MESSAGE from Italy: Tuscany *Video*

While in Tuscany I got to stay in a medieval castle from the 14th c. called the Castello di Meleto – it was magnificent! And the Tuscan countryside was some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We also spent day each in the dueling towns of Verona and Siena, and even stopped along off at Bologna along the way!

To kick off our Tuscan review, here I am in the castle garden. Or at least that’s my head bobbing at the bottom of the video. Watch!

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Siena’s main square. Il Campo is famous for the horse race Il Palio that’s held twice a year in July and August. Each of Siena’s 17 town districts has a horse in the race (so to speak), and it’s pandemonium as the bare-back riders race their horses around the stone square in a counter-clockwise direction. The whole race takes less than a minute.

Horse hysterics aside, the square is also just a cool place to sit in one of the sidewalk café and check out the vantage of the seashell-shaped plaza. Good people watching.

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Pasta! Tuscan cooking is heavy, peasant fare. Think: hunting lodge food, with lots of game and hearty soups. Good olive oil is the primary ingredient, along with the herbs rosemary and sage (and parsley and basil in the summer). Traditionally salt was expensive, so there’s little salt added to the dishes. We’ve all had Tuscan food and there’s only 1 world for it: YUM!

SEE (Must-see Sights) – Florence / Verona. Although Florence is one of my favorite cities, I didn’t visit it on this trip. But my memories of the rooftop views, the Ponte Vecchio, and Uffizi Museum, and — of course, Michelangelo’s David — are all wonderful!

My second favorite Tuscan city is Verona, which has a sweet character. The old town is well preserved and I’d give just about anything to see a concert in its famed open-air arena. If you’re in the Tuscan region, stopping off in Verona for a day or two is a treat!

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Wine! If you go to Tuscany, you need to indulge in the region’s famous wine. We did quite a few wine tastings, along with an olive oil tasting and a chocolate pairing. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

We learned that t make a good wine is a combination of 80% rich soil, 10% favorable climate, 10% wine-making knowledge. A lucky “spirit of the vineyard” and open space to let the vines breathe is an added advantage.

Tuscan kids learn to drink wine early. As a snack, they’re given a piece of bread, moistened with wine and sprinkled with sugar on it. A tapa for toddlers!

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Cooking School. When went to the castle so we could attend cooking school where learned to make handmade pasta (the secret is to roll it for about ½ hour until it’s so thin you can read a newspaper through it).

How to make home-made pasta:

  • Ingredients for pasta are only flour and eggs (100 grams of flour per egg per person).
  • Make a pile with the flour and pour the eggs in the center crater.
  • Mix with your fingers, working outwards, until the flour absorbs all the eggs.
  • Knead the dough vigorously and let sit for 10 minutes
  • Flatten the dough and roll it out, using flour to prevent it from sticking
  • Roll it forever, using an extra long rolling pin about 2 feet long
  • Roll the dough into a jellyroll shape and cut into strips
  • Cook in boiling salt water for 1 minute.

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Art Restoration. In 2010, the Italian government cut its fine arts budget by more than 40% as part of its economic austerity program. These budget cuts, however, didn’t stop Italian Prime Minister Mr. Berlusconi from restoring two of his favorite statues, one of Venus and one of the god of war.

Berlusconi not only ordered the removal of the statues from Italian museums and instead placed in his private garden, he also ordered the restoration of the statues, replacing Venus’ missing hand and the war god’s penis.

“Correcting” the statues cost ~US$100,000 each and angered art historians since you do “not try to restore perfection to ancient works of art.” This is obviously only one of Mr. Berlusconi’s problems.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Visiting Juliet’s balcony. It’s quite the pilgrimage for couples and young girls. I even have a picture touching Juliet’s breast — why? Good question! Legend has it that if you rub Juliet’s right breast (on the bronze sculpture of Juliet in the courtyard) you will not suffer the same fate as the star-crossed lovers. I figured it was worth a shot.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011 and is filed under Europe, Messages by Country.

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