Saturday, August 24, 2013

Russians Discover Bracciano

Fulvio, Tanya  and Sergei at Bracciano
During the  torrid days of August  the perfect  day trip from  Rome  should include  a lake, a lunch  and  and a bit of cultural tourism .  
fish platter at La Tramontana, Bracciano
  With this in mind, I organized  to meet our Russian friends Sergei and Tanya  at the half way mark- the Bracciano train station- to enjoy their last day in Italy before  they headed back to the  rigors of Moscow life.

Our first stop  was  a vintage   trattoria  on the lakeside, La Tramontana, where  we enjoyed  an early lunch with  platters of lake fish  and fed  left over  bread to a family of  swans  and ducks. 
The unpretentious  wooden structure with its 1970s  chairs and tables  had  changed very little   since  I had last been there, over  20 years ago.

the lakeside Tramontana , Bracciano

walking up to  Castello Odescalchi 
entrance  to  Castello Odescalchi 
Our Russian friends  were duly impressed with  Castello Odescalchi which we visited after lunch, set high enough above the lake and town to be blessed  with a cool breeze. 

walking the  castle ramparts 

a happy Russian enjoying the lake view

courtyard with visitors 

the Orsini bear  greets  visitors  from Russia

inside the castle kitchens 
While most of  Bracciano’s inhabitants   enjoyed   a well deserved  siesta, our tour guide walked us through the castle and its history. 

Our guide with other Russian visitors
Strangely most of the other members in the  3 o’clock tour   were also vacationing   Russians.   
Tanya on the ramparts 

The frescoed halls,  antique furniture and  historic costumes on display were the perfect  foil for learning a bit about  the Orsini and Odescalchi families and the area’s history.

And never once  was the wedding of Tom Cruise mentioned... 

Coming next week..Sergei's photos of  the castle  and other delights. 

Please leave a comment. Have you visited this castle, or others in central Italy? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Best Mid-summer Festivals in Tuscia

fields of sunflowers  near  Agriturismo Il Poggio, Vetralla
 The towns and villages in the Tuscia Viterbese just north of Rome are   perfect  for  laid back  vacations since  the area abounds with  luxuriant hills and forests and  there are cool  volcanic lakes and sandy  beaches close at hand. 
ceramics of Mara Santoni, Bolsena 

No matter where you are vacationing  in the Viterbo province a  plethora of festivals featuring artisans, free concerts,  food based  sagras and festivals with  music and dancing can be found within  the radius of  15-20 kilometres . 

 exported to Paris and  China  
It is impossible to mention all of them  so here are a few of my personal favorites discovered  over the  past  20 years. Please let us know which is  your  favorite  festival  by leaving  a comment below.

artisans' fair, Bolsena 
A complete list  can be found on the  Province’s website  while  indepth historical and travel articles in English can be found on my website (updated weekly) and in  our  books  which can be purchased directly or at  local bookshops

open air dining, Bolsena 
The long awaited   publication about the area in Italian  will be published  in November… per I miei lettori italiani,  a novembre  sarà  pubblicato  il mio libro  in italiano sulla zona .

basket maker, Bolsena 
terracotta  from CastelViscardo 
....even ostrich eggs 
Bolsena played host to an artisans and books fair  a few weeks ago where  a wide range of   local products were exhibited and sold including  pottery, olive oil,  terracotta floor tiles  and even ostrich eggs .  

Civitella Cesi's  fettuccine al tartufo 
Last weekend the tiny hamlet of  Civitella Cesi hosted  thousands of  diners who were served  fettuccini and other dishes flavored with truffles. 

Next Saturday (August 24)   the  town of  Vallerano  will be brightened for La Notte delleCandele   when  50,000 candles will glow and music and shows  will be performed  in  15 different piazzas around town.  
historic center  of Vallerano lights up 

Fireworks  expert Emidio told us that the  best (and most expensive) fireworks display  is that held in Vallerano  for the  festival of  San Vittore,   but those  put on by many of the  other towns in the province are also  pretty spectacular.

Another special festival has been brought to my attention by a reader in Orte: its  a good one, not to be missed...

 green  canopy of trees in  Villa Comunale, Vetralla  

Feel  like just  relaxing?  Don't miss out  on  local band concerts which are held in most towns as part of the Ferragosto festivities. 
 practicing  with the band

Vetralla's excellent band, founded over 100 years ago,  will be performing again  in Montefiascone  on  Tuesday, August 20th.

Villa Comunale was once the  private park of sculptor Pietro Canonica 

 When  its  very hot and humid, do as the local families do and take an evening stroll (passeggiata)  in the town park.
original  19th century  water fountain 

 Here in Vetralla it’s the Villa Comunale where people of all ages  come to stroll and enjoy  the cool evening breezes .   What is your favorite  public park?
lonely swan, Vetralla's Villa Comunale 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Unexpected Encounters: John Henry Newman and Beniamino Gigli in Vetralla

what the monastery looked like in  1744
On these hot August  days  one of the best places  to  find a cool breeze is  in the wooded hills of  Monte Fogliano   overlooking Vetralla.   The road winds up through the  shadowy  woods where mushrooms and wild boar  can be sighted. 

Along the roadside a series white ceramic stations of the cross  mark the way before the road turns in   narrow cypress lined drive . Here is the majestic   Passionist monastery  founded  by  St. Paul of the Cross in  1744. 

The Passionists'  priorities   included  good   views and prime real estate  for an almost identical Passionist monastery can be found  on an almost identical  hill on the  Monte Argentario  peninsula, less than  100 kilometres away in Tuscany.  

sculpture of Newman's conversion by  Barbieri 
In  this lush  Italian  landscape and this historic  Italian monastery  visitors are  quite    surprised  to find connections with   England ..and the  opera world.

the sculpture   of Newman and Barbieri 
On the left hand side of the monastery chapel is a double  statue  honoring  Blessed Domenico Barbieri (1792-1849  and Cardinal John Henry Newman. Father  Barbieri    was a missionary in England  where  he  founded  four Passionist houses and  was responsible for the conversion of  John Henry Newman.  When  Newman became a Cardinal he was dedicated to  Catholic  education, as the many  university  Newman Clubs  attest.

In the early years of the 1900s, a brother of popular Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli, was a priest here. Thanks to this connection electricity was brought up the mountain for the monastery,   as the   plaque  located just above  the “cabina elettrica”  reminds visitors.

 the monastery  today is a place for retreats 

altar of  St. Paul of the Cross 

Read about the  Wedding of the Trees which takes place each year  on May 8th  in a clearing nearby.  Have you been to this festival? 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Behind the Scenes at the opera in Rome's Baths of Caracalla

arriving  through the  artists' entrance 
 It has taken me  almost  50 years of  living in Italy, but finally I did get a chance  to attend the opera  held in Rome's  magnificent Baths of Caracalla. 

the chorus  waiting for their cue 

The opera staged in the Baths of Caracalla is a highlight of a  summer vacation  in Rome. For those  who live  here  and have  friends who work in the field, it can mean a very special night  out. 

few people  were invited  

Director Pizzi  with his entourage 
props and shadows at the opera 

This we  discovered when Aurelio,  a member of the chorus of the Rome Opera, organized a  special visit behind the scenes at the Baths of Caracalla.

Act II  scenery 
We were able  to assist at the    prova generale   of Puccini’s  Tosca which is being held there  this week. 

singers Aurelio Cicero Santalena with  Raffaella Angeletti 
before  costumes 
 Raffaella Angeletti, who plays  Tosca  and Antonello Ceron (Spoletta) sat down with us at  the outdoor café   reserved for artists and personnel before retiring to their dressing rooms for make up and  costumes. 
wardrobe  ladies 

Then,  just like   Conductor Renato Palumbo and his  family,  we  explored parts of the huge archeological complex to admire  the mosaics that still decorate parts of the  baths where  Roman citizens cavorted between 216 and  530 AD. 
admiring the mosaics of the Baths 

intact  mosaics Baths of Caracalla 

conductor Palumbo  shows his family around 
Pier Luigi Pizzi ‘s   new version of Tosca  by will be a surprise for public and critics for it features Scarpia and the sbirri  dressed  in Fascist uniforms. 
costume board 
with Pizzi  
Aurelio, Susanna, Antonello Ceron and MJ 

Don’t wait for 50 years to enjoy an evening  at the Baths of Caracalla  where you can  combine great opera music with a sublime archeological setting.