For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, the Facade of St. Mark’s Basilica is Scaffold-Free

With so many ancient structures in need of constant upkeep, Italy is no stranger to scaffolding. Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, in particular, is known for constantly being under repair. Continue reading For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, the Facade of St. Mark’s Basilica is Scaffold-Free

One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

Time Flies!
“Time Flies! Stop lying around and write something, will ya?” (Photo of a detail from the facade of Santa Maria dell’ Orazione e delle Morte on the Via Giulia, Rome)

Living in a new place, especially for an extended period of time, fills me with a sense of duty that I have to write everything down, commit every moment to memory, take a photo every day if not every hour. But eventually, that initial motivation turns to dread and an overwhelming feeling that I should be more mindful of my surroundings rather than living behind a lens or a computer screen.

The latter reason is why I have not written as much as I should have over this past year in Italy. Plus, I’ve just done so much in these 12 months! I’ve traveled all over Rome and its region Lazio, from the beaches to the lakes to hill towns in between, and have visited six other regions (with a goal of getting to all 20 before my time here comes to and end). Over the past year, I have also taken more than 7,000 photos — so much for not living behind a lens!

Despite that photo stat, I have been paying attention with my other senses: smelling the roasting chestnuts in winter, the jasmine bushes in spring, and the cool, damp aroma of underground spaces; listening to the rumble of trams, the clinking of cups and saucers, the fleeting bits of Italian conversations overheard in the markets and shops; and tasting the foods of each season. Touch has been more elusive, as Italy is full of things you want to touch but cannot — smooth marbles and mosaics and frescoes, tufts of moss growing out of crevices high on a Roman wall.

Of course, readers visit this blog to see Italy as much as learn about it. So, I wanted to share 12 photos over this past year, one for each month, to mark my transition from year one to year two. These are simple photos — most taken with an iPhone 5 — but they are special reminders for me. Read below for details.

Continue reading One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

How to Avoid Tourists in Venice

Crowds outside the Doge's Palace in Venice

It’s the conundrum that many travelers face: how to be a tourist but avoid other tourists. In a place like Venice, that’s pretty hard to do. The canal city on the Adriatic has less than 300,000 permanent residents* but welcomes approximately 30 million tourists each year.

Numbers like that make it nearly impossible not to trip over your fellow Venice visitors. But there are some ways to make the experience of seeing Venice–one of the most remarkable cities in the world–slightly more pleasant.

Continue reading How to Avoid Tourists in Venice

Classical Sculptures in Miniature Form at New Venice Exhibit

If you’re in Venice for the Biennale, consider stopping by Fondazione Prada’s “Portable Classic” exhibit, which features mini models of famous Italian sculptures, including the Farnese Hercules and the Laocoön.

Source: Prada Exhibit Showcases Miniature Reproductions of Classical Sculptures : Architectural Digest

Visions of Veronese Green in Venice

When you are the parent of young kids, you often find unusual things in your pockets. After a while, you get used to sticking your hand in your coat and finding a toy car or an action figure. For the past several months, I’ve been carrying around an unopened tube of Veronese Green* paint.

Giotto tempera paint in Veronese Green

Back in the fall, I bought a tube like the one above for my six-year-old son, who draws (mostly animals and Marvel superheroes) first thing in the morning and first thing when he gets home from school. Leo usually uses markers or crayons and has only used paint a few times. Still, I bought him the Veronese Green because it was such a complex shade to be included among the simple reds, yellows, and blues.

For some reason, I never took the tube of paint out of my pocket. Rather, on walks during the grey days of winter, I would pull out the tube from my pocket to spot-check things that appeared to be the same color.

Continue reading Visions of Veronese Green in Venice

Venice Hosts Biggest Leonardo da Vinci Show in 30 years

Vetruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

The exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci, The Universal Man” will be at Venice’s Accademia, which owns 30 Leonardo works. It will bring together 27 other Leonardo masterpieces from various European museums such as the Uffizi, the National Gallery of Parma, the British Museum, and the Louvre. The iconic “Vetruvian Man” will be one of many highlights. The show runs August 29 to December 1, 2013.

Read more: Venice hosts biggest da Vinci show in 30 years – ANSA English

On Being Lost in Italy

The footsteps behind us were worrisome.

With each step that landed on the worn, slightly slick cobblestones, an equal but louder pair of footsteps resonated behind my husband and me as we tried to find our way back to our Venice hotel on a frigid November night. Not too far away, the warm, convivial sounds of students who had just finished their exams oozed out of the San Polo enoteca each time someone pulled the door open to step inside. It was freezing in Venice, tourists were scant, and joining the locals for a round or two of prosecco seemed more worth our while than heading back to our hotel, especially given the prospect that someone could be right behind us.

We kept walking down the calle, a little faster now because the wind whipping off the Adriatic and through the canals was biting. And then, the calle ended. In front of us was only water. Behind us? As we turned around, we realized that no one was there. The utter lack of people out on this bone-chilling night had turned the Lion City’s narrow streets into echo chambers. Although it was eerie, I realized that we were experiencing something special – a Venice without tourists. A wrong turn became an unforgettable moment.  Continue reading On Being Lost in Italy

Italy Travel News Round-Up

Tuscan SunsetHere are some of the latest Italy travel and news articles you may have missed:

Plus, there has been massive coverage of Italy’s deepening economic crisis. Here are a few pieces of analysis:

How Does Venice Work?

Although Venice has been sinking into the Adriatic sea for centuries, visitors, as well as many residents, pay little mind to this fact other than keeping close watch on the acqua alta forecasts. Few of the millions of people that tread on Venice’s cobblestones and stroll over its storied canals know how the city manages to preserve itself amid threats such as global warming, rising tides, and the inevitable erosion that accompanies them.

Enter Insula, the company charged with Venice’s maintenance, which has launched a website called Venice Backstage. Venice Backstage is a fascinating trove – in English and Italian – about the unusual landscape of Venice and how workers toil daily behind the scenes for its upkeep. The website contains educational tidbits on water levels and what happens when a sandbar builds up the lagoon; bridge construction and maintenance; a gallery of construction projects showing workers efforts to counteract building erosion; a glossary of terms; and videos.

I really enjoyed the video titled, “Venice Backstage: How Does Venice Work?” and I think that you will, too. So, have a look at this video, then head over to Venice Backstage to learn even more about the everyday efforts to save Venice and its iconic cityscape.

Venice’s Elite Beaches No Longer Off Limits

venezia_lido

As of today, the elite Lido di Venezia, the summer playground of the Lion City’s elite since the 1900s, will be open to all who wish to visit its shores. In what is being called a “mini-revolution,” Venice’s Mayor Giorgio Orsoni has signed an ordinance that requires that the exclusive, cabana-lined beaches of the Lido be open to the general public.

While regular beach-goers will not have access to the cabanas, which cost up to €9,000 per year to rent, the umbrella or towel service that comes courtesy of several luxury hotels here, or lifeguard service (you know, because some lives are worth more than others to save), they will have the right to bring their own towels, chairs, and umbrellas and set up on the Lido’s white sand shore. Proponents of the measure are naturally elated at the egalitarian overture this new law suggests. Of course, the elites, or “pass holders” as the Ansa news agency calls them, are unhappy that their yearly expenditures have not afforded them the exclusivity they paid for. Some of the headlines I saw while researching this story lamented that the elegant beaches of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” are now being given over to pop culture.

What do you think about the new ordinance in Venice? Do you think you may try to visit the Lido as a non-pass holder on your next vacation to Venice? Please leave a comment below or let me know what you think by contacting me on Twitter @italofileblog.

How to Eat Fish in Venice

Dining is one of the best parts of the Italy travel experience. Of course, as you’ve probably read before, there are rules when it comes to enjoying a meal in Italy. I hate rules. But I do appreciate tradition, as well as learning about how Italians use and eat different ingredients.

So I was excited when Nan McElroy, author of the Living Venice Blog and the “Instructions for Use” travel series, approached me with a post about eating fish in Venice. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did and I also hope that her tips come in handy when you’re in Venice for your next dining adventure.

Nosh Venice Fish, But Leave That Lemon Alone: Advice from a Fresh Fish Fanatic

Venice CalamariYou’re town for a few days, for the Biennale, for the Film Festival, for the Regata Storica; before cruise, after cruise, or for the month, and tonight, you’ve chosen the restaurant where you’ll treat yourself to Venice’s precious pesce.

If you’ve done your homework and chosen your eatery carefully, you’ll rarely be disappointed. Even non-fish fans, if they can be tempted, become converts, as often this freshest of fish bears no resemblance to the more common frozen fare — something that, should a restaurant even consider serving to a local, will at best cause them never to return; at worst, incite a heated argument that can end with the guest either storming out or being asked to leave. Harrumph.

Venice has always treasured (if not totally depended upon) its fish, whether from the lagoon or the upper Adriatic, and never tires of finding new ways to consume it and serve it to their guests. You’ll select from baked, grilled, sauteed, raw and even whipped versions of familiar (or less so) species; flat, fat, large and small; shellfish and mollusks, with and without shells, without and without backbones. Traditionalists will opt for the fabulous frittura, often rating various locales’ versions on crispness, abundance, and the fish-to-vegetable ratio — each important when defending your choice for the best fritto misto fried fish platter in town.

Fish Plate with LemonAnd the lemon wedge? A common fish-dish accompaniment anywhere else in the world, but  to a Venetian fish purist an appalling idea. Figurati should a slice wend its way to the plate.

Come mai, why is that? Because (explained the self-proclaimed fresh fish purist), the fish served at your dining table is a treasured thing: it’s just arrived from the sea (or better have), “swimming with its brothers” as they say, only hours ago; it’s expensive (we had to wait years for that branzino to get to a catchable age — not six- or 12-months for a force-fed farm-raised antibiotic-ingesting mutant); and a delicacy, whether a tiny schie lagoon shrimp, a robust rombo turbot, or a magnificent blue or yellow fin wrestled from the Japanese sushi trade.

And you want to put lemon on it? Macché! Don’t even think about it.

Branzino fishIt’s true — where lemons are concerned, what’s obvious to maniacal fresh-fish devotees may not be so obvious to everyone else. If you ask a few of them, they’ll tell you there are actually some fairly logical reasons to let the lemon lie.

First, the fresh fish you find served in Venice have marvelous, sometimes delicate flavors (mostly non-fishy, by the way); the chef has prepared today’s catch to enhance them. If you smother them with lemon juice, what will you taste? In their eyes, the lemon homogenizes these very distinctive fish dishes — and nobody wants that. In fact, lemon is more for fish that’s, well, been around, that has defects to overcome — not for fresh fish flesh. Finally, expert fryers will work tirelessly to serve you the crispiest frittura possible. So what happens when you squeeeeeeze a half of lemon over the mound of crunchy fried fish?

Lemon mush, that’s what. Una tragedia, a real heart-breaker.

In a labor-saving move, or perhaps because they lack the fish-faithful culture of a born-and-raised Venetian, many restaurants have just given in and included the lemon as garnish. There are other eateries though, who will flat refuse to serve you the lemon (along with any sort of grated cheese, by the way), so best be prepared.

Rhombo ChiodatoWhy not compromise? Before you request a lemon wedge, or crush the one on your plate over its contents out of habit, why not simply sample what’s been served to you as is? If you’re eating in a restaurant famous for its fish, you’ll be surprised at how unnecessary the lemon might seem (try a light olive oil drizzle if you must). And — you’ll be immediately categorized as a informed fish fan. (When in Venice, and all that…)

So, will you become Venice’s next fish purist? Who’s to say? In any case, the fresh fish found here is certainly worth indulging in. Enjoy!

Round-up: Lots on Venice, Shopping in Rome, and Italy Road Trips


Vrooms With a View: Europe’s Most Scenic Drives (includes Val d’Aosta, Piemonte) [The Guardian]
Eat Like a Local in Venice, The Venetian Islands Locals Want to Keep to Themselves, Venice Bacari [The Guardian]
Global Eye: Venice Carnival [National Geographic Intelligent Travel Blog]
Italy’s Sleepy Surprise (Maratea, Basilicata) [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Where Puccini Might Shop in Rome [New York Times]
For a Real Italian Getaway, Follow the Herd (Abruzzo) [The Guardian]
What’s New in Rome and Venice for 2010 and What’s New in Italy, from Museums to Mountain Walks [Rick Steves for the Seattle Times]
Moving House? No, We’re Just Off to Italy to Visit the Folks (road tripping in a motor home) [The Guardian]
Roadtripping the Sicilian Coast [Matador Network]
Caravaggio’s Greatest Hits Draw Big Crowds in Rome [LA Times]
Italy Deserves More Than a Long Weekend (fashion-focused editorial) [New York Times]
Customs and Etiquette in Italy: 15 Things Every Visitor Should Know [Fodor’s Travel Wire]
Giro d’Italia Bicycle Race is Making Its Way to Washington, DC, in 2012 [Washington Post]

And, while I don’t often feature articles from the Italy blogs in the round-up, I had to mention these two articles from Alex Roe, the blogger behind the excellent Blog From Italy:
Ballooning Over Tuscany
Floating Self-Catering in Venice

Photo © Carol Fletcher

Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Carnevale Masks in Venice

It’s Carnival time again in Italy, when Italians prepare to say “goodbye meat!” (Carnevale) by throwing lavish parties and parades before hunkering down for 40 days and nights of denial during the Holy Lenten Season.

Many travelers think that Carnevale only takes place in Venice. While Venice has the best known Carnival in Italy, there are many other cities with long carnival traditions. Let’s have a look at them: Continue reading Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Round-up: Italy in Winter, Hidden Salami, Timelapse Tuscany, and more

This installment of Italy travel articles includes two videos that I thought were worth sharing. Enjoy the round-up! Continue reading Round-up: Italy in Winter, Hidden Salami, Timelapse Tuscany, and more

Best Places in Italy for Modern Art

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum, Rome
Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum, Rome

Italy’s modern art museums are often overlooked by the masses, who prefer, not surprisingly, to examine the country’s ancient and Renaissance-era treasures. But with the debut of Rome’s new, Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI Museum, the capital now has a very high profile exhibition space that is itself a work of art.

New York Times’ The Moment magazine describes the museum, which is dedicated to exhibitions on 21st century art, this way:

[It is a] series of sky-lighted concrete canyons that tilt and swell, swerve like a velodrome and twist into what appears from the exterior to be a monumental hard-shelled calla lily, a pliable mausoleum that seems to play the sobriety of a de Chirico off the cooling, warping effects of a work by Anish Kapoor. Otherworldly in some respects, the museum also resonates with the character of Rome. The MAXXI could easily be a composite sketch of Rome’s contradictory but fluid, theatrical, and sweeping architectural personality — which is not unlike its architect’s.

Such excitement over a new building in the Eternal City made me think that others may wish to know more about some other modern art museums in Italy. Here’s a brief list:

Rome and Lazio
Before the MAXXI, Rome had the National Gallery of Modern Art. This museum is housed in a late 19th century building in the Villa Borghese and features art from Pirandello, De Chirico, Kandinsky, and more. There’s also the MACRO, a museum occupying two reclaimed buildings (and a new wing in 2010) in the Porta Pia neighborhood. It features “some of the most significant expressions characterizing the Italian art scene since the 1960s.” Other places in Rome to see modern art include the PalaExpo in the Quirinale district (which has, by the way, a great cafeteria); the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a music hall and occasional exhibition space in Flaminio which was designed by the celebrated architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2002; and the Giorgio de Chirico House-Museum near Piazza di Spagna.

Elsewhere in Rome’s region of Lazio, check out the town of Anticoli Corrado, located about 40 km northeast of the capital and featuring a trove of artist studios and the Civic Gallery of Modern Art. The best write-up about this little town can be found on the Vagabondo-Italy website.

Venice

A work by Picasso at the Guggenheim, Venice
A work by Picasso at the Guggenheim, Venice

Venice is on this list for one museum only: the Guggenheim. Located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former palazzo on the Grand Canal, the museum “is the most important museum in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century.” What does that include? Some of the famous names in Mrs. Guggenheim’s collection include Braque, Duchamp, Modrian, and Giacometti. Ernst, Pollock, and Magritte. Calder, Brancusi, Klee, and Picasso. Just about anyone you can think of from the world of contemporary art is there. The Guggenheim also attracts numerous big-name exhibits. Currently, it is hosting the Masterpieces of Futurism (through Dec. 31, 2009). See my article on Planning a Visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for About.com.

Of course, Venice also is the host city for the Biennale. Despite its name, this celebration of contemporary art is happening almost all of the time. This year (2009), saw the Venice Biennale of Art, Cinema, Theatre, and Music. However, in August 2010, the 12th Biennale for Architecture will kick off in the Lion City.

Tuttomondo by Keith Haring
Tuttomondo by Keith Haring

Florence and Tuscany
Finding modern art in Renaissance-heavy Tuscany is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. But modern art is there. In Florence, try the Marino Marini museum, which features the Italian artist’s works, including numerous sculptures of horses. Also, what could be more modern than fashion? Even if you can’t afford to shop until you drop, you can enjoy looking back – and forward – at the styles created by Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo in the Museo Ferragamo. (As of this writing, the Museo Ferragamo is sponsoring a shoe design contest for artists. Deadline Dec. 10, 2009!)

There are several more opportunities in Tuscany to enjoy modern art. Just north of Florence, in the city of Prato, is the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Museum. It features mid- to late-20C art, including photography, from Italian and international artists. If you’re in Pisa, you can savor some pop art with Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo mural. It’s one of the last works ever created by the American artist. Two more outdoor modern art spaces in Tuscany are gardens. In Chianti, check out the Chianti Sculpture Park, whose name says it all, and the Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi), an unusual project of sculptures based on tarot cards that was the vision of artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The Tarot Garden is located in Capalbio in the province of Grosseto.

Torino (Turin)

Torino's Mole Antonelliana
Torino's Mole Antonelliana

Our final stop on this modern art tour of Italy is in Torino (Turin), whose skyline is a work of contemporary art. The spire of the Mole Antonelliana, gives Torino its distinctive look and today houses Italy’s National Museum of Cinema (Museo Nazionale del Cinema). The moving image is, to some, the ultimate in contemporary art, and the MNC contains a vast collection of archival film footage, books and magazines about film, scripts, costumes, and a cinema. Among the masterpieces in the collection are an 18C movie camera (the first?), Peter O’Toole’s costume from Lawrence of Arabia, an original poster from the Rita Hayworth classic Gilda, storyboards from Star Wars, and a script of the Italian dialogues from the 1933 version of King Kong.

While Venice has the Biennale, Torino has the Torino Triennale Tremusei, a triennial exhibition of emerging artists at three of Torino’s contemporary art spaces: the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the Castello di Rivoli, and the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, also known as the GAM. The last Triennale in Torino was in 2008 (the 2nd incarnation). So, if my calendar and math serve me right, T3 will take place in 2011. Stay tuned.

I know I’ve missed a ton of other fine contemporary art museums in Italy. So if you have suggestions for what else should be on this list, please add your comments below.

Photos by MAXXI, Guggenheim, Comune di Pisa, Comune di Torino

Pocket Film Prize: I Make My World

As part of the 53rd Venice Biennale, there is an online video-making competition aimed “at young people from around the world aged between 18 and 26 years of age for video-works made using mobile phones.” To enter Pocket Film Prize: I Make My World,” participants must submit a video of any genre no longer than 1 minute in length and pay a €5 entry fee. Uploads will be accepted until September 30, and prizes will be awarded on October 30.

If you’re a young videographer between 18-26, this is your chance to make history and have your video featured on La Biennale Channel, the video website for the Venice Biennale. Additional details about the competition are available here.

Photo by Fensterbme

Venice for a Penny

I’d hate to be the employee who made this error:

The Crowne Plaza of Venice will be honoring a rate of 1-cent-per-night after mistakenly posting the rate on its website. According to BBC News, approximately 230 guests booked the hotel after seeing the unbelievable rate. The usual rate for the hotel, located about 10 miles outside the city, is €150.

Photo by Sicilian Italiano

Happy Birthday, Venice!

I just learned that today is Venice’s 1,588th birthday, according to blogger and Venice Kayak businessman René Seindal. Here’s a nice, brief history lesson:

Dear Venice, happy 1588th birthday – René Seindal.

Italy at Home: Renaissance Rivals in Boston and Valentino Everywhere

No time or money to plan an Italy vacation right now? Here’s another installment of what we call “Italy at Home.” Here are two things you can put on your calendar.

If you’re in Boston, head to the Museum of Fine Arts where the show “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice” is underway. A recent review by Holland Cotter of the New York Times said “You can pretty much kiss goodbye, at least for now, the prospect of more exhibitions like [this one]. Transatlantic loans of the kind that make this show the breathtaker it is are a big drain on strapped museum budgets. Boston was lucky to partner with the Louvre on this project, but such masterpiece gatherings are likely to be rare in years to come.” The exhibit runs through August 16. Get your tickets now.

Another Italy-related show may be coming to a theater near you beginning March 18. Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary about legendary fashion designer Valentino Garavani played to huge audiences at various film festivals (Venice, Toronto) all last fall. Cinemas in New York will begin screenings on the 18th, followed by Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. You can follow the film on its own Facebook page to see if more dates are added.

2008 Year-End Article Round Up

I am still trying to figure out how to manage a toddler and a newborn and find time to keep this blog up-to-date. But I have been keeping track of the numerous articles about Italy that have come out in the past couple of months. So, enjoy the following links and have a Felice Anno Nuovo!!

Boston Globe
Eating Up Miles, Drinking Up Scenery, Motoring From Nice to Tuscany
(road tripping between France and Italy)

L.A. Times
American Military Cemeteries in Europe Honor Heroes in Both World Wars
(profiles Sicily-Rome Cemetery)

The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Roman Holiday, Reconsidered
Your Palazzo in Florence Awaits
Escape From San Domino

The Independent (U.K.)
Madama Butterfly, Floria Tosca – They All Came From Lucca
Puglia Is a Food Lover’s Paradise

The Guardian (U.K.)
Flying Visit to Florence
Flood-Hit Hoteliers Offer Packages With Free Wellies (Venice)
Go With the Flow (Skiing on Mt. Etna)
A Taste of Italy at Harvest Time (Le Marche)
Turin On A Plate
On the Trail of the Leopard (Sicily)

New York Times
Florence, Then and Now
Venice: In Laguna Da Toni
Savoring Italy One Beer at a Time

The Telegraph (U.K.)
Mesmerizing Relics of Byzantine Brilliance (Ravenna)

Wall Street Journal
Starling Stalkers Try to Scare the Birds out of Rome