Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prossima Fermata: Summer’s End!

We return to the final chapter of this summertime story to find Martello e Trofie Wife en route to Vicenza, which was to be the last major stop on our epic tour. Due to an unexpectedly long connection, we were able to take a quick walk around Castlefranco’s centro, seeing the outside of the famed castle and a whole passel of bunnies. While we were expecting to land directly in Vicenza, the train only went as far as Padova (a city to which we hope to return at some point) where due to some sort of track issue, we had to take a very long bus. Comedy and frustration continued to ensue as we arrived nearly at midnight at the hotel where we thought we had a reservation but in fact did not (Martello had called the number of one hotel but inadvertently told the taxi driver to take us to a different one). Luckily, there was an available room at what turned out to be a converted monastery, austere but clean and a good value (as of late the New York Times among other publications have been touting the praises of such cloistered lodging; see ).

The arcade between our monastery hotel and the duomo

Vicenza was a sort of Holy Grail for both Martello and Trofie Wife—being architectural godfather Palladio’s hometown (Martello's grail) and the place where Trofie Wife's father lived and my eldest sorella was born (my grail).

Statue of the architectural godfather. The Vicenza commune has not yet commissioned the statues for Trofie Wife's parenti, but I hear that they're working on it...

As we wandered up the hill toward the large duomo Berico, I saw a sturdy American-looking fellow jog by in an Army Ranger t-shirt and felt as though my historical duty had been performed (perhaps we could have seen the base had we taken a normal train into town, but it’s completely closed to the public, as one would expect). Unfortunately, Villa Rotunda—Palladio’s most famous work—was closed on the day we were there, so we’ll have to make it back at some point. Joined once again by i Miamese, we did, however, see some other hallmarks of local architecture including Villa Nani (with its adorable little gargoyles) as well as Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, the Pinoteca, and a lovely park with Palladian accents.  

Teatro Olimpico
Some Palladian accents in various parks

The next morning, we started our journey back to Liguria. If you’ve read all these posts related to our viaggio di agosto (or even just one or two), you can see how lucky we were to have the opportunity to see so much of this varied country—nature, art, food, and friendly people. To return to Arenzano and find that the adventure was going to continue delighted us even more, as there’s just so much more to see both near and far. We’re planning on taking as much advantage of it as possible (and have so far this fall, which in part accounts for why these dispatches are so far behind).

More musings and wanderings to come soon.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

"Miamese" in Mountainous Places

Another unexpected--yet most welcome--addition to our trip was a visit with friends from Martello’s grad school days, i Miamese, who were staying with family in the tiny town of Cesana, near the larger (yet still small) town of Feltre. We were extremely grateful for la Miamese's entire family’s warmth and hospitality. Their history in the town goes far back, and each section of the family keeps a cozy summer home in what Trofie Wife decided was a delightful compound, with shared outside space for large family meals. We spent our first day together touring around Feltre, visiting the church, and encountering an elderly sculptor who showed us around the unique works in his studio:

Artist's studio

View of Feltre

We spent the better part of the evening at the Pedavena beer hall. Given its proximity to Austria, this region of Italy is known for brewing some excellent beer. In fact, Pedavena was so superb that even Trofie Wife (not really a beer drinker) enjoyed it! We didn’t know that the major summer beer fest was in progress that evening, so the crowd grew surprisingly large and the music loud. Though at various stages of pushing 30, we enjoyed the throwback to high school, with la Miamese's mama picking us up when we were good and full.

Autobus to Belluno

Belluno, a noted lovely town at the foot of the mountains, was our destination the following day. Unfortunately, the lack of a train station luggage room required that we schlep our huge bag around with us while touring charming cobblestone streets. This was particularly annoying given that a massive downpour engulfed the town. Luckily, we had already stopped at a gelateria and were safely ensconced inside, scoops at the ready. When the crazy rainstorm finally ceased, we wandered the quaint streets, stopping into churches and doing a bit of bird watching (a mama pigeon was feeding her squawking young).  Although we were continuing to journey west (and what a journey it was) we planned to meet up with our friends once again in Vicenza
Arcades of Belluno
Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pink Mountains Majesty

After two trains, a bus, and a very lengthy uphill walk (seriously, we deserve some sort of public transit medal), we ended up in this stunning locale:

It turns out that the Dolomite resort had a bit of an unexpected architectural pedigree, and Martello was in heaven. Hidden in the woods was perhaps (with the exception of the one in Modena) the most beautiful church we had ever seen, made of natural materials and totally integrated into the forest.

Just a few of Martello's many artful shots of Chiesa di Nostra Signora del Cadore (architects 
Carlo Scarpa and Edoardo Gellner)

Cool floor (plus Martello's foot). It's sliced logs embedded in concrete. 

To Trofie Wife, it was vaguely reminiscent of (though far grander than) a certain Jewish camp in Pennsylvania’s Chapel in the Woods (perhaps the only good thing to that place’s merit, with apologies to any alums of that institution who might be reading this). 

The resort itself was a bit of a mix of Club Med and the Catskills of Dirty Dancing, leaning more in the direction of the latter than the former. We avoided the evening activities (though there was one regrettable aperitivi at the piano bar, which involved watching an awkward pre-teen dance solo to a requested number…) and the food was pretty lackluster (the second night, our dinner was a block of barbequed cheese alongside French fries). They did, however, rent out bikes (yet again, no helmets; clearly they don’t value brains much in this part of the world). There’s a massive trail going through the mountains, and serious bikers do the whole thing.

The view that experienced bikers like Martello can enjoy.

Trofie Wife did okay on the flat and downhill parts (and enjoyed waving to the cows partaking in a meal alongside us) but struggled uphill and just wasn’t down with the whole no-helmet-on-mountain-bike situation. So I sent Martello on a solo trip while I rested and read at a rest stop. Following our gelato lunch it began to rain, which was not helpful as we walked (Trofie Wife) and rode (Martello) our bikes back up the massive hill.

In general, Trofie Wife and bikes seem to get along best when both are walking. 

All in all, the resort was just incredibly beautiful and relaxing, and we likely would have benefited from a couple more mornings spent gazing into the mountains.

The view from our hotel balcony

Yet it was time to continue the trek east and south…

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Intermezzo in Udine and Treviso


As the week continued, we headed west en route to the mountains. We took a quick dip into Udine, enjoying a last-minute lunch at an enoteca with an excellent wine selection (albeit an overbearing cat, who we thought was going to snatch food off our plates). We wandered through the cobblestone streets and along the canal and visited several churches before grabbing a pre-treno espresso.

Our lodging for that evening was at an inn in Treviso that looked as though it might be a drop-off point for Laura Ashley remainders—this is what you get for last-minute booking. Trofie Wife didn’t find Treviso particularly inviting, but Martello enjoyed it (he was particularly interested in the historic significance of the below fountain).

Fontana delle Tette (yup, that means what you think it does). She would bring forth wine for three days after a new governor was sworn in. Trofie Wife does not believe that Former Gov. Cuomo looked into resurrecting this practice in New York, but perhaps his son will some day. 

Treviso is known to be a wealthy town, and the streets are certainly studded with many flashy stores. It’s Benetton’s hub, so Trofie Wife was somewhat excited to visit the flagship, yet disappointed that the summer collection was no longer in sight/on ridiculous sale (and it was way too hot to try on fall sweaters; better to stick to the local shop on Via XX Settembre in Genova). We toured the large Baroque duomo and the older San Francesco church, which had a ceiling resembling a ship’s hull (pretty cool). We also got a quick glimpse at the market. Treviso is home to trevisana, which American readers probably know as radicchio. It was particularly purple here.

With afternoon upon us, we began our much-anticipated trek into the Dolomite Mountains. Now you know that much of this trip was planned on the fly, but the story of how we found the resort we were headed to should be one of marketing legend. We were in the pencil-shaped T Hotel in Cagliari—you know in Sardinia, on an island in the sea many, many kilometers from the mountains. And after dinner we decided to look through the brochures—almost all of them to local sites. But what did we find hidden in there but a brochure for the Hotel Boite in Calalzo! Turns out that the developers’ next project was in the Dolomite Mountains of all places! We booked our stay while in Trieste and hoped for the best…

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time in Trieste

Trieste does not feel like Italy. Neither Martello nor Trofie Wife has visited Austria, but from everything we’ve gathered, Trieste is more akin to Vienna than Milano or Venice. This is due to the fact that it wasn’t firmly, finally, and officially part of Italy until well after World War II (1954), having spent a good chunk of time as the Adriatic seaport of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (and switching hands numerous times in the first half of the 20th century). Given this history, Trieste is very clean, orderly (they have literally numbered each and every city street lamp), and filled with strudel and schlag.

They count all the public lamps! Pazzo!

Trieste Municipo

Piazza di Unita

It was Ferragosto on our first day in town, so much was closed. Being Mary’s holiday it’s supposed to have religious significance, but in the last 40 years or so, it’s been turned into a sort of American Labor Day, an excuse for beach going and parties (the Vatican is not very happy about this and makes a point of getting on TV prior to the holiday to remind people of its original message). We wandered through the piazza, enjoying klezmer (?!) and classical music played by street musicians. We had an amazing lunch at the “wrong” café (we were headed for a guide book recommendation but turned too soon, with excellent results) and walked along the quays to the decrepit old university building, uphill to the duomo of San Giusto, and then back downtown to the Serbian church of San Spiridione (Trofie Wife’s favorite; loved the gilt).

Well-dressed street performers

Approach to the Duomo 

San Giusto

Interior of San Giusto

Serbian Church, San Spirito 

Inside San Spirito

We sipped café shakerati (iced espressos) and ate apple strudel filled with raisins and pignoli at the famed Café degli Specchi, right on the Piazza d’Unita. There is a bit of a pigeon problem at the many outdoor cafes, with the brazen birds landing on tables (cleared and with patrons still around) in hopes of getting some crumbs. They are probably responsible for breaking at least a dozen glasses a day at each venue. We returned to the piazza at nightfall (after a pre-dinner gelato; despite the heavy Austrian influence, the gelato is still 100 percent Italian and fantastic) for a jazz concert with a fairly well-known (though not to us) Italian jazz elder. The piazza was lit up and filled with people from front to back; it was quite a sight. We capped off the evening at a beer garden overlooking the water.

Cafe degli Specchi

Jazz concert in the piazza

Sunday was devoted to Jewish activities. We toured the impressive synagogue (Tempio Israelitico di Trieste) and learned about the community, past and present. During the community’s heyday from the mid-1800s to just prior to World War II (the Jewish population was around 5,000 just prior to the start of the war), it was Ashkenazi (German and Eastern European) and filled with major players in the Trieste economy (we think our hotel was a mansion owned by one of those families and run by a descendent, hence the mezuzah). It also notably served as a weigh station for Jews clandestinely immigrating to British Mandate Palestine. Now Trieste is mainly Sephardic (descendents from the Spanish expulsion in 1492), but out of deference to history, services are held in Ashkenazi style on Shabbat. It was always an Orthodox synagogue, but interestingly enough, they have an organ. It was never used on Shabbat, just for weddings and concerts and such, but as the well-to-do community integrated into the secular (yet still heavily Christian influenced) society, they attended functions at their co-workers’ churches and wanted to incorporate some of what they enjoyed into their place of worship. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but Martello snapped many outside. It’s somewhat of a Moorish style in the main sanctuary; one of the side rooms has a low-tech retractable roof that serves as the sukkah (a hut for the fall harvest holiday), which was kind of cool.

We spent the afternoon at perhaps the most embarrassing historical site in all of Italy—the Risiera di San Sabba, an old rice factory that was transformed into the country’s one concentration camp. Neither Martello nor I had ever been to a camp, and it was an intense experience, filled with information and sensory (especially smell) overload. We didn’t feel right or comfortable taking pictures, but here’s what it looks like ( There was a crematorium (hastily destroyed by the commanders as the Allies approached, but the outline is still clear and properly memorialized), but most of the Jews (700 from Trieste; more from other nearby northern regions) brought here were sent on to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, or other death/labor camps, so the Riseria’s main victims were Slavs and Italian partisans and communists (a total 3,000-5,000 people were murdered here; but it mostly served as a transit camp). The museum appears to do an excellent job reaching out to its neighbors in Slovenia and Slovakia, translating the materials into their languages (along with the standard English, French, and German). At least in our educational experiences in the States, the Slavs get brief mention along with the list of the non-Jewish million murdered in the camps. Italy, in concert with the Nazi occupiers, expended great effort “cleansing” Slavs from Trieste and the surrounding multicultural regions. Slavs endured a propaganda campaign and forced name changes and the outlawing of their language and culture. Given that we still live in a world where genocide is a reality (and Trofie Wife spent the better part of her beach time in Sardinia reading Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, a history of the United States’s responses to genocide), it behooves us all to learn about each situation and see the similar, sad patterns (this is especially helpful in parts of the world where little is known about Jews and the Holocaust and a multicultural approach has shown to help decrease anti-Semitism and lead to better coexistence).

After recovering from the intensity of the camp, we spent the next morning learning about Trieste’s role in the history of literature at the Joyce and Svevo museums. As mentioned in the last post, James Joyce spent nearly two decades in Trieste, teaching English, writing, and lecturing. At the museum we watched a DVD about his time in the city, particularly learning about his experience tutoring the well-to-do Jewish families and writing alongside Italo Svevo, an Italian-Jewish businessman and author (Joyce helped put his self-published work on the map). Many believe that much of the character development of Leopold Bloom of Ulysses emerged from these relationships. In addition, there’s a strong theory that the language of Finnegans Wake was inspired by Trieste, where at every street intersection a different language could be heard—some critics have gone so far as to say that Trieste is the only city that could have inspired the ruckus within the Wake!

Trofie Wife discusses literature with Svevo

Our last tourist stop within the city limits was to Miramare, a Hapsburg castle built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, the loopy one who was named emperor of Mexico. It was quite stunning (though we’ve been told it’s merely a shadow of what we’ll see one day in Vienna), with lovely sea views and elaborate furnishings. It also held the quarters of the Duke D’Aosta, a much-loved figure. Although we lacked our bathing suits, we waded in the Adriatic on our way back to the hotel. There isn’t really a beach on this part of the coast; instead people just lay out on the sidewalk or park benches. Gotta love Italian improvisation! 


Trofie Wife surveys her holdings

Improvisational sunbathing

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie