in my apartment.

A popular Florentine pastry is called schiacciatta, which is similar to focaccia. Schiacciare means to crush, so schiacciatta is like a crushed version of focaccia. There are many forms of it, with or without toppings. I like the plain, unsweetened variety most of the time. It's chewy and a little salty. At this time of year a special version of it, called schiacciata con l'uva is popular.


Schiacciata con l'uva is a dessert bread with peasant origins, cooked at the time of harvest festivals by farmers, which contains simple ingredients: bread dough, olive oil, sugar and black grapes. I've tried several versions of it this past week, and the best one, at the best price, is sold in a small shop across the street from me. It's quite delicious!

My meals are pretty simple fare most of the time: cereal or egg for breakfast; salads, cheese, fruit and foccaccia for lunch; chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner. I often make insalata caprese for lunch, with buffalo mozzarella (soft and chewy, made from water buffalo milk in Southern Italy), tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Once a week I prepare store-bought tortellini or ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach or pumpkin, and serve it with pesto sauce. I drink wine now and then. Pretty boring, eh?

Unlike most people who travel to Italy, food is not a main focus of my time here. I like to try things, but don't want the expense of eating out nor the probability of gaining weight that comes with enjoying Italian cuisine to the hilt. I'm not a great cook at home, and don't expect to be one here, but I enjoy eating at the homes of my friends and learning about Italian cooking from them.

But I must admit I have my indulgences as well. I often eat cookies with tea in the evening, my favorite is chocolate and hazelnut flavored. Another specialty, cantuccini, is an almond-flavored biscotti that I enjoy on occasion. It is often eaten with a small glass of vin santo, a sweet dessert wine. It would be fun to try a bit of everything, if only...

Harvest time brings many special foods, food festivals (called sagras), and vendors selling their wares. It's chestnut season, and roasted chestnuts are starting to be sold on the streets of Florence. Every small town has some kind of sagra to celebrate the local harvest. I'm hoping to go to a chestnut festival next weekend and a truffle festival soon after. And then there's the Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia this week. Will the temptations never end?

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I have a new respect for Mercato Centrale, which I previously panned. I strolled around this huge indoor market today and could see its many attractions: free samples, freshly made pasta, and many prepared foods that you can heat up at home. There are also numerous bins of nuts, spices, dried fruits and long displays of wines, olive oils and balsamic vinegar. Not to mention that this is one of the best places to buy fresh meats, cheeses and fish. It's certainly an important part of the Florence scene.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Segonzano

Here's a view of the Val di Cembra, the area in Trentino-Alto Adige where Segonzano is located. Segonzano is actually composed of fifteen villages. My friend Lucia manages an environmental center located in a vast forest, where school children come to learn about nature and the environment. I met Lucia last year through a language exchange site and we usually meet on Skype to talk for an hour once a week . She invited me to visit her, and I stayed in Segonzano for four days this week. In a region that is often cloudy, we were blessed with sunny skies throughout my stay.

The environmental center amidst the forest.

The children come with their teachers for day trips, they may stay overnight to explore the forest at night, or during the summer they might stay for a week or two of summer camp. There are 55-beds, 4-5 to a room, to accommodate them during their stay. Lucia and her daughter Marta live on site and take care of many duties at the center. They were wonderful hosts during my stay and we had a great time exploring the area together. Marta is a skilled guide in the forest: she's a born naturalist with a strong love for animals, and dotes on her pet pig, Pepsi.

Marta and Lucia with a porcini mushroom.

We went on many walks in the nearby forest, where some trees had started changing colors.

The trees here are mostly pine, beech and larch.

Mountains were always in the distance, providing a vivid contrast to the many cultivated fields of grapes, apples and strawberries in the valley.

Another major industry in the area is the mining of porfido (porphyry) that is used in building and road construction. Porfido is a volcanic rock quarried from the nearby mountains. Many homes in the area resemble Swiss chalets, with colorful displays of flowers hanging from windows and balconies.

One of the more unusual places we visited were the piramidi di terra or earth pyramids that were created by erosion.

On several mornings, Lucia and I visited some of the Segonzano villages while running errands, and one morning we went to Trento.

A fresco on Palazzo Alberti-Cotico in Trento.

After being in the city for a few hours, I was eager to return to the peaceful forest setting. I enjoyed my stay with Lucia and Marta and am very grateful for their kindness and generosity in hosting me in their home, sharing their lives and showing me the wonders of their region. As I was leaving, Marta gave me a special memento, a small boat she had carved that day out of larch bark, along with my initials on the side of the boat. Che dolcezza! How sweet! I will miss these dear friends! Grazie mille, carissimi!

Lucia and I at the train station in Trento.

For more photos, click here: Segonzano#