Sunday, November 6, 2011

Maltempo, terremoto

Bad weather, earthquake

I've been keeping up with reports of the heavy rains in Italy, causing widespread devastation in many regions of the country. The hardest hit have been Liguria and Toscana, but Piemonte and Campania are also reporting widespread damage. In Liguria, Genova and le Cinque Terre have had heavy flooding, and the paesini (small villages) ofi Vernazza and Monterosso are digging out of the mud left over from landslides that coursed through the towns. In some towns, the mud covers the first level of homes and businesses. In Naples, flooding extends to Pompeii. As the storms move east, fears of the Po river flooding increase. Rain continues to fall throughout Italy, and other rivers are being watched as they rise closer and closer to the flood level stage.

In contrast, we still have sunny weather here in Kansas, with cold temperatures at night (0 C), but warming up into the 60's (17C) during the day. Last night, however, I was awakened by the sound of my house shaking, as doors and windows rattled for about a minute. Earthquake! Sure enough, there was a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in Oklahoma, which is 300 miles (483km) south of here. We don't often have noticeable earthquakes in this part of the U.S., but this is not the first one I've encountered. I awoke in a similar way some years ago when my bed started shaking, caused by an earthquake in Missouri. Fortunately, the Oklahoma tremors caused little damage, and no injuries.

Compared to the events in Italy, a few tremors is hardly worth mentioning. I feel fortunate to be safe, warm and dry while so many are dealing with widespread devastation due to heavy rains and flooding in Italy.

How can we help? One easy way to help is through la Croce Rossa Italiana (Italian Red Cross), which has created an English language website where anyone can send donations via credit card or PayPal. Here's a link:

Italian Red Cross

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Autumn Poetry: Poesia dell'autunno

Japanese Maple leaves in my yard
"Lo spettacolo era magnifico;  i larici dorati accanto agli abeti sempreverdi e agli ontani con le foglie rossicce formavano un quadro vivente. L' azzurro intenso del cielo rendeva ancora piu' pieni quei colori; le ombre lunghe davano profondità alla visione."
The view was magnificent: golden larch trees, amidst evergreens and red alder leaves, created a live painting. The deep blue of the sky rendered the ​​colors even richer, while the long shadows gave depth to the vision.

These words arrived today in an email from my friend Luigi, as he recounted a recent trip to Val d'Aosta in northwest Italy. Luigi has been a steadfast companion since the early days of my journeys in Italy, nearly six years ago, and we often spark each other's creative spirit. Inspired by his words, I took a walk down a tree-lined street in my neighborhood this afternoon. The weather was balmy and windy, and I watched as leaves swirled along the streets or joined piles of other castoffs already accumulating in empty yards. Fallen leaves crunched noisily beneath my feet, dry and dusty, before scampering away in the wind.

Backlit by the sun, the trees that lined the street, one after another, created a vibrant luminosity. It was like gazing through a large kaleidoscope: brilliant hues and combinations of colors swirled together, creating a masterpiece of autumn beauty. I could see patterns of various colors mixing together in magnificent combinations. Hues of green, yellow, orange, red, and brown, often blended together in one leaf, created a wondrous feast for the eyes. Like snowflakes, no two leaves were alike, and the mixture of  colors seemed infinitesimal. I stood in awe under one particularly large and colorful oak tree, struck by the hues of green, yellow and red in each leaf. Even after one of the hottest summers on record, autumn is dressed in her finest and most colorful gowns this year. I'm happy to be a witness to this splendid beauty.

 "Insomma il paesaggio era una festa per i miei occhi."
In short, the landscape was a feast for my eyes.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cold fusion - a breakthrough in Bologna?

Thanks to my friend Massimo, I've been privy to some exciting, possibly revolutionary news from Bologna. Most people are unaware that some extraordinary experiments are going on with a machine that can generate energy from cold fusion (fusione fredda). Cold fusion is a type of nuclear reaction that occurs at low energies or temperatures. The invention, called the E-Cat machine (energy catalyzer), was developed by Dr.Andrea Rossi , an entrepreneur, and is now undergoing worldwide scrutiny after a successful test of the device was run on October 28 in Bologna.

Rossi has "developed what he claims to be a simple system for generating what would be, essentially, endless and incredibly cheap energy." (Mark Gibbs, Forbes online, Oct. 30, 2011, from

This "technology utilizes tiny quantities of nickel powder and hydrogen gas as fuel, while producing large amounts of energy in the form of heat. Importantly, the energy is produced without emitting any pollution, utilizing any radioactive materials, or producing any nuclear waste. Simply put, the E-Cat offers the world a source of cheap, safe, and clean energy."  (Sterling Allen,, from

I first heard about Dr.Rossi's experiments from Massimo in March, but due to the skepticism that has been a constant factor in the reports coming from Bologna, little mention of it has been made in Italy or the rest of the world. (In fact, Massimo is the only one of my Italian friends who had heard about it.) However, Dr. Rossi performed a test a few days ago that has won over many of the skeptics and it now looks like his invention has the potential to change the world as we know it. Still, Rossi is viewed as either a madman or a genius, and there are many unanswered questions about his invention. Is it a scam or the real deal? Chissà? Only time will tell.

Massimo was present at the test last week, had his photo taken with Dr. Rossi, and can be seen in the background with his wife Sofia in several news videos that are online. They were even visible in one shot on the national news televised in Italy. Perhaps some day soon he can say that he was a witness to history in the making.

Andrea Rossi (on the left) with Massimo
Since science isn't my field, I won't attempt to explain how the E-Cat works, and I have not been able to fully comprehend the implications that this invention could have for the world. But some say that if Rossi's invention actually works, it will be the most important invention in all of human history.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A special kind of treasure

One of the treasures I brought home from Italy this year is a small bottle of homemade balsamic vinegar, made by my friend Marvi in Modena. To give you an idea of how small the bottle is, the photo below shows it sitting next to my Bialetti Moka Express coffeemaker. So I'm using the vinegar sparingly, a few delicious drops at a time. 
the bottle seems dwarfed by the Bialetti
One way that I can do this is by pouring a few drops of the intensely flavored, thick, syrupy liquid over jagged pieces of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Squisito!

Parmigiano Reggiano con l'aceto balsamico di Modena

I was telling Marco and Marvi that I used their l'aceto sparingly, and they laughed, telling me not to worry: when the bottle is empty, I simply need to come back to Modena to fill 'er up again!

All in good time. Meanwhile, the weather is still warm and sunny here, and I have time to work in the yard and watch the leaves changing colors.

(While visiting me in Zagarolo, Marvi brought with her a small bottle of l'aceto balsamico made from the family's 30-year-old stash of grape must. For those who don't know, Modena is famous for its balsamic vinegar, and the best variety, aged at least for 20 years, is VERY expensive. Most versions of balsamic vinegar in the U.S. have little relation to the real stuff. )

Friday, October 7, 2011

La vendemmia Bolognese

The wine harvest in Bologna

It's time for la vendemmia!  All over Italy, grapes are being harvested and transformed into many kinds of vino italiano.  Lately I've been hearing from my friend Massimo about the vendemmia that is taking place near his home of Bologna.

First Massimo told me about a food festival that he and his family (wife Sofia and daughter Erika) came across one Sunday afternoon in Bologna's centro storico. There were many booths selling fall fruits, vegetables, jams and wine, among other things. They also came across a booth where children were allowed to jump in a vat and stomp grapes, the way wine making was done many years ago.

i ragazzi pigiano l'uva (children stomping the grapes)
Massimo's family was also invited to attend la vendemmia at his friend Fabiano's house in the country, where a machine called il torchio (winepress) is used to squeeze the grapes. Il torchio has been in existence in one form or another for many years, so la pigiatura dell'uva (grape stomping) nowadays in Italy is done mostly for fun. Massimo sent me a few photos of the wine making process that went on at Fabiano's house. The end result: vino Moscato (Moscato wine) for family and friends.

 le uve arrivano in ceste di legno (the grapes arrive in wooden crates)
Fabiano e suo madre riempiono il torchio
(Fabiano and his mother filling the winepress)
Sofia preme l'uva sotto gli occhi attenti del padre di Fabiano.
  (Sofia pressing the grapes under the watchful eyes of Fabiano's father.)
Grazie mille a Massimo per le foto e la famiglia di Fabiano per la vendemmia!
Many thanks to Massimo for sharing his weekend outing at Fabiano's!

Massimo also sent me a link to a High Definition video he created and posted on YouTube about the wine-making. It's fabulous!

Wine Harvest in Bologna

Hopefully I'll have the chance to see a similar operation at the Cantina del Tufaio during my stay in Zagarolo next fall. For more on la vendemmia, here's the link to an article with more information from the Florentine, an English bi-weekly magazine published in Firenze:

Grape stomping time in Italy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Food for Thought

Dante, Firenze, 2011

"It is our choices...that show what we
truly are, far more than our abilities"
- J.K. Rowling

Saturday, September 24, 2011



Can you imagine this? For more than four years I wrote about my travels on an earlier blog, travels that included five separate visits to Italy and one to Japan. Then suddenly, one day last summer, the blog disappeared, due to some snafu with the server that was hosting my website. And along with the blog, I also lost access to the backup of all my posts! The person who had created my website was no longer working as a web designer, and I was unsuccessful in figuring out how to revive the blog portion of it.

By now, I've visited nearly 80 cities and villages in Italy, and most of those stories were contained on the lost blog. For a writer, that's like losing part of one's soul. Last summer I started this new blog, but have been grieving all these months over losing the record of my travels from 2006 through 2009. It's my own fault: since I had a backup on the blog site, I didn't worry about creating another backup on my computer.

The good news: recently, I was finally able to gain access to the backup of that blog, and now have it stored safely on my computer AND a flash drive. However, it's in a coded form, so it will take me weeks, maybe months to decipher all my posts. I'm not sure if I'll try to create another blog with those stories, or save them for other writing projects I want to do.

Fortunately, I've been able to capture the adventure of living in Italy during the past year on this blog, and make sure to back up every single post! There are many more adventures to come as I find ways to spend more time in Italy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rificolona Redux

Last year at this time, I was living in Florence and enjoying the many special events that are a part of daily Florentine life. Here's a video of a scene in Piazza della Signoria during La Festa della Rificolona, held every Sept. 7. I'm sorry I missed it this year, so have been reliving the experience by viewing the photos and videos I shot to record the event. We had a rockin' good time parading through the streets of Florence, from Piazza Santa Croce to Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.

To read my blog post from last year, click here:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

La musica delle montagne

Here are a few videos taken while hiking with friends this July in Parco Naturale Paneveggio - Pale di San Martino, Tonadico Province of Trento, Italy.  It was an incredible day, and seeing these videos makes me wish I could have stayed longer in this setting. The music you hear is the sound of cowbells.

In this  video, Lucia and Marta are feeding the mountain sheep.

for more info on my travels to Trentino, see these links:


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Butterflies and Transformation

 (photo found on internet)
One of the unique things that happens in Lawrence every September is the arrival of thousands of Monarch butterflies. The nearby Haskell-Baker Wetlands is a stop along their migration route from Canada to Mexico. One year there were so many of them that they covered the trees like leaves, and when I walked through the wetlands, thousands of butterflies danced around me, creating a soft, fluttering wind. One year I even had the unique pleasure of hosting one of them in my home. What follows is an essay I wrote (for a monthly column I used to have) about the transforming experience that resulted from that event. This essay predates my travels in Italy: in fact, at the time I wrote the essay, I had no inkling  that I would soon be spreading my own wings to fly far away from home, creating my own seasonal migration route between Italy and Kansas.

 One blustery October afternoon some years ago, when I was moving plants inside for the winter, I noticed an object hanging on the underside of a palm tree. I removed it, not knowing for sure what it was or what to do with it. The object was a tiny green chamber, dotted with gold markings, reminding me of an Egyptian sarcophagus. I quickly did some research on the internet and discovered that it was a butterfly chrysalis. I put it back where I had found it and kept an eye on it for several days, wondering what would happen next. Then I promptly forgot about it.

 (photo found on internet)
That weekend, when showing the chrysalis to a friend, I discovered it was empty. The butterfly had emerged but was nowhere to be seen. Then several days later, like magic, a monarch butterfly appeared, fluttering around the front room. Unfortunately it flew into a halogen lamp, getting stuck beneath the heating element. I immediately turned the lamp off, to prevent it from getting fried, but it was damaged in the process, and had trouble flying after that.

I fixed a saucer of sugar water to feed the butterfly, though I didn't expect it to survive the night. But it slowly gained more strength and began to move around. I sensed there was something synchronistic about this experience; that the butterfly had some meaning for me, prompting me to take a deeper look at my life. As a matter of fact, I’d been feeling sad and anxious that whole year, realizing I’d gone astray from accomplishing many cherished goals. Like the butterfly, I’d been “crippled” by several life events, and was limping along, unhappy and unfulfilled.

I knew this magical creature could not last long in my house, but I wanted to enjoy its presence while I could. It was a privilege to have it in my home, and to watch its movements up close. One day, I named the butterfly “Benito,” the first name that popped into my head, only to discover later that Benito means “blessed”. I enjoyed having Benito as a companion, but it was a bittersweet experience. Since the weather was cold, there seemed no point in trying to release him outdoors. How sad it was to watch him beating his wings against the window, losing energy and wing fragments. He was being kept from his natural environment by the barrier of glass, unable to fulfill his butterfly potential.

In the end, I couldn’t bear the thought of finding Benito dead one day, a prisoner in my house. Fortunately, fate stepped in during the next week, providing a string of days as warm as spring. On an impulse, I scooped Benito up one morning and took him outside. I wasn’t sure if he could fly, but I knew I had to give him that chance. I could keep him “safe” and watch him die, or I could let him fly free, and see what happened. When I released him, despite the torn wings, Benito took off in an instant, and was quickly gone from sight, headed toward the wetlands. Even if his life in the wild was a short one, at least he was able to fulfill his destiny as a butterfly. Watching him fly away, I knew he was a messenger, “blessing” the way to change.

I saw myself like that fragile butterfly, beating my wings against a barrier that held me back from reaching my potential. I had the definite feeling that transformation was needed in my life, but in order for that to happen, I’d have to find the courage to let go of the “safe” and predictable life I was leading. It took me another six months to make some long needed changes, accompanied by anguish, doubt and grief. But once things got rolling, a new momentum began to build, and I discovered a flurry of new ideas, new opportunities, and new experiences opening up in my life. Within a year, I was able to accomplish numerous goals that I’d been distracted from completing for nearly a decade. My life is flourishing as a result of those changes, and the momentum continues to build as I continue to challenge myself with new goals.

As butterflies appear in your lives this fall, I encourage you to consider the prospect of transformation in your own life. Don’t wait for crippling life events to occur before you consider making much needed changes. By the very act of choosing transformation over stagnation, we become energized to create a more satisfying and rewarding life. Like Benito, I encourage you to fly eagerly and willfully into your destiny, fulfilling your unique potential, broken wings and all.

Copyright © 2006 Marybeth Bethel (excluding photos)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Synchronistic Journey: Italy during WW II

Lately, I've been reading many books, one after another, which has lead me on a synchronistic journey of sorts. First, I came across an interesting novel about Italian POWs during WW II, entitled The Paperbark Shoe, by Goldie Goldbloom. Since Italy was so deeply affected by this war, and the impact is still reverberating in the Italian way of life, it seems necessary to learn what I can about that time in Italian history if I can ever hope to understand Italian culture in the present day. 

The novel takes place in the 1940's, when 18,000 Italian POWs were sent to Australia by the British government. Many of the prisoners were then sent to work on Australian farms, due to a shortage of  male farm workers caused by Australian men fighting in the war. The story describes an Australian family who take on two Italian  POWs, and how the experience affects their lives. The tale also ties into a massacre by German soldiers that took place in a small Tuscan village during that time. The strage di Sant'Anna di Stazzema,  August 12, 1944, claimed the lives of more than 500 Italian civilians, who were thought to be harboring Italian resistance fighters (partigiani) in their village. The Paperbark Shoe was a powerful novel, and it lead me to the second step of  my journey: a movie by Spike Lee, called Miracle at St. Anna.

While doing research on the strage di Sant'Anna, I learned about the movie, and found it available on DVD at the local library. From watching the movie, I learned more, not only about the massacre, but also about the Italian resistance (partigiani) and the role of black American soldiers fighting in Tuscany during the war. After watching the movie, I decided to read the novel it was based on, also called Miracle at St. Anna, by James Mc Bride.


This novel gave me a deeper understanding of the many factions at war in Tuscany during WW II, and how the events and experiences of that time have shaped not only Italian history, but its culture and way of life as well. I also learned about the Buffalo soldiers' unique status in the village, a situation that made them feel more accepted and free in Italy than they did at home in the United States. Like the book Paperbark Shoe, Miracle at St. Anna was hard to put down: it was a "good read" that was both informative and engaging.

I enjoy following a synchronistic journey that leads me from one thing to the next, weaving the threads of several topics or events into a complex, textured fabric, rich with meaning. In this case, I was lead to a deeper understanding of several powerful moments that shaped the history and culture of Italy, as well as that of Australia and the United States. Some of  the questions that arose in the first book were answered for me later in the movie and the second  book. I have a strong feeling there is more to this journey, and I'm curious to see where I'm "lead'' next.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Last days

Sunset view in Zagarolo

My last few days in Italy were spent hanging out in Zagarolo with Deborah, doing some online work, and packing my bags for the return trip to the States. I have the chance to return to Zagarolo next year, for two months in the spring, and another two months in the fall, so that helped to modify my sadness about leaving my new "home." And if all goes well, maybe I can stay in Italy in the months between my stays in Zagarolo. Chissá? I even left a bag of clothes and toiletries at Deborah's house, that I can use when I return.

I decided to spend my last night in Rome, as there was a nationwide train and bus strike the next day, and I didn't want to be stranded in Zagarolo without a way to get to the airport. As it turned out, the strike didn't start until after I left Rome, but I'm glad I had the chance to spend a few hours in Trastevere, where I had a wonderful meal of grilled calamari and zucchine, in Piazza della Scala.


One of the smartest things I did before heading to Rome was doing  an online check-in and printing off boarding passes for my flight home, from my computer in Zagarolo. This enabled me to breeze by the long lines at the check-in area at the airport. I stayed in a B&B called Little Italy, which is only a short walk from the Termini train station. From Termini, I took the Leonardo Express to the Fiumicino airport, and hopped on a shuttle to Terminal 5, where direct flights to the U.S. depart. I bypassed the check-in area, dropped my bags off, and proceeded to the departure gate. After the incubo (nightmare) I had last year at Fiumicino, I was determined to become more familiar with the airport, and am pleased to report it went well. Here's link to last year's fiasco: Foulup at Fiumicino

In Kansas I was greeted by HOT weather, the hottest July in 100 years. For nearly three weeks, the temps were in the 100's F (38-43 Celsius), searing off blossoms on growing plants so that vegetable crops have been decimated. No tomatoes in my orto (vegetable garden)! But the basil is doing well, so at least I'll be able to make fresh pesto. And here I was worried about the heat in Italy, when in fact, hot temps were rarely an issue during my stay.

I'm adjusting to life in Kansas, and prolonging my re-entry by continuing to share stories of life in Italy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Firenze ancora

Classic Fiat 500 in my old neighborhood in Florence

My last stop on my tour of northern Italy was to spend a few days in Florence, the city where I've spent many months over the past 5 years. I was expecting torrid temperatures and swarming crowds of tourists, but when I arrived on a Friday evening, the streets were relatively empty, and the weather had cooled considerably.

On Saturday, I went to visit Santa Croce, which I'd done once before in 2006. I wanted to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo again. But the main reason I went was to be able to take a guided tour of the restoration of the Gaddi frescoes later in the day.

Michelangelo's tomb

Dante's tomb (though he is buried in Ravenna)

L'arte in Cantiere (Art Restoration Site)
The eight frescoes on the side walls of the Cappella Maggiore, the main altar in Santa Croce, are being restored. They were painted in 1380 by Agnolo Gaddi and depict the Legend of the True Cross. It was a unique opportunity to view up close the frescoes of this great artist, who was influenced by Giotto. The tour of the restoration site involves a gradual ascension up 7 levels of scaffolding, the same structure used by those involved in the restoration. There were no English tour guides that day, so I went on a tour with an Italian guide, and was able to follow most of her explanations.

For a more detailed explanation and great photos of the fresco tour, check out this post on Freya's Florence

In 2009 I had done a similar tour of the Correggio frescoes in Parma at the Saint John the Evangelist Abbey Church and didn't want to pass up this new opportunity. Few people get the chance to see these frescoes up close, since they are painted on the walls and ceilings, and it was a great privilege.

Salvatore Ferragamo: Inspiration and Vision
Another interesting exhibit I saw during my stay was the shoe museum in Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, housed in Palazzo Spini Feroni, where one can also view and shop for the lastest Ferragamo creations. Salvatore Ferragamo was a Florentine shoe designer who first became famous while creating unique shoe designs for American film stars. I went to the museum last fall, but the shoe museum had been displaced by an exhibit of Greta Garbo's clothes, which was interesting, but not what I had hoped to see. I love the creativity that Ferragamo is noted for, and the museum houses hundreds of the shoes that he crafted. The museum's footwear collection documents the entire span of Salvatore Ferragamo's career, from his return to Italy in 1927 to 1960 the year he died. For more info, here's a link to the museum:  museoferragamo

I also took time to enjoy the local artists, including performance art by this clever woman, who made graceful, fluid movements with her scarves each time someone dropped money in her hat:

And the chalk artists, who create new masterpieces every few days on the streets of Florence.

I also have to admire the many vendors who sell souvenirs, leather goods and scarves in the San Lorenzo and Mercato Nuovo street markets in Florence.

San Lorenzo, setting up

I've watched them in the mornings as they lug their heavy carts through the streets, making their way to the markets to set up their displays. I've also seen them in the evenings, as they break down the displays and pack away every little thing, then haul their carts to nearby storage areas.

Mercato Nuovo, packing up

I had a taste of this type of work when I sold mosaics for several years at art fairs, but on a much smaller scale. I cannot imagine doing what many of these vendors do every day, morning and night, and then stand for hours to sell their wares, for years on end. Hats off to the vendors!

On my last night in Firenze, the albergatori (hotel staff) who run Il Bargellino, where I often stay, invited me to dinner on their terrace, along with several other single guests. The place is run by Carmel, a native of Boston, and her husband Pino, an Italian from Calabria. I've stayed with them often since 2007, and was touched to be invited to share a meal with them.

Terrace at il Bargellino

I first learned of the hotel through a Rick Steves recommendation, and enjoy both the location, the affordable cost and the ambiance of the hotel. It's located on a quiet street not far from the Santa Maria Novella train station in one direction, and the San Lorenzo market in another. One of the greatest assets of the hotel is a large terrace that all guests have access to; it's a great place to enjoy a bottle of wine and hear travel stories of other English-speaking guests.

Pino fixed a delicious pollo involtino (chicken wrapped around an herb filling), along with pasta al pesto by Carmel, wine, and a gooey, chocolate dessert. A relative of Pino's, who helps out at the hotel, was also there. The others were from Florida, Massachusetts and Belgium. I had an interesting conversation with the guy from Belgium about how recent research has shown the beneficial effects of optimism on the brain. He was in Florence for a conference on Neuroscience, and added more depth to a recent article I'd read in Time magazine on the topic. Here's a link to that article:   The Optimism Bias

Sharing a meal with others on the terrace was a lovely way to enjoy my last night in Florence, and we talked until late in the night. For more about the hotel, here's a link:  il

I left Florence around noon the next day, eager to return to Zagarolo and relax after several weeks of travel.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cremona, Fidenza

Cremona, home of Stradivari, world famous liutaio (violin maker)

After Modena, I traveled west to Cremona, in the region of Lombardia, which turned out to be more of an adventure than I had anticipated. I thought I would be changing trains in Fidenza, but once I arrived at the train station, I learned that I'd be taking a bus from Fidenza to Cremona, instead of a train. There were only a few of us on the bus that afternoon, and it was an odd hour-long drive through the plains of the Piana Padura or Po Valley. Just before arriving in Cremona, we crossed the wide expanse of the Po River, the longest river in Italy.

il Duomo, Santa Maria Assunta

Piazza del Commune with outdoor cafe

I had hoped to go to Cremona last fall, but never made it there, due to the rainy season and other factors. I had attended a class on the art of violin-making in the summer of 2010, and was told by friends that November would be the perfect time to visit Cremona: the foggy fall weather would provide the perfect backdrop to both the Cremonese music and food traditions. I wrote a post about Cremona and violin-making which provides some background about my interest in the town:


(The "magic" I'd associated with Cremona did not materialize while I was there, but perhaps I'll visit again with a companion on some misty fall day in the future.)

A liutaio shop, a common sight in Cremona

July is not the best time to visit Cremona, and I didn't hear any violin music while I was there (bad planning on my part), but I still enjoyed my one-day visit. My hotel was in the centro storico (historical center), a pedestrian area right near the Duomo and the main piazzas. My main activities were focused on visiting the Sala dei Violini (Museum of Violins), to see violins, under glass and carefully guarded, that were crafted by Amati, Stradivari, and del Gesù, as well as the Stradivari museum, housed in the Museo Civico (Civic Museum).

Torrazzo, Duomo e Battistero di Cremona

Cremona's Torrazzo ( bell tower) is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world, and the second highest in Europe, while the Duomo and Baptistery are famous as being among the most well-known sites of Romanesque-Gothic art in northern Italy.

A typical street in the centro storico

A popular gathering place in Cremona is Piazza Roma, which is actually a large park, with this lovely sculpture as one of several fountains.

Fontana delle Naiadi (Fountain of the Water Nymphs)

More affluent than other parts of Italy, Cremona is filled with outdoor cafes in every piazza - often two or three of them - and I saw no evidence of the need to lock up the cafe tables and chairs at night that is common practice in most Italian tourist areas.

Piazza by day

Every Thursday night during the summer, Cremona hosts a "Shopping Festival" from 9-11 pm, and features music, exhibits and shopping specials to attract people to the town center. Since I was there on a Thursday, a rock band set up camp outside my hotel window, playing until midnight, and the most popular exhibits were hosted by motorcycle and antique car dealers. Hmmmm: not the kind of culture I expected to find in Cremona! But I found the town quaint and interesting and would like to go there again, sometime when I can attend a violin concert.

Same piazza, by night

When I left Cremona, I had a two-hour wait for my train connection in Fidenza, so I took a stroll downtown, which was only due passi (one block) from the station.

Palazzo Communale (town hall), Fidenza

Not much was going on, as it was during the early afternoon, when everything closes up for several hours.

Centro storico, Fidenza

I came across a sweet little park, where I stopped to eat some fruit, then strolled back to the station, eager to move on to my next destination: Firenze!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Modena, Castelvetro, Riolunato, Fiumalbo

Il paesaggio sud di Modena
(the landscape south of Modena)

After Venice, I took the train to Modena, to see Marco and Marvi, who had visited me in Zagarolo in June. I'd been to visit them last year, and you can find out more about Modena and how I met these friends, along with links to many photos, by clicking here:

After resting for a few hours in their comfortable home, in the evening they drove me to nearby Castelvetro, where there is a large, well-preserved castle built in the 5th century. We saw several castles that evening before stopping for dinner.


Another village along the way

Marco and Marvi

The next day we headed into the hills south of Modena, and spent the entire overcast day stopping to visit small villages, churches, medieval castles and bridges. Our destination was Riolunato, a small village about 80 km south of Modena. A friend's husband back in the States has roots in the town, and asked me take some photos of it. Marco had mentioned it as one of the areas where he often rides his bike, and offered to drive me there, even though it is several hours from Modena. Marco works nights as a pediatrician in nearby Pavullo, and after his shift, he likes taking an early morning bike ride in the hills near Riolunato.

Pieve di Renno
In Renno, we stopped to visit this pieve, or parish church, built around the 9th century.

Medieval bridge

We also stopped to see several medieval bridges that are still intact, though only used for foot traffic, if anyone can find them. I'd never have found my way here on my own, but Marco seems to know every nook and cranny of these hills. He also knows the best places to eat along the way!

Another view of the bridge.

You can see the braces that have been added to the middle of the bridge to keep it sturdy. The longevity of these bridges attests to the mastery of those who built them.

Another medieval bridge

Riolunato (Moonriver)

Here we enter Riolunato, nestled in the hills. It's difficult to get to this area, as there are no trains and few buses, so car travel is a must. I'm fortunate to have friends who know the area well and are eager to share it with me. We stopped for dinner at the Hotel Cimone, which had lovely views of the surrounding hills.

Riolunato village

The last town we visited before heading back to Modena was Fiumalbo, a charming village touted as "The City of Art," though we weren't sure why.

Fiumalbo street

Fiumalbo, near the main piazza

Still, we enjoyed walking along the cobbled streets, hoping to see the ruins of Fiumalbo's castle, said to have remained impervious to attack throughout the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, access to the castle was closed off, but we were able to view the wall that supposedly kept invaders at bay.

Wall surrounding Fiumalbo's castle.

I'm very grateful to Marco and Marvi for hosting me in their home for the second year in a row. I love being able to see parts of Italy that are off the beaten track, and I'm humbled by the generosity of my friends in granting me the opportunity to do so.