Thursday, July 31, 2008

Capitoline Museum of Rome

Considered the oldest art collection in the Western World the Capitoline Museums offer a great starting point to enjoy Ancient Rome, the Forum, and the Colosseo.

Gifted by the Pope Sixtus IV to the Roman's to prove the greatness of the Roman history this art museum offers a view into anicent Rome that will truly bring the Eternal city to life. Pope Sixtus was the uncle to Pope Julius II. Sixtus built the Sistine Chapel and it bears his name.

Julius II(Sixtus IV's nephew) decorated the ceiling with the help of Michelangelo. Michelangelo decorated the piazza in front of the Capitoline Museum. The statue in front is Marcus Aurelius and has survived because at the time of its placement Pope Paul thought it was the Emperor Constantine. A replica sits in the piazza. The original is inside the museum.

Two of my favorite pieces in the museum are the Colossus of Constantine and the micromosaic taken from Hadrian's villa. You can also see the Dying Gaul and the boy removing a thorn from his foot.

This museum is well worth the visit. You also get a great vantage point into the Forum for photos and the entrance into the Forum is a short walk from the Capitoline Musuems.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tragedy of the Tomb

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to create his tomb. It was going to be a glorious eternal resting place for Julius with over 40 statues. It would have been a mausoleum if it were completed to the original specifications.

Michelangelo himself traveled to Carrara to harvest the marble, he paid for it out of his own pocket, and began work in Rome. This was going to be the ultimate accomplishment for the artist. It tested his ability as an architect and sculptor.

During the course of work the Pope created a private corridor from Saint Peter's to Michelangelo's studio to suppress any jealousy. He would visit the artist and his work often. Bramante began whispering into the Pope's ear to stop work on his tomb. It was a bad omen. The pope eventually listened.

Michelangelo went to get payback on the marble and wasn't admitted to see the pope. This happened three times. Michelangelo freaked out, sold his stuff, and moved back to Florence. He eventually reconciled with Julius. Shortly after he was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The tomb was never completed to its original standards. It now rests in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. It does contain the Moses by Michelangelo and is amazing. It is said that this statue alone would do Julius honor enough.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Top Ten (actually twelve) Botticelli

Botticelli was one of the finest artist the Renaissance produced. Most of his work can be enjoyed in Florence. Here is a top ten (actually twelve) of his must see work.
1. Birth of Venus - Florence - Uffizi
2. Venus Primavera - Florence - Uffizi
3. Madonna del Magnifica - Florence - Uffizi
4. Adoration of the Magi - Florence - Uffizi
5. Calumny of the Appelles - Florence - Uffizi
6. Temptations of Christ - Vatican Museum - Rome
7. Punishment of Korah, Dathan, & Abiram - Sistine Chapel - Rome
8. Events in the life of Moses - Sistine Chapel - Rome
9. Pallas and the Centaur - Florence - Uffizi
10. Judith - Florence - Uffizi
11. Madonna of the Pomegranate - Florence - Uffizi
12. Cestello Annunciation - Florence - Uffizi

Monday, July 28, 2008

Buon Americano Buon Appetito

The Italians are very easy going. They love their culture, their food, and they especially love when travelers embrace being Italian while visiting Bella Terra.One of the best things Italy delivers to you is the food. It will set a whole new level of expectation as to what good is when dining. Everything from the bread to the dolci. Espresso is a religious experience. Pizza is an artform. Fresh fruit will give you the chills. The cheese and salamis are in fact second to none (sorry France). The pasta and the endless variety of pasta sauces will amaze you.

I recommend writing in a journal throughout your entire visit to Italy. Write down the name of the cafe, the city, what you ate or drank, and rate it. Almost every restaurant has a card at the host station to grab. Be sure to grab one and drop in in your envelope of cards. They will keep the memories alive in your scrapbook and be fun to look through in the years to come.

The key to getting the most out of your dining experience is to embrace each meal. Go outside of your comfort zone and stay away from staples. Don't pass on a wonderful spaghetti marinara, but compliment your meal with an out of your box second course. Try a different dessert at each meal. Try a different gelato flavor each'll eat it 4 times a day so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy your favorite.

Here are some tips to get the most out of your dining experience.

1. Be polite. Service goes much slower in Italy...don't be offended. They aren't blowing you off. The Italians enjoy dining as a full experience to be slowly enjoyed. Embrace it.

2. Try to speak a bit of Italian. They'll know you aren't fluent and won't expect you to know more than the basics. Try to say hello, thank you, where's the bathroom, etc. They'll love it and you'll be surprised at how much fun it is.

3. Ask the server for his / her recommendation. "Che cosa ci consiglia per primi piatte, secodi piatte, dolci, antipasti. You will then be delivered excellent recommendations and specials of the day that will raise your meal to a new level.

4. Ask for a wine recommendation in addition to your meal.

5. Many times they will offer a "misto" of dishes per course if you ask. You will be surprised that in Italy this is a compliment. In the U.S. restaurants will be offended. Not in Italy. They want to share their culture and food with you at every turn.

6. Don't assume the server speaks English. Ask if he / she does "Parla inglese?"The key is to take your time, try new things, be polite, tip, and you'll have a wonderful meal every time.
Don't forget. The server is not going to bring your bill (conto) until you ask for it. It is impolite in Italy to assume a table is finished. The sign to ask for you bill is the same in the U.S. as in Italy. An imaginary pen in hand as if you are signing a credit card slip works perfectly.There is a full article on the unabellavista tips page that you can download and enjoy. I also cover this topic in my podcasts on iTunes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Italian living at home - Italian cheese clubs

It is hard to get to Italy often enough to satisfy our love of Bell'Italia so bring Italy to you with an Italian Cheese club.

I have been a member of the cheese club offered by Italian Cooking & Living magazine for years and I love it. Each month you get 2 different types of cheese straight from Italy to your doorstep. Membership to the club is free. You then choose between 1/2 pound x 2 cheeses per month or 1 pound x 2 cheeses per month. I get the 1/2 pound and have been very happy with it. In addition to the cheese you get a recipe or two, a write up on the cheese and how it is made and the region it is made. Great stuff.

This is a great site. Shipping to the U.S. is a bit expensive, but if you and some family or friends love Italian cheese go in together. It divides the shipping cost (Cheese is shipped by air from Italy) between you. They help you buy the right amount to capitolize on shipping. The site is well organized by country (if you want to buy French or other European cheeses), by milk type, sharp, sweet, aged, and more. The selection and options are fantastic.
When was the last time you saw Taleggio at your local gourmet store?

A sample from their website:

Taleggio D.O.P. is a soft Italian gourmet cheese that is considered a delicacy when served in many dishes or when served on its own as a delightful Italian taste treat.
It is a gourmet cheese of very old origins, perhaps even before the 10th century. Its regional origin was the Val Taleggio, in the province in Bergamo, from which derives the name of the cheese. Currently the area of production and ripening of the Taleggio cheese is Lombardy, Piedmont and Venetia regions.
The rind of the cheese is thin, and of soft consistency; its color is natural rose-orange, with the presence of a characteristic grey and green light sage color mould. The paste is uniformly compact, softer under the rind and the color changes from white to pale yellow, with some small circles. The taste is sweet, with light acidic vein, slightly aromatic, sometimes with a truffle aftertaste; the odor is characteristic.
Taleggio gourmet cheese should be served to room temperature, to fully display its taste and its aroma. It is not necessary to remove the rind, but it is sufficient to gently scrape it. Most Taleggio cheeses are matured for a minimum of 40 days and in order to comply with US FDA regulation for export to the USA the maturation of our Taleggio cheese has been extended to over 60 days.

Italian wine is easier to come by at your local liquor store. Join a cheese club or buy from to bring a little Italy to your doorstep and enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Panzanella Salad - it's amazing

This is a great recipe that can be enjoyed year-round. It is quick and easy.

6 cups day old Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces

1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vinegar

4 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges

3/4 cup sliced red onion

10 basil leaves, shredded

1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces

*add a few anchovies if you like.

**I like to add a few pinches of crushed red pepper.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Masaccio, Santa Maria Novella, and the Trinity

This painting was a major turn in style. Masaccio was focused on and used linear perspective in execution.This fantastic painting can be seen in Florence at Santa Maria Novella.The coffered arch, God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Joseph complete the illusion of three dimenstions. The patron family is depicted kneeling. They are of the Lenzi family.The goal of the artist was to create a real space inhabited by the figures in the scene. Completed in 1427 it is a masterpiece that many other artists of the Renaissance used to perfect the use of perspective.The skeleton at the base of the image repressents our mortality with God and the Holy Spirit at the top completing the imagery. At our death life truly begins in Paradise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Loggia dei Lanzi - Florence

Located in one of the greatest piazzas in Italy Loggia dei Lanzi contains some of the best sculpture in Italy. As you stare at the David in his original location the Loggia is to your right. The David shares his location with Heracles And Cacus from Bandinelli. The Loggia contains the Rape of the Sabines, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Ajax with the Body of Patroclus, Heracles and the Centaur, and others. It is one of the beautiful things about Italy...all of this wonderful art decorates the piazza. Not just any art, but world famous sculpture by the world's masters. The sculpture is overwhelming. Being located in Piazza Signoria you'll walk through on your 2nd or 3rd day and almost not notice it. The Loggia is named after the German bodyguards for Cosimo I. It took its name in the 16th century and has been used for Civic events. Oh, one more thing...Palazzo Vecchio is there too with the Uffizi right around the corner. Florence is a wonderful city with so much to see it will be a bit overwhelming. Take your time, enjoy every step, and don't rush it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stay in one city and learn Italian

A great way to spend your time in Italy is to stay put in one city and study Italian. I did it last summer in Siena at the Dante School. It was my favorite time spent in Italy.

Most schools offer housing at great rates, you'll meet fantatic people, and you'll really get to know the city. Siena was a great choice.

I studied during the weeks before and during the Palio. There is no better way to experience the Palio than with the Sienese. It brought the experience to a whole new level.

The classes offered go from beginner to advanced and can be done in as little as one week. Most schools also offer walking tours and culinary classes to students.

My favorite part was meeting so many great people in class. All of which are still my friends. We stay in touch on Facebook.

Do yourself a favor and look into an Italian class during your stay. It will be well worth it for you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Boboli isn't just pre-made pizza crust!

The Boboli Gardens are one of Italy's best illustrations of wealth and power. The Pitta family built the gardens and palace to show Florence and the world their power and to rival the famed Medici family. It didn't stay in the Pitta family too long. The wife of Cosimo I, Eleonora di Toledo bought it and it quickly became another home of the Medici family.
The Pitti Palace was connected to Palazzo Vechio and the Uffizi by the the corridor built by Vasari. This is how jewelers came to occupy Ponte Vecchio. It used to be filled with butchers, but the Medici thought the smell repugnant and undignified. They had them removed and replaced with the more refined, and less stinky, jewlers you see there today.
The collection of artwork at Pitti is incredible and often overlooked by travelers. Many great Italian artists have works here like: Bandinelli, Lippi, Signorelli, Pontormo, Botticelli, Raphael, and Titian. It is located just over the arno and can be enjoyed on the day you walk across Ponte Vecchio. There is a lot to enjoy at Pitti so start your day early to enjoy the garden and the palace. The second part of your day be sure to visit the magnificent Santa Maria del Carmine. More on SM Carmine in another post.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Home Food Movement in Italy

It never ceases to amaze me! The Italians get it and deliver it. There is a movement in Italy that you should look into for a great meal and a great experience while visiting Bell'Italia...Home Food.

I read about it in the American Way magazine on my last flight to San Francisco.

In short, women and families throughout Italy created a network of home chefs that love to cook authentic Italian food and offer the experience to travelers.

From the article:Sensing a culinary collapse in her own country, 71-year-old Italian sociology professor Egeria Di Nallo, a Bologna native, teamed with the University of Bologna and the Association for the Guardianship and Exploitation of the Traditional Culinary- Gastronomic Heritage of Italy in 2004 and dreamed up a little something called Home Food. Like the name suggests, Home Food is a network of home cooks -- mainly Italian women, known as Cesarine (“empresses”), named such as a nod to the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who have passed on the traditional recipes of the country through the ages -- who are fervently preserving the culinary traditions of one of the most gastronomically blessed places on earth.

AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING, there were 250 Cesarine spread throughout all the regions of Italy. So the next time you are in Bologna, you can forgo the exhaustive search through the university town’s lovely medieval streets that ends up with you on the losing end of bad Bolognese, and instead feast on salsiccia passita (traditional pork sausage) and Bolognese-style veal cutlet, a recipe that first appeared in local cookbooks in 800 AD. You can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime meal with local wines and cheeses in an attic home just a few steps from the former residence of Giosuè Carducci, one of Italy’s greatest poets and a 1906 Nobel Prize winner.Each time you step into a Cesarina’s home, you are embarking on a rare journey of taste that harks back to the region’s traditional cuisine before it was pierced and prodded by the modern world. In the words of Home Food, you will be “avoiding flights of imagination, fusion, or contamination that have taken the foods away from their traditional form.” On the Home Food website (, each Cesarina’s menu reads like gourmet Dante: vivid descriptions of transcendent meals bookended by historical context. You can literally swallow the past.“Home Food has looked for and found in Italian families the people who are repositories of the ancient knowledge of our cookery and has convinced them to share their knowledge and experience with a larger circle of people whilst at the same time remaining within their own domestic environment,” writes Di Nallo on her company’s website.

This is a fantastic opportunity to do as the Italians do!

Italians work to live finding life and culture important, not $

I am always impressed with the Italian lifestyle. I read in the Chicago Tribune today about how a world-remowned, Umbrian Chef has countered the weakend U.S. dollar and falling Italian economy. Rather than post the entire article I'll drop the link and provide a few quotes that deliver the point.

In short Chef Gianfranco Vissani noticed more and more empty tables at his 2 star Michelin restaurant just outside of Rome. He created a set menu for 30 Euro. His regular menu would easily cost 100 Euro.

"Other chefs told me: 'You're crazy,' " Vissani said, looking into the kitchen one morning as a battery of cooks prepared steaming blueberry-laced risotto and slender platters of salmon carpaccio. "With this meal, I make no money. … But my thought was: We have to do something. At 30 euros, we at least can preserve the culture of the table." Diners can still order La Carte, but he opened a community style room with one large table for people to enjoy a great, affordable lunch.

This may not seem like a big deal, but this is like True in Chicago offering a more affordable lunch just to make sure the culture of dining stays alive. I don't think this would ever happen in the U.S....ever!

"I believe the culture of food and wine needs to be spread to youngsters—and the young have no money now," "If we put up the prices, everyone will stay home and eat out of cans."
The Italians work to live and enjoy life as it comes. We should take a page from their lifestyle.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Colosseo - Need I say more?

When the Colosseum falls so too will Rome, and so too the world.

The Romans revolted against Nero because he built his Golden House. Within the home was a lake where the Colosseo stands today. Vesapasian became Emperor after Nero and knew that he had to win the Romans back if there was ever going to be order. Vespasian began construction on the Colosseo. Just like we escape our lives by going to the movies, a cultural event, or a bar the Romans did the very same thing. The Colosseo in Rome is the most famous of the ampitheaters today. In fact they were built throughout the empire. Some of the other famous ones are in Verona (They still hold concerts and cultural events there), Pompeii, and Syracuse Sicily.

The Roman Colosseo holds over 50,000 spectators, had sails over the top to shade fans. The sails were wielded by sailors in the Roman navy. Seats were given by social rank. Exit were called vomitorium, hence the word vomit or to exit. The columns on the exterior are purely decorative and go from bottom to top: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

This is a must see, must have reservations sight. Buy your tickets at the Palatine Hill ticket office and walk right in to the Colosseo

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cheese - Formaggio

No visit to Bella Terra is complete without a full sampling of the cheeses of Italy. My only and best advice is to try it all. Every time you stop to eat finish with a piatto di formaggio. Each city, region, or town will serve it up a bit different. Be sure to ask for a wine recommendation to go along with your cheese.One of my favorite ways to eat cheese is in Tuscany. The Tuscans drizzle Balsamic Vinegar over their Parmigiano Reggiano. It is one of the best combinations I have ever tried. Keep in mind you have to buy the aged Balsamic. It is sweet and syrup like. Don't just drizzle any Balsamic over the cheese or you'll be disappointed. And remember less is more. My second favorite way to eat cheese comes from Siena. I enjoyed a hunk of Pecorino with a small side of Pear Preserve. The preserve had a hint of spice in it. Married with a nice Tuscan wine the combination is one of my favorite memories of last summer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Reservations are critical at Italy's most popular museums

A visit to Italy is not complete without enjoying a visit to the top sights. This can be taxing if you don't plan ahead and make a reservation. Most of us visit Italy for 10 -14 days. Why waste a minute of your time waiting in line. For the key sights the wait can easily exceed 3 hours. I am amazed at how many people just wing it. I have asked many of them why they didn't make a reservation and the answer is always the same: "I didn't think we needed one" or "I didn't know the line would be so long."

Here are the sights that I recommend you make a reservation to visit:

1. Uffizi Gallery:Florence

2. Accademia: Florence (David by Michelangelo)

3. Borghese:Rome (No entry without a reservation).

4. Santa Maria della Grazia:Milan (Last Supper by Da Vinci)

5. Vatican Museums:Rome (It would be nice, but you have to wait in reservations accepted!) The key is to go later in the day when the crowd has thinned.

6. Colosseo:Rome (Simply buy your ticket at the ticket office at the base of the Palatine Hill. You can then enter the Colosseo bypassing the very long line.

Visit You can click through to make your reservations at these sights and use the saved time for a gelato, Campari, or another sight visit.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

To Vespa or not to Vespa

I don't think there is anything as quintessential as a Vespa in Italy. They are everywhere. You can get around quickly, park wherever you want...for the most part, and make you feel like a true Italian when you ride through town.The Vespa is so popular that most days, in the city centers, all you see are Vespas.Keep in mind a few things before you take a ride on the Wasp.

1. The Italians know the streets well. Any second guess on your part can result in an accident.

2. Don't enjoy your first Vespa experience in Rome, Milan, or Florence. I recommend renting on a smaller city to get the hang of it and build up your confidence.

3. Wear a helmet.

4. Don't smoke or take a phone call while riding. You'll see the Italians doing this constantly. They are veterans and can pull it off. Don't try it...too much going on to focus on the cabs, pedestrians.

5. Study the road-signs a bit.

6. On day one, buzz around early in the morning or late in the evening when traffic is lighter.

Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Italy's other sculptor

When people think of Italian Sculpture they immediately go to Michelangelo...and rightly so. He is, in my opinion, Italy's artistic master. I would go so far as to argue that he is the world's artistic master. When it comes to sculpture he has few rivals. His nearest rival is Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini's work is incredible. What he is able to do with a hammer and chissle sets a new standard for accomplishment with stone.

Bernini has so many masterpieces in Rome that you would be able to spend two full days touring to enjoy them all. If you don't have two days, but want to get an eyefull of his work you must visit the Borghese. My favorite is his David. Unlike Michelangelo's which is David before the fight; Bernini's is during the fight. He is aggressively twisted to hurl the rock to fall Goliath.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese held up a mirror while Bernini sculpted. Bernini used his face as he struggled with the stone to deliver that same struggle to his David's face. I would equate Bernini's sculpture with a photograph in that the life and emotion potrayed in his stone is uncanny. His father was a sculpture, but never achieved the same level as his son.

The top works of Bernini are: David, Fountain of Four Rivers, Apollo & Daphne, and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa.