Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Where am I now??

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Back in Alberobello, Italy, I challenged anyone who was reading my blog to guess where I was in the photo.

Well here is another one.

I’m in a very old city in Switzerland.

The photo is the clue.


Taking It On The Chin

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

The Habsburgs were a crazy, out of control dynasty that ruled for over 600 years (a.k.a. Austro-Hungarian Empire) and were the most powerful European entity since Rome! They started out mostly a peaceful group and found that marrying their royals with other countries’ royals enlarged  their holdings without firing a shot. But this eventually resulted in a lot of in-marrying, and a slew of reasons that this was not a good idea for their gene pool (more in a minute on that).

The 19th Century was their time to shine with Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and Strauss, Freud, Doppler and a host of others. At the turn of the century, Vienna was the world’s 5th largest city in the world and had managed to avoid all revolutions and revolts. Then came World War I, (which I could make a case for the greedy Habsburgs starting and losing) and their holdings were split asunder. Then Hitler took over in 1938 and that’s enough of a history lesson for now. I read tons about everyplace I visit.

After a few generations of sisters marrying brothers, uncles with nieces, you get the idea, a few quirky things started showing up in the family Christmas photo. We see hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and skeletal deformities such as smaller stature and the easiest to spot; ‘Habsburg chin’. This is a very pronounced chin (think Jay Leno x 10). Phillip II of Spain was so deformed he could not swallow or speak.. In this portion of a prominent statue in the city center, you see Leopold I (and Holy Roman Emperor) kneel in thanksgiving for the plague being over. He was married to his niece who was also a first cousin so they weren’t fast learners either.

Habsburg Chin

Habsburg Chin


Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

DSC02998There’s nothing like visiting a cathedral or basilica and being moved by the art and dedication of the faithful who built and worshiped for centuries. It is a faith-moment to be part of worship with a quick prayer or lighting a candle or just sitting a while and absorbing the sacrifice that went before.

But I find it jarring when I gaze on some altars or venture into a little chapel and have a skull staring back at me. And it’s not just skulls, it’s all sorts of body parts.

I gazed on St. Anthony’s tongue in Padua and St. Catherine’s tibia in Sienna, and entire skeletons of lesser saints all over Italy and Germany.

These are ‘relics; a portion of the body of a deceased saint that is venerated, are even dressed in gold and precious gems in some instances. They are encased in glass coffins and display cases and displayed prominently.

I guess at one time the Catholic Church in Rome had (or still has) quite a cache of these tidbits to bestow upon churches as reward or to gain favor. Here in Munich the chief congregation was gifted with more relics than anywhere else in Europe because they, at one time, were the anti-reformation leaders . Rome battled fiercely against Luther and his followers and if a congregation was given a relic, it would inspire wavering believers to feel special and keep their allegiance to their Catholic Church.

The Dome Church Frauenkirche here in downtown Munich, is the home church of Pope Benedict. He served here many years before being called to Rome. I wonder how he feels about relics, there might be a glass box here for him someday?

The Austrian Navy

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

DSC02376We are in Bolzano (Bozan),Italy. This region of Italy has an identity crisis as it doesn’t know if it’s Italian or Austrian. It belongs to an area known as Tirol: think Heidi, mountains, streudal, and beer. Mix with it pizza and pasta and your confusion would be justified.

Up until World War I, Austria had a coast line on the Adriatic Sea (Colonel Von Trapp from’ Sound of Music’ fame was a submarine commander in real life). The entire region for centuries was germanic and then to the victors go the spoils and it becomes Italian.

Today, all signs are in both languages and 85% of the inhabitants speak German. But it is a rich agricultural and industrial area for Italy (tons of apples are grown here, and of course wine) so despite protests and initiatives, it remains  Italy’s domain.

I think it’s the best of both worlds!


Friday, October 31st, 2014

DSC02484Today is All Saints Day and in Italy it is a big occasion. The day has been observed in the Catholic church since the first century and it has been a national holiday since 1949. Nov 1 sees families visiting churches and grave sites and the flower of choice is the mum.

We have driven by a couple cemeteries and florists have set up temporary stands to sell bouquets and potted plants of mums. The churches are filled with mums like we fill our churches with poinsettias at Christmas. It’s a big day!

Now tomorrow is All Souls Day. Whereas Protestants believe that all Christians are saints upon the acceptance of Christ, the Catholics believe it’s just for the dead. People in Italy, clean off the grave sites, frequently eat a meal at the cemetery or set a place setting for them at home. Some regions in Italy leave food and water out for the deceased to quench themselves and this is the time the dead have a yearly window to communicate with the living.

In a couple regions of Italy, the dead bring candy to the children as a way to stay linked with the younger generations.

I like that people take time to remember those who have passed away. Steve and I lit a candle last night at the cathedral and took time to remember and reflect our grandparents and parents.

But for me, Nov. 2 is about living cause it’s my BIRTHDAY!

Tower of Terror

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 is awesome! Everyplace I reserve is a uniquely different experience.

We have returned to Florence to see the Pitti Palace and Bobboli Gardens and shop at the San Lorenzo Market (a girl can’t have too many scarves).

But we wanted a quiet place out of town yet on the bus route.

We are currently residing in an ancient tower! Circa 1120 a.d. and right on the Arno River. It was for defense and was inhabited by guards or Medici soldiers. It has been incorporated into a B & B and we lucked out with the Tower Room.

DSC02958We squeeze up an enclosed circular staircase and use our skeleton key to let ourselves into the all stone lookout. The Arno rushing by sounds like Niagra Falls. The bathroom is several steps down on a different level.

Yes, middle ages improved with indoor plumbing.

And what do you say to Steve at bed time? Night,Night,Knight!!!

TP Trees

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

In  the region around Lucca, there are all sorts of groves of birch-like trees planted in any little spare plot of land available.

They don’t have many leaves or branches but they are THE source for Toilet Paper in Italy! Hmmm, guess I’m glad they’re around.



Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Carol and breakfast in Certaldo, Tuscany

Carol and breakfast in Certaldo, Tuscany

We found a hill town in Tuscany smaller than Montalcino and have relaxed and enjoyed the ambiance and flavors of this region that is anchored between Sienna and Florence. This is Chianti region!

It has been a sad year for the olive and grape growers all over Tuscany. Damaging rain came when the olive flowers were due to bloom  thus crippling the olive oil crop for this year. I know Italians who are gonna have to buy their oil from out of the country. And just when the grapes were to soak in the sugar- encouraging sunshine in August, the rains came again and most of their harvest was ruined.

But Certaldo is a little gem of simplicity high on a hill with their claim to fame as home to the writer Boccacio (the “Decameron”) and to the Blessed Julia of Certaldo (hometown example of sacrificial faith).

Enjoyed worshipping with them this morning and Tomasso, their organist, invited my to play. I met him yesterday as he practiced and we shared ‘shop talk’. I declined the honor but loved his spirit. Isn’t it great God speaks italian too?

While enjoying the view from our second floor sitting area, we watched the hotel staff get ready for a big wedding. The beautiful couple had a wedding luncheon, were married next door at the town hall, and came back for cake and champagne. As the gals from the hotel were placing the cakes, a gust of wind tossed the ceramic cake top onto two of the layers and then splat on the brick patio. Seeing the panic that ensued, Carol and I rushed down there, helped them repair the cake (whipped cream in a can!) and glued the pieces back together just moments before the happy couple walked back in. It lasted for the photographs and cake cutting, but a couple of the youthful guests picked it up and it came apart again (the worst break was the groom lost his head!). The staff sent up wedding cake for us to enjoy after we retreated to our lookout, and the next day they gave us a nice bottle of chianti as we checked out. Italy becomes special when you connect with the people!

Driving in Italy

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


Hats off to Steve who usually keeps us on the road and fends off the adversarial, oncoming, out of their f-minds Italian driving maniacs. Did I make that clear?…lol)

We’ve amassed hundreds of dollars in tolls, killed millions of bugs while driving through farm land, and felt every one of the kazillion potholes those tolls are supposed to pay for. But today took the cake: three cars who all had the same idea simultaneously, let’s pass the truck ahead! Three cars abreast on a two lane jockeying to get by the large transport. Our jaws dropped open in disbelief, but they narrowly made it after seeing who would then be the leader of the pack.

Italians “take” the road.

If you hesitate or even think about being polite and letting some one cut in, BAM! it’s done and they sneak in between you and the narrowest space.

Steve has been keeping his cool while I strangle the handle and clutch at my seat belt and cease breathing. My only thrill is counting all the men who just pull over to the side of the road and let nature call. I’m still trying for a photo so you can have a visual!

We pray every day for God’s angels to protect us and the car, and indeed they have been working overtime!


Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Italy gives you tax advantages if you have a small bit of agricultural land and you fix up some part of it to host guests. These small farms can’t always make a go of it without some financial help and a few euros from folk like us who would love a breath of country air.

We are in one tonight that produces all of it’s own food: huge hogs, sheep, chicken, veggies, fruit trees, grapes, walnuts, and that’s just what this city girl could recognize. It’s an Ecofarm as well so it’s harder work too.

Our weather changed overnight and it is in the high 40’s and drizzling but that didn’t keep us from exploring.

Meet my new friends.

Debbie,Steve, and Carol eat their way thru Italy!

Debbie,Steve, and Carol eat their way thru Italy!