Sunday, May 9, 2010

now we have published our photobook!

Which you can preview here (may take time to load in white box or click on title below):

Friday, April 9, 2010

Recommendation 5: Food

It is valuable to arrive in Italy with a good sense of the way Italians look at food. Forget complexities or recipes, concentrate on the closeness of Italians in traditional life to food, its production, its sale, its preparation. If French cuisine is a process of sophisticated alteration of the natural, Italian cucina is about the enhancement and appreciation of the natural.

The SBS Italian Food Safari is a good place to start.

Then, in Italy, with the opportunity to prepare food in your own kitchen, avoid doing the 'supermarket life' thing, with the big shop. It is best to shop meal by meal, or at most day by day. It takes time, it takes thought, but it will enable immersion and proper preoccupation with food as central to life, not as a rush job.

Look at what others are buying, consider buying similar, use the internet to research, to find out what might be done at home. Ask for advice. Some prices are the opposite to Australia. Prosciutto Cotto [cooked ham, what we call 'ham'] is more expensive generally in Italy than Prosciutto Crudo [raw ham, what we call 'prosciutto'].

At the core of everything are these things:

- wines which in normal life are low priced and local... check the labels, start out with products made within a modest radius. They will go best with local food too.

- olive oil: extra virgin olive oil is oil which has been extracted without heat treatment. Olive oil can be pale and golden coloured, in which case generally late season, less flavour, may suit use in the frying pan. Or it can be bright fresh and green tinged, earlier season olive oil with more flavour suitable for abundant use on salad or vegetables or skin.

- bread which really does need to be bought every day. If you can find a place which bakes through the day, you need not buy a whole loaf but buy by the hectogram (100gms), buy enough for one meal. Three hundred grams is 'tre etti' [pron: tray etti] etc.

Look for special things in markets, things brought to market by growers. I asked for best artichokes for Carciofi Romani and the market stallholder obliged.

It can be disappointing to go to Italy and find the same apple varieties (Delicious, Fuji, etc). Look in the market for unusual apples. Price is likely to closely follow quality. In the mandarin season, you can buy items called 'mandarine' but next to them will be 'Clementine' - almost identical to look at, amazingly better to eat. Also with oranges, note that blood oranges produce a juice from a planet much closer to heaven. To experience this best, ask for a spremuta di arancia [orange juice] in a bar.

Expect in most places (shops, market stalls) that the range may be limited. It will generally only include what is seasonal and fresh. Don't hunt out of season things, unless you want it to taste like supermarket food).

Try to avoid eating within a kilometre of a major tourist attraction, or at least at sufficient distance to imagine that locals would be seen in an eating place. Avoid 'menu turistico.' Go to where ordinary Italians eat in ordinary (often wonderful) places. Try to adopt the eating hours they adopt when they have time - lunch after 1pm with siesta to follow. Dinner after 8pm after a walk.

Above all, abandon all prior conceptions of food. As Elena said to her daughter on the phone after dining at Tre Scalini "I didn't know food could be orgasmic". Open your heart.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Recommendation 4: Rome and Florence

We did one day trip to Rome, there and back by car to the station then trains to and from Rome. Good if you lived there and had a business appointment in Rome, but not really a top way to get the feel of Rome. We indulged ourselves in going to Rome for two nights, to Florence for one night.

In Rome we stayed at Domus Ester, via S Salvatore in Campo 38, Navona, Rome, 00186, located in the most interesting part of Rome and we were able (in February) to get a lovely room for Euros 50 a night (breakfast included). This is a real experience of living in Rome, no elevator, no fancy hotel trimmings, just a very comfortable room in a building hundreds of years old. To be able to get up in Rome and wander through the day and into the evening is a special experience. It was also a special experience to take the little train Mussolini built, from the Porta Flaminia station (not connected to the state rail network), that goes to Viterbo via Soriano. Here is the timetable.

In Florence we had stayed one night in a very similar kind of hotel, Relais il Campanile al Duomo, also very comfortable, friendly and conveniently located. February room price Euros 49. Highly recommended.

Recommendation 3: how long, what concept of staying in Soriano

Well, not so much a recommendation but thoughts to enable others to make judgements for their own travels.

We chose to base ourselves in Soriano and take trips away from there. There is a lot of life within reach in car, train or bus day trips. We did not use the car every day, we did not leave Soriano every day. Our choice was to be living in a pleasant and interesting place, with good food etc.

If you were just staying in Soriano for a few days, going separately to Rome, etc, then no need for a car in Soriano.

Recommendation 2: car or no car?

"Italian drivers" some people say, suggesting wild driving. In fact, our experience of driving on this occasion in Italy is that it is a comfortable experience and drivers are for the most part very considerate and sensible. They are certainly more aware of traffic around them, more adapting and more patient with issues in narrow streets.

So we were very pleased to have a rental car, meaning that we were able to wander to many places that from the train or bus one might say "hey that looks interesting" but never get there.

We rented a car for the whole period we were in Soriano (24 days), picked it up at the airport and returned it there. This minimised daily costs to less than $Aust900 for the 24 days, with zero excess (from Economy Car Rentals). Excellent - a small Kia diesel that fitted into narrow streets and small parking spaces easily - and fuel costs very modest, less than Euros 100 in total.

Leaving the airport in Rome we headed north for Civitavecchia rather than going via the Rome ring road to the Autostrada del Sole. That is a more scenic route to Soriano, also the roads, on winter weekdays either way, were uncrowded and it was easy to get used to driving on the other side of the road without the heavy and more irritable traffic of the ring road.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recommendations for travellers, including us [1]

I am recovering from a lung infection, something arising this week, having begun to have an infection in my throat two weeks ago in Soriano. The evening-duty doctor at the health centre, who is otherwise a GP in Soriano, said he would not give me an antibiotic because the infection had not reached my lungs. I travelled with throat infection and have sought to defeat it till this week, but, hooray, it got to my right lung Tuesday and I went to my doctor who was a bit amazed by this apparent Italian policy and of course now prescribed Keflex for me.

So - recommendation 1: If you are a person who has any difficulty throwing off a cold or cough, and you understand when you move from virus to bacterial infection treatable with antibiotic, ask your doctor for a script to have dispensed in Australia to take with you. If you have a sign of cold before you get on the plane, even if you are one of those who defeats cold, again get a script if you can, you don't want to lose a lot of your holiday... But don't actually use any antibiotic if you only have a virus, reserve it for when you have an infection (producing muck from nose, throat, etc).

Also take a mask or scarf on the plane. If you have a cold, do not share and it's an obvious prospect that someone near you on a plane will cough and sneeze and you are likely to start to do that days later, some security from a mask. This obviously very relevant for those of us who travel 24 hours to get to Italy, but shorter flights carry risk too. A mask reduces dehydration on the plane. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

very heavy snow and sad news

Ian has sent an email to say that Soriano has had heavy snow (which has fallen across much of southern Europe). Ian's photos show views from the apartment as well as photos he took while he and Noelene walked in very cold weather the last two km up into the town with their bags on Tuesday, with the bus unable to get all the way from Orte.

And then yesterday, with the snow becoming ice-coated overnight, Graziella, whose family has lived in the apartment next door for seven generations, has gone out in the morning and fallen and died from head injury.

Such tragedy...