Trabucchi – The Rustic Restaurants of Puglia

A trabucco soars above the waves near Peschici, Puglia

A trabucco along the coast of the Gargano Peninsula

From the winding, coastal road along the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, a giant spider-like structure appears ahead. As we approach, an enormous net rises from the water, carrying with it a mass of wriggling fish. It is a trabucco, one of the traditional fishing contraptions that pepper the coast of the Gargano Peninsula.

The Gargano Peninsula north of Vieste

The Puglia coast between Vieste and Peschici

Known as the spur on the heel of Italy’s boot, the Gargano Peninsula is a rocky promontory in northern Puglia, characterized by white limestone cliffs, crystal green seas, olive trees, medieval castles and picturesque white-washed villages. Unlike the rest of Puglia, here, steep mountains rise directly from the water, providing expansive views over the sea.

Throughout history, the region has attracted its share of conquerors including the Greeks, Normans and Frederick II of Prussia (who lived here for most of his reign). And let us not forget Hannibal, who fought the Romans at Cannae, a few miles from here.

Other foreign visitors (possibly the Phoenicians) are credited with introducing the trabucco to the region. The earliest references to these fishing devices date to the 1600s, although some sources say they existed already in the 15th century. Whatever their actual origins, along the 44-mile stretch of the Adriatic Sea, known as the Costa dei Trabucchi (the Coast of the Trabucchi) these intricate contraptions are a throw-back to ancient times.

The trabucchi consist of a wooden platform attached to the nearby rocks with wooden antennae-like arms that extend over the sea. The fishing net is attached. One or more giant capsans and pulley wheels, on a large, fixed pole, are used to drop the net into the water where the currents make it favorable for fishing. Also on the platform is a small weathered wooden hut that serves as a shelter for the fishermen.

A portrait of Mimi above the Trabucco that bears his name.

The Trabucco di Mimi restaurant

Watching the fishermen at work is fascinating. A lookout sits on top of one of the antennae, sometimes for hours, waiting for the shoals of fish to approach. He alerts his companions who drop the net (known as a Trabocchetto) before stamping on the platform. One fisherman explains to us that the noise stuns the fish long enough for the net to capture them and then bring them to the surface.

Unfortunately, this age-old tradition of the Adriatic Sea is now endangered. Apart from the fact that the waters here have been overfished, recent studies show that the Mediterranean Sea is warming up at 2-3 times the rate of the rest of the world’s oceans. The impact on the fishing industry is dire.

Most of the people we speak with tell us that they can no longer earn a living from fishing. Increasingly they are turning to an alternative – using the trabucchi as  rustic, open-air restaurants.

One of the most well known of these is the Trabucco di Mimi, (located on the hillside a few miles south of Peschici above the Bay of St. Nicola on the Gargano Peninsula). A winding, steep road leads down to a collection of wooden buildings, festooned with fishing nets, driftwood, and shells, presided over by the trabucco on which hangs an enormous portrait of Mimi, the patriarch of the Ottaviano family, who passed away a few years ago. His sons and grandsons (Mario, Carlo, Domenico, and Vincenzo) now continue the tradition.

Cable spool wooden tables line the terrace, flanked by wooden benches facing the sea. Bottles of white wine sit in ice buckets. Simple paper place mats line the table. A nearby enclosed area with tables and chairs offers shelter for cooler evenings.

A  chalkboard near the entrance lists the menu. It changes daily depending on either what has been caught in the net or what is available at the local market.

Menu at the Trabucco di Mimi

The daily menu

You order your food at the counter and find a seat overlooking the crashing waves. Come late in the afternoon to secure one of the best tables and watch the sun settle into the sea while you sip your aperitivo. Then tuck into your al fresco meal.

The preparation is traditional and simple, similar to what fishing famlys might make for themselves – Oysters from Manfredonia, prawns, mussels, spaghetti alle vongole (clams), and our favorite – tiny sardines, fried in extra virgin olive oil. You eat them whole, spritzed with some lemon juice.

This rustic dining experience in one of Puglia’s trabucchi is probably one of the most unique that you will find in your travels in Italy. Don’t miss it!

IF YOU GO

If you are driving down the Adriatic Coast, take the A14 (Bologna to Taranto) and exit at Poggio Imperiale. Continue on the SP144 towards Peschici until you cross the SS89. The Trabucco di Mimi is located on the SP 52 less than 1 km south of the center of Peschici.

If you are coming from Vieste (south of Peschici), take the SS89, merging onto the SP 52 or directly from the SS89, taking the last exit on the right for the Bay of St. Nicola just before Peschici.

Buoys festoon the Trabucco di Mimi restaurant, Puglia

The Trabucco di Mimi

Reservations are required at the Trabucco di Mimi. Book on line. The restaurant is open from April to October, seven days a week. Lunch is served between 1215 and 1400; Dinner is from 1900 to 2100.

For additional images visit the Italy/Puglia gallery at Allegria Photos.

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

Driving Across the Length and Width of Italy

Recently renovated Fountain of Trevi, Rome

The Fountain of Trevi, Rome

There is nothing quite like the freedom of a road trip, trundling along to wherever serendipity takes you. Perhaps more than any other country, driving across Italy lends itself to this type of exploring. The ever-changing succession of remote hill towns, winding mountain roads, coastlines, and castles ensures that there is always something new to see.

View of the Colosseum from the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi

The Colosseum by night

Our trip is ambitious – driving across Italy in a month, from Rome north to Tuscany and Liguria, from Liguria south along the Adriatic coastline, through Le Marche and the Abruzzo into Puglia before heading back to Rome. As winners of a seven-day Auto Europe Road Trip Sweepstakes (which is part of this journey), there are three specific locations we must visit – Rome, Camogli (Liguria) and Puglia. For the rest, we wander freely, visiting iconic landmarks and unknown corners, sampling the various regional cuisines, and enjoying life on the road.

ROME

The adventure starts in Rome on a beautiful sunny autumn day. No matter how many times we visit the city, there is always something new to discover or revisit. This time, recent renovations to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus and other iconic treasures make Rome shine.

Our hotel, the ultra-luxurious Palazzo Manfredi, overlooks the newly restored Colosseum. From its rooftop Michelin-starred restaurant, Aroma, spectacular sunrise and sunsets over the ancient arena, as well as mouthwatering cuisine, are a treat.

Sunrise over Monteriggioni

Hilltop town of Monteriggioni, Tuscany

A food walking tour of Trastevere (part of the prize) takes us through cobblestone streets with ivy-covered buildings to the neighborhood where the traditions of Roman cuisine are still preserved. Along the way, we stop at a restaurant/wine bar with a cellar that is 150 years older than the Colosseum, a trattoria with an eclectic menu and mismatched chairs, a shop specializing in pork sausages and a hole-in-the-wall selling Roman street food — fried rice balls and pizza! A cookie bakery and a gelateria round out the walk and our “meal.”

TUSCANY

Driving out of Rome is an adventure all on its own; however, we eventually find ourselves heading north to Monteriggioni. This spectacular Tuscan hill town near Siena is entirely surrounded by a wall, protected with 14 watchtowers. We make this our base for a week exploring the iconic areas of the Crete Senesi and Val d’Orcia, the wine country around Montepulciano and the Strada Chiantigiana between Siena and Florence, including a stop at the Castello di Verrazzano (home of the famous explorer) near Greve.

Iconic image of Pienza, Tuscany

Pienza, Tuscany

LIGURIA

From Monteriggioni the road takes us northwest towards Genoa. South of the city, the Riviera di Levante (Sunrise Coast) with its cliffs and bays is home to picturesque towns and villages. A hair-raising drive down the cliff road leads to the charming Cenobio Dei Dogi Hotel in Camogli. Its terrace overlooking the sea is the perfect spot to enjoy an evening aperitivo as the sun dips into the Mediterranean. Steps lead down to the beach where the water is warm enough to swim, even in October.

From here, a short walk along the colorful seafront promenade takes us to the harbor where ferries leave for Portofino, the quintessential, most luxurious, coastal village favored by the rich and famous, whose super yachts dot the harbor.

An aperitivo at sunset, Camogli

Camogli from the porch of Cenobio dei Dei

Just south of Camogli are the legendary Cinque Terre – five dramatic medieval cliff-top villages accessible only by train, ferry or on foot. Basing ourselves at the Hotel Pasquale, a delightful family-run residence on the edge of the harbor in Monterosso al Mare, we hike to the village of Vernazza and take the train to Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia. Each has its special charms, and it is difficult to tear oneself away from the magnificent vistas.

ABRUZZO

From Camogli the road leads all the way east, to the province of Abruzzo, one of the least known in Italy. Its national parks, high mountains, deserted hilltop hamlets, medieval villages, coastal towns, and castles provide some of the most spectacular panoramas in Italy.

One of the five medieval villages of the Cinque Terre

Vernazza in the Cinque Terre of Liguria

In the mountaintop village of Civitella del Tronto, we are the only guests at the Hotel Zunica, housed in a 17th-century building under the brooding walls of the Fortezza, the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe. The views from our room extend from the Grand Sasso Mountain to the blue Adriatic coastline, shimmering in the morning sunlight.

Considered to be one of the best in the province, the hotel restaurant serves a menu that changes with the seasons. A private three-day cooking school provides a hands-on experience shopping for fresh ingredients and then working with the chef to prepare dinner.

The hilltop town of Civitella del Tronto, Abruzzo

Civitella del Tronto

LE MARCHE

Most recently in the news because of the spate of earthquakes that have devastated part of this area, Le Marche is another of Italy’s lesser-known regions filled with national parks, medieval villages, castles and a rich history. For us, it is a day-trip to visit the picturesque town of Ascoli Piceno.

Located on the banks of the Tronto and Castellano rivers, Ascoli Piceno is even older than Rome. Known as the ‘City of 100 towers,’ 50 medieval structures still stand over the “City of Marble,” with its expansive piazzas and unique architecture.

PUGLIA

The traditional fishing equipment in the Abruzzo.

A Trabucco in the Abruzzo, Italy

Puglia looks like a short drive from the Abruzzo. However, distances are deceptive because the narrow roads serpentine up and down the cliffs. What looks like a short 30-minute drive turns into a two-hour odyssey.

Our first stop is Vieste on the Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy’s boot. Built on top of the steep Pizzomunno cliffs, the city perches on a promontory jutting into the azure Adriatic.

Basing ourselves here, we explore the area with a number of day trips, including to the magnificent Castel del Monte, a 13th century citadel and castle built by Emperor Frederick II. Trabucchi, the old, traditional, fishing contraptions dot the coastline, while the rarely visited Tremiti Islands sit a few miles offshore in the Adriatic.

Our last stop in Puglia is the fantastic Masseria Il Frantoio near the so-called “White City” of Ostuni (in the Salento region). The region is filled with fantastical, conical, stone Trulli structures, medieval castles, and beautiful white sand beaches. Olive trees, some over a thousand years old, stretch to the horizon between ancient stone walls. From here you can explore the iconic towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo as well as several coastal towns, including Ostuni.

The rain washed entrance to the Masseria Il Frantoio, Puglia

Courtyard of the Masseria Il Frantoio, Ostuni, Puglia

The Masseria is a 500-year old fortified farm, its unique rooms decorated with some of the artifacts that Armando Balestrazzi and his wife, Rosalba, found when they bought the property some years ago.

The dining room is the scene of lavish eight-course meals prepared by an army of grandmothers in the kitchen, using the homegrown produce from the farm. In all our travels there are few places we have found as welcoming as the Masseria Il Frantoio. We leave reluctantly, having adopted a 1,000-year-old olive tree as part of a plan to preserve them for future generations.

Our road trip to Italy ends all too soon with a long drive back to Rome for our flight home. There is so much more to Italy than the major cities. If you are the slightest bit adventurous, have an open mind about wandering aimlessly with no firm destination and don’t mind getting lost from time to time, then consider an Italian road trip.

IF YOU GO

We spent a month traveling across Italy. Although this itinerary can certainly be done in a shorter period, there are some constraints such as the speed you can travel on the back roads and mountain roads, the sheer number of places to visit, and the desire to make the adventure about the journey as well as the destinations.

The following is a brief outline of where we went driving across Italy, and some of the places we stayed.

ROME

Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche, Italy

City of 100 Towers, Ascoli Piceno

Hotel Palazzo Manfredi
Via Labicana 125
Tel +39-06-7759-1380

Eating Italy Food Tours

1 Rome to Monteriggioni – Driving time 3 hours (156 miles)

MONTERIGGIONI, TUSCANY

Hotel Monteriggioni
Via Primo Maggio 4
Monteriggioni
Tel +39-0577-305009

DAY TRIPS FROM MONTERIGGIONI

Greve and Castello di Verrazzano (This is the correct spelling of the name)
Strada Chiantigiana
Pienza
Montepulciano
Val d’Orcia
Crete Senesi

2 Monteriggioni to Camogli, Liguria – Driving Time 4 hours (175 miles)

The Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy's boot

Vieste, on the Gargano Peninsula, Puglia

Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi
Via Nicolo Cuneo 34
Camogli, Genoa
Telephone: +39-0185-7241

SOME OF THE DAY TRIPS FROM CAMOGLI
Genoa
Portofino

3 Camogli to Monterosso al Mare driving time 1 hour (50 miles).

Monterosso al Mare is the only village in the Cinque Terre where you can park. Many hotels have parking available (for a fee) but you must be sure to reserve your spot when you book your room. They go very quickly.

Hotel Pasquale
Via Fegina 4
Monterosso al Mare
Tel +39-0187-817477

4 Monterosso al Mare to Civitella del Tronto, Abruzzo – Driving time 6.5 hours (400 miles)

Hotel Zunica 1880
Piazza Franciscus Filippi Pepe 14
Civitella del Tronto, Teramo, Abruzzo
Tel +39-0861-91319

SOME OF THE DAY TRIPS FROM CIVITELLA DEL TRONTO

Castel del Monte built by Frederick II

Castel Del Monte, Puglia

Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche
Gran Sasso National Park Abruzzo
Santo Stefano di Sessanio Abruzzo
Atri Abruzzo
Vasto Abruzzo

5 Civitella Del Tronto to Vieste, Puglia – Driving Time 4 hours (186 miles)

Vieste is a resort town with many luxury hotels but they are seasonal. When we traveled in October, very few were open. We stayed at

Rocca Sul Mare Bed and Breakfast
Via C. Mafrolla 32
Vieste, Foggia, Puglia
Tel +39-0884-70-27-19
Although the rooms are quite basic, the views from the seafront rooms are spectacular.

The best restaurant with the freshest, most delicious seafood  is just around the corner
Osteria Degli Archi
2 Via Ripe
Vieste, FG, Puglia
Tel +39-0884-705199

DAY TRIPS FROM VIESTE

Ostuni, Puglia

Ostuni, the White City on the Hill, Puglia

Peschici
Isole Tremiti (by boat)
Foresta Umbra
Mattinata
Trani
Bari
Castel del Monte

6 Vieste to Ostuni Driving Time 3.5 hours (167 miles)

 Masseria Il Frantoio
Strada Statale 16, Km 874
Ostuni, BR
Tel +39-0831-330276;

DAY TRIPS FROM MASSERIA IL FRANTOIO

Alberobello near Ostuni, Puglia

Trulli rooftops in Alberobello, Puglia

Ostuni
Alberobello
Locorotondo
Martina Franca
Brindisi
Polignano a Mare
Monopoli
Lecce

7 Ostuni to Rome – Driving Time 6 hours (335 miles)

For additional photos from this trip, visit http://www.allegriaphotos.com/EUROPE/Italy

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

Valentine’s Day in Romantic Rome

Sunset over the Colosseum from the Hotel Manfrdi

The Colosseum from the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi

There are so many beautiful places in Italy, it is hard to choose which location is the most romantic, but Rome is certainly a top contender. After all, Roma spelled backwards is Amor or Love. So it is the perfect place to spend Valentine’s Day, especially if you subscribe to the story that St. Valentine was Roman.

But, who exactly was St. Valentine? According to legend, a priest named Valentinus lived in Rome in the 3rd century AD, when Claudius II (also known as Claudius the Cruel) was Emperor. Valentinus refused to obey an edict from the Emperor outlawing marriage between young couples. Claudius sentenced him to death but before his execution, he was able to smuggle a note to a young woman  and signed it “From your Valentinus.” The rest, as they say, is history. Although there are several other Valentines in history, for this particular legend, St Valentinus’s skull and bones are kept in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (where the Mouth of Truth is located). They are brought out on his feast day – February 14, also known as Valentine’s Day

SEVEN OF ROME’S MOST ROMANTIC SPOTS

If you are lucky enough to spend Valentine’s Day in Rome with the love of your life, here are seven places that are likely to make you feel romantic.

A couple in the Giardino degli Aranci, Aventino

Giardino degli Aranci, Aventino

The Aventine Hill

On top of one of Rome’s seven hills, across from the Circus Maximus, is the Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of the Oranges). Surrounded by the 12th-century walls of the Savelli castle, the Garden offers magnificent views of Rome through a grove of orange trees. In season the aroma fills the air. Next to the Garden is the medieval Basilica of Santa Sabina where St. Dominic lived in the 13th century. He is credited with planting Rome’s first orange tree.

Ponte Sant'Angelo leading to the Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Ponte Sant’Angelo, Rome

Ponte Sant’ Angelo

One of the most famous and beautiful bridges in Rome, lined with ten beautiful sculptures of angels (designed by Bernini). It leads to the CastelSant’Angelo. Visit at sunset or in the evening for beautiful views of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Vista over Rome from the Gianicolo

The Gianicolo, overlooking Romantic Rome

Gianicolo Hill

The Gianicolo (Or Janiculum Hill), high above Trastevere, is probably Rome’s most famous spot for lovers. The panoramic view from above the city is breathtaking, especially at sunset when the lights come on below and the entire city sparkles.

Villa Borghese gardens, Giardino del Lago

Giardino del Lago, Rome

Giardino del Lago

In the middle of Villa Borghese is a small lake in the middle of which stands an Ionic-themed Temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of medicine. You can rent a rowboat to enjoy some time alone with only a few ducks and swans as companions. As you wander back into the city center, be sure to stroll through the equally romantic hanging garden of pines, cypresses, cedar and citrus trees.

John Keats is buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Tombstone of John Keats, Rome

Protestant Cemetery

In Testaccio, beneath the ancient Roman walls and an improbable Pyramid, is Rome’s cemetery for Protestants and other non-Catholics. Intuitively this would not be considered a “romantic” spot. However, some of the most famous Romantic poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, are buried here. If you wish to pay your respects on Valentine’s Day, the garden offers a welcome zone of tranquillity in Rome’s chaos.

View from the rooftop of Grand Hotel de la Minerve

St Ivo alla Sapienza from Hotel de la Minerve

Rooftop bar of the Hotel MInerve

Behind the Pantheon is the Hotel Minerve with its rooftop bar and spectacular views over the city, including the unique spire of St. Ivo. Come at sunset for an apperitivo and watch as the rooftops and domes turn different colors.

Sunset over the Colosseum from the Hotel Manfrdi

The Colosseum from the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi

Aroma restaurant on the roof of Hotel Palazzo Manfredi.

This Michelin star restaurant on the rooftop of Hotel Palazzo Manfredi has unparalleled views of the Colosseum. If you happen to visit on the night of a full moon …. It is magical! The perfect place for Valentine’s Day dinner!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

Celebrating Carnevale in Venice

Costumers on a bridge, Venice

Models on a Small Bridge, Venice

Venice during Carnevale (Carnival) is a magical, mysterious, place. Stunning architecture, hidden romantic corners, dreamy canals, and history around every corner provide the perfect backdrops for the hundreds of models who arrive from around the world to celebrate the ancient festival.

Solange posing on the steps

Solange on the Grand Stairway of a Venetian Palazzo

For two weeks the alleyways and piazzas, the churches and cloisters, the bridges and towers are enveloped in the most lavish, colorful costumes and masks that you will ever see. It is as if you have stepped through a portal into the Renaissance.

No one is quite sure where the practice of wearing costumes and face coverings originated. Some think it was a throwback to an ancient Celtic tradition of covering your face on All Hallows Eve to confound evil spirits who might be lurking. Others believe that it comes from ancient Roman pagan festivities. Perhaps because Venice was at the crossroads of East and West, the veils and turbans favored by travelers from the Orient may also have contributed to the tradition.

The first known instance of Carnevale was in 1162 when people spontaneously came out to celebrate the victory against the German Patriarch of Aquileia (an ancient Roman city on the edge of the lagoon), Ulrico di Treven. By the 1500s, it developed into a way of life, with Venetians authorized to wear masks for up to six months of the year. They covered a multitude of sins, including by providing a means to avoid the strict class structure imposed by society.

Eve rides a gondola through the canals of Venice

Eve posing in a gondola, Venice

Austria outlawed Carnevale when it conquered this part of Italy (in 1797). It was only in 1979 that the festival reignited the public imagination after the Italian Government decided that it would be a perfect way to showcase the history and culture of Venice, also known as La Serenissima.

Today’s Carnevale is one of Italy’s most important festivals with up to a million visitors traveling to Venice to take part. It lasts for two weeks before Lent, ending on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday.

According to Catholic teachings, during the 40 days of Lent, practitioners are not allowed to eat meat or sugar. Celebrating beforehand was a way to use up whatever supplies might remain in the house. It may well be that the word “Carnevale” comes from the Latin words “Carne” and “Vale”, or “Farewell to Meat.”

Costumer outside a medieval church, Venice

Andrea with her leaf mask during Carnevale, Venice

The date of the festival changes with the calendar. This year Carnevale runs from 11 to 28 February. Generally, the second week is the most exciting. Countless parades take place, including a flotilla of gondolas on the Grand Canal. A multitude of parties and balls in some of the city’s most exquisite palaces fill the days and nights. The most extravagant and expensive of these is the Grand Masquerade Ball. Attending any of these events, especially if you want to rent fancy dress, will set you back thousands of dollars.

Betty Blu across from Piazza San Marco

Betty Blu on Punta della Dogana

However, there is plenty to see that won’t cost you a penny. Every day, starting just before dawn, costumed and masked models appear along the waterfront of St. Mark’s Square. They pose near the gondolas as the sun rises over Isola San Giorgio Maggiore; in front of the Bridge of Sighs; on the stone bridges spanning the minuscule canals; in the cloisters of the churches or in front of the doors; in La Fenice Opera House or in the Bovolo Staircase. You will also find them on the islands of Burano and Murano and in the ballrooms of the palazzi.

The costumers, who are a variety of ages (some even in their 70s), are mostly European, predominantly Italian, French, German, and Belgian. We do find one group of costumers who are American teachers in Europe.

Most models have 2-3 different outfits each year, traveling to Venice with several trunks and suitcases. The clothes are handmade by the participants over the course of the year. Some of the dresses are so heavy, small wheels are sewn into the hem so that the person inside can move around more effectively. The headdresses can weigh as much as 7 lbs. Most wear masks on with only the whites of their eyes and irises visible.

As you follow the models around Venice, you have to admire their imagination, spirit, and dedication. They are out every day from early in the morning to late at night. Most will tell you that it is both exhausting and exhilarating.

The Bovolo Staircase, also known as The Snail with Costumers during Venetian Carnival

Models Posing in the Bovolo Staircase, Venice

Crowds of more serious photographers follow them, looking for “the perfect shot,” while tourists surround them clamoring for selfies. Photographing them is addictive. Whether it is taking photos of them in context or close up, you keep coming back for more, looking for different venues or light.

There is a certain etiquette to photographing the costumers. They rarely, if ever, speak. Instead, they communicate with hand gestures. However, if you ask them, they will almost always agree to let you take their photo and will even oblige you by posing in specific ways. All they ask in exchange is for you to send them a copy of your photos by email. Unfortunately, most people never bother, which is a great disappointment for the models.

When you have finished shooting, thank them, and ask for a business card or “cartolino” or “carte de visite.” Or you can use gestures to show that you want their visiting card. Most models carry them tucked away in a pocket or a glove. Sometimes they will ask you to photograph the card as a means of obtaining their contact information.

In addition to the costumers, there are countless visitors who rent fancy dress to get into the spirit of the festival. Even if you choose not to dress up yourself, there is much to see and do in Venice that will make you feel as if you have been transported to another place and time.

Posing in front of the Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The American Contingent near the Bridge of Sighs

IF YOU GO 

If you decide to travel to Venice independently, make your hotel reservations for 2018 as soon as possible. If you would rather travel on a tour with a professional photographer who organizes specific shoots with the models, Jim Zuckerman is one of the best. He has been running photography tours to Carnevale in Venice for over ten years. His photo tours sell out almost instantly, so book early.

During the winter, Venice is often the victim of exceptionally high tides – L’Acqua Alta – that regularly flood the city. Remember to pack a pair of rubber boots or else pick up a pair of colorful clear plastic overshoes sold throughout the city. It is the only way to get around during the flooding.

For more photographs of Carnevale go to http://www.allegriaphotos.com/EUROPE/Italy/Venice-Carnival-2016/.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Diana Russler

A Caviar Fix in Missouri – L’Osage Caviar Company

L'Osage Caviar from the Ozarks, MO

A jar of L’Osage Caviar

When I was growing up in a foreign diplomatic family in Tehran, we were very fortunate to sample the caviar for which the country was famous. In addition to having it for special occasions, we would often leave school, stop in the local equivalent of a deli and order a caviar sandwich – about an inch thick slab of the ambrosial gray or black pearls on a slab of bread. The price? A mere $1! Caviar was as common as oysters once were on the streets of New York.

Fast forward 60 years and how things have changed! Oysters are no longer the street food of New York City. Hot dogs have replaced them!! And caviar is now an almost unreachable luxury. It is enough to drive you to despair!

What exactly is caviar? It is usually the roe of Sturgeon, found predominantly in the Caspian Sea and fished almost to extinction by Russian and Iranian fishermen. Here, the three most expensive Caviars in the world were produced– Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga.

When sturgeon became an endangered species in the 1980s, we stopped buying it. Since then we have made do with red salmon roe and, periodically, with a one-ounce jar of either French or German-produced sturgeon caviar to celebrate a special occasion.

Paddlefish roe caviar

Steely gray pearls of paddlefish roe

But the drought is now over! And believe it or not, the rescue is coming from the crystal-clear waters of the Ozarks in Missouri! Back in 1953, Jim Kahrs and his family started the Osage Catfisheries, selling different species of fish indigenous to the waters in this part of the world. When sturgeons became endangered, Jim began to produce paddlefish. Unfortunately, Jim passed away a few years ago, but his sons Steve and Paul have continued the company and are now the proud producers of exquisite caviar made from the roe of these fish.

Paddlefish have been around for about 300 million years and are relatives of sturgeon. They look just as intimidating, growing to be five feet in length with thin, extended noses that are over a foot long. The fish live to be over 50 years old and can weigh up to 100 lbs.  Osage Catfisheries hatch and raise them before releasing the fish to live for 10-12 years in privately owned ponds and lakes around the region. They feed on a diet of plankton, making them the only “green” fish of their kind, and they are farmed sustainably without impacting the environment or decimating the fish stocks.

When it comes time to collect the roe, giant nets are used to catch the fish. While the largest females are kept for breeding purposes, the rest are harvested for their roe. A typical fish yields about 9 lbs.

Thereafter, the eggs are processed through a sieve in the traditional Russian manner by a highly skilled, trained processor. The result? Beautiful, pearly gray, glossy balls that shimmer in the candlelight and almost melt in your mouth with a creamy, buttery flavor that is reminiscent of the finest Beluga.

Caviar with baguette and lemon

A spoonful of caviar

Whereas in Russia caviar is accompanied by vodka, we prefer the French choice of a glass of sparkling Champagne. Some people serve caviar with blinis (small buckwheat pancakes) and smother it with sour cream and onions. I am a purist. I like it by the spoonful, straight out of the jar or else on a slice of fresh Baguette with a smear of butter and a spritz of lemon. (Always use a spoon made from mother-of-pearl or wood. Silver changes the taste of the caviar.)

Some of America’s finest chefs have already discovered L’Osage Caviar. If you love caviar and have missed it for all these years, help is now available!

You can contact L’Osage Caviar Company at (573) 348-1190 or by email losagecaviar@usmo.com.

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The Fosse Ardeatine, Rome

The Fosse Ardeatine

Courtyard of the Fosse Ardeatine, Rome

As a matter of principle, we try to write travel blogs that focus on the positive and upbeat. However, every once in a while during your travels, you come across something so compelling, it forces you to examine it and write about it, even if is tragic. Such is the case regarding our visit to the Fosse Ardeatine in Rome.

While there are certainly those who want to change facts to suit their narrative, those who do
not learn from history are not only destined to repeat it, they are fools. The thought crosses my mind as we enter the heavy, intricate, iron gate into the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument and Mausoleum. Few tourists even know that it is there, but for Italians, it is a national memorial.

Located across from the back entrance of the Catacombs of Callisto, off the Appia Antica, these limestone caves are the site of unspeakable horror. This is where Nazi troops carried out the mass execution of 335 Italians, before blowing up the entrance to hide their crimes. It was Rome’s worst atrocity of World War II.

Entrance gate and Statue at the Fosse Ardeatine

Gate to the Fosse Ardeatine Memorial Mausoleum

The Facts

The tragedy started on the 25th anniversary of the founding of Fascism by Benito Mussolini (March 23, 1944). That morning, a heavily armed column of the Police Regiment Bozen (from South Tyrol) marched back to their barracks near Via Rasella (across from the Palazzo Barberini). As they reached the midpoint of the road, Partisans (members of the Patriotic Action Group (GAP)) detonated a bomb hidden in a garbage cart, killing 42 police officers and a number of civilian bystanders. After the attack, the Partisans disappeared into the crowd.

German reaction was swift. Initially, Hitler wanted to destroy Rome completely as punishment. Instead, he was persuaded by his officers on the ground (SS Lt Col Herbert Kappler, Commander of the security police, and Lt. Gen Kurt Malzer, Commander of the Wehrmacht) to round up 10 Italian civilians for every German casualty. The plan to execute 330 men was approved by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Commander-in-Chief South.

The next day (March 24, 1944), SS Captains Erick Priebke and Karl Hass selected a number of victims from prisoners who had already been sentenced to death and who were being held at Gestapo Headquarters on Via Tasso. When there were not enough men to fill the required quota, the two officers selected prisoners who had been imprisoned in Rome’s Regina Coeli jail for political activity. Fifty-seven Jewish prisoners were amongst this group. Finally, civilians were arbitrarily rounded up from the streets of Rome. Amongst these were a 70-year old man and a 15-year old boy who simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine sending your son out to buy a loaf of bread and never seeing him again or knowing what had happened to him!

The victims, whose hands were tied behind their backs, were driven to the Fosse Ardeatine, a series of caves in an abandoned quarry near the Via Appia Antica, unloaded from trucks and marched to the back of the caves. German soldiers were instructed to shoot each in the head at close range, five at a time, as they knelt on the ground. In the process, the Nazis realized that they actually had 335 hostages, five more than required. The officers decided that they couldn’t free the extra five for security reasons. They also were executed.

Statue in front of the Fosse Ardeatine

Statue of Bound Hostages, Fosse Ardeatine

When it was over, the Nazis dynamited the entrance to the cave to hide their crime. A farmer in the area witnessed what had happened, but it took until the Allies liberated Rome in June 1945 before the bodies could be exhumed and identified.

THE MEMORIAL

As you enter the gate of the Fosse Ardeatine, you walk past a statue depicting two victims, bound together, before they were murdered. It casts a long shadow across the courtyard in the beautiful, blue-sky morning. The immaculately-kept, tree-shaded,  garden is very quiet. Only the sounds of the chirping birds disturb the silence.

Ahead of you, the main entrance of the cave leads you down a tunnel to the back where the massacre took place. As you walk further into the dimly lit cavern, the cold air makes the hairs on the back of your neck bristle. It is as if the ghosts of the victims are still lingering in this place of indescribable evil, terror, and grief.

It is difficult to remain for very long; even after over 70 years, the feelings are too overwhelming. As you exit to the right, a pathway takes you to an enormous cavern-like room, under a massive concrete slab, where the tombs of the victims are lined up in rows, many with photos attached. Single flowers are strewn on the top, bouquets fill the space at the bottom. The names are listed on a wall. Nearby, a small museum contains some photos and artwork, as well as information about the victims.

THE PERPETRATORS

With such an egregious crime against humanity (not to speak of the other crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in Italy), you would think that the officers responsible would be punished after the end of the War. Although most of them were tried, some in Nuremberg, sadly, this was far from the case.

Melzer served a few years in prison; Kesselring was sentenced to death but was then pardoned; Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment but was smuggled out of Italy by his wife. Pribke spent five months in prison before escaping to Argentina where he lived until he was exposed in an interview with Sam Donaldson of ABC News; he was extradited to Italy in 1995 where he received a life sentence that he served under house arrest until his death a few years ago.

A concrete slab over the tombs of the victims, Fosse Ardeatine

Row of tombs, Fosse Ardeatine

AND NOW?

It is an intensely emotional visit. In addition to the sadness, you feel incredible anger at the inhumanity of humans towards each other. You wonder how it was possible for the evils of Fascism and Nazism to swallow Europe unchecked while good people sat and watched and said, “it will be ok in the end, we shouldn’t get involved. Just wait. It will pass.”

And yet…. History repeats itself over and over. When will we finally learn to say “Never again” and mean it? What are the lessons from this tragedy at the Fosse Ardeatine that should make us all take pause, in 2017, and reflect on what is happening around us? Finally, will a few good men and women stand up and say “NO!” We will not let this happen again? Will you? The future of our children and grandchildren depends on it.

IF YOU GO

The National Memorial of the Ardeatine Caves is at Via Ardeatina 174.

The site is open every day, except major holidays, Monday to Friday 0815-1515, 16:30 Saturday and Sunday. Bus 218 towards Zanetta stops near the site but a taxi is faster.

There is an English language information sheet available in the guard house near the entrance; however, the descriptions in the Museum are all in Italian so an interpreter helps.

If you would like to learn more about the events at the Fosse Ardeatine, visit www.primolevicenter.org/printed-matter/the-fosse-ardeatine. Primo Michele Levi was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust Survivor (1919-1987).

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Il Spirito Di Vino Restaurant, Rome

 

Side Entrance to the Spirito Di Vino restaurant

Sign over the Spirito Di Vino restaurant, Rome

With so many outstanding restaurants in Rome, it is sometimes hard to pick a favorite. The Spirito Di Vino restaurant (the name is a play on words that mean either“The Spirit Divine” or “The Spirit of the Wine) is one of Rome’s finest featuring an eclectic menu that changes daily depending on what is available in the market. It is the domain of Chef Eliana Catalani who, together with her husband, Romeo and her son Francesco, opened the restaurant in 1998.

The ancient building in Trastevere in which it is housed was Rome’s first synagogue until Pope Paul IV forced the Jews into a ghetto across the Tiber River. In the arcaded loggia above the side entrance of the restaurant, you can still see Hebrew letters carved in the marble pillar. The building has also been home to a convent, a shop, a private residence and, now, a restaurant.

However, its origins are even older than that as we learn when we arrive for dinner. As we walk into the restaurant, Romeo greets us and leads us up a small flight of steps to a table under multiple arches and terra-cotta walls. The white tablecloths, crystal glasses and silverware gleam under the soft lights. Romeo immediately pours us two glasses of Prosecco Millesimato Brut and pulls up a chair to chat. He highlights the most unique items on the menu and spends a bit of time describing the history of each. He comes back at regular intervals throughout our meal to see how we are doing.

Once we have made our selections, Francesco arrives with recommendations on the best wines for each dish. He invites us to visit the wine cellar and explains its extraordinary history.

THE WINE CELLAR

As you carefully pick your way down the steep brick steps to the dim, dank cellar, you travel in time to the first century level of Republican Rome. Every step down is equal to 75 years of time. The wine cellar is 160 years older than the Colosseum, its walls protected by the Ministry of Archeology. Even the wine bottles stored down here are not allowed to touch them.

Each step represents 75 years of history

A wine cellar older than the Colosseum

Several archeological treasures that are now on display at the Vatican or Capitoline Museums were discovered during excavations. One, the “Statue of the Athlete”, the so-called “Apoxyomenes”, has given its name to the small alley outside the restaurant’s side entrance, the Vicolo dell’Atleta. It is a Roman marble copy of an original Greek bronze by Lisippo (4th century BC). It depicts an athlete scraping olive oil from his body. The second is an original Greek bronze horse from the Classical era that was once part of the monumental equestrian sculpture commissioned by Alexander the Great to honor those who fell in the Battle of Granico.

We notice that the bottles are all wrapped in plastic wrap. Francesco explains that since the cellar has a constant temperature of 50-59 degrees F with 30% humidity, the plastic is required to keep the labels from peeling off. One employee is responsible for wrapping and unwrapping the bottles.

THE FOOD

Chef Eliana is the only person who prepares the food. Before becoming a gourmet chef, she spent 37 years as an internationally acclaimed virologist working with 1986 Nobel Laureate Rita Levi Montalcini. Chef Eliana gave this up to follow a dream and open her own restaurant. An early proponent of the Slow Food Movement, the raw materials she uses are purchased daily at the market and come from organic farmers and small producers located within a few miles of Rome.

Eliana sees her kitchen as an extension of her laboratory, bringing the same scientific rigor to her cooking as she did to her research. “I want every recipe to tell a story,” she says. “Instead of words, the aromas and tastes of each dish provide the narration.” Eliana believes that, through her cooking, she is conveying the multi-cultural influences of Rome.

Liver pate is served with lightly toasted bread and wild apple jelly

Liver Pate at Il Spirito Divino, Rome

We start our meal with the liver paté served with rounds of toast and a side of wild apple jelly. It is a reminder of the building’s Jewish heritage. Romeo describes some of the 18 different herbs and spices with which it is made. It is smooth and silky on the palate, the richness of the paté offset by the sweetness of the jelly. It is a flavor that is difficult to forget. No other chicken liver paté will ever taste the same.

For our main course, we select the Magro di Maiale di Manzio or the Lean pork made in Manzio’s style. Manzio was a contemporary of Julius Caesar, known for his authorship of three volumes on gastronomy, as well as his horticultural skills. (The Spanish word for apple (manzana) has its origins in the apples that Manzio grew.)

Eliana has recreated this dish, slow-cooking chunks of pork shoulder with apples, onions, honey, vinegar, red wine, herbs, and spices. Instead of salt, she remains true to the original recipe by using a garum (or fermented fish sauce) similar to the Vietnamese nuoc mam. (In Caesar’s time salt was too expensive a commodity to use on food). Notwithstanding what you might expect, there is absolutely no fishy flavor to the meat, which is served with a side of applesauce. We accompany this with a glass of Terre Siciliane Molino a Vento Syrah recommended by Francesco.

To conclude our meal, we select the tiramisú and the Crema cotta, the Italian version of crème brulée but without the hard sugar-coating on top. They are both delicious and gone much too quickly.

Shoulder of pork with apples, wine and garum sauce

Il Magro di Maiale di Manzio, Spirito Divino

In addition to the outstanding food, what makes Il Spirito Di Vino so special is the attitude towards the guests. At no time do you feel as if you should hurry up and leave. Each table is booked for only one party per evening. In fact, Romeo and Francesco invite us to sit back and have another cup of espresso or a digestive spirit and chat some more. Perhaps the greatest treat of all is meeting Chef Eliana herself! With all the outstanding restaurants that you can find in Rome, Il Spirito Di Vino is our favorite.

IF YOU GO

Il Spirito Di Vino Restaurant is open Monday to Saturday 7 to 11 pm; closed on Sunday. It is located at Via dei Genovesi 31 in Trastevere, a block from the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere Tel 39-06-589-66-89; info@spiritodivino.com).

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