Sep 08


Not far from Siena in the beautiful area of Tuscany in Italy is the town of Montalcino.  Known primarily today for its Brunello di Montalcino wine, this hilltop town has a long and rich history so commonplace in Italy.  The fortress, the duomo, and the narrow winding streets make this a most charming place to visit. Montalcino 10


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The fortress was built around 1361 and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.

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One of the most memorable places we visited was Sesta di Sopra winery.  Ettore and Enrica welcomed us into their home for an intimate tasting of some wonderful wines.

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 Brunello di Montalcino is made from the Sangiovese grape; the most widely planted red grape varietal in Italy.  The first official vintage of this wine was released in 1888 after aging in wood for 10 years.  Over many years it has developed a smooth, tannic richness that makes it one of Italy’s most popular wines today.   Because Brunello classified wines must age for a very long time,  30% of each vintage production is required to be used to make the “second wine” which is called Rosso di Montalcino. 

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Mar 29

A Long Time Ago In A Land Far, Far Away…..


SH R 27Schwäbisch Hall is a beautiful town in the German state of Baden-Württemberg and capital of the district of Schwäbisch Hall. The town is located in the valley of the Kocher in the north-eastern part of Baden-Württemberg. The first part of the name, “Schwäbisch”, refers to the name of the region, (Swabia in English; “Schwaben” in German).  “Hall” is a west Germanic word thought to mean “drying something by heating it”, perhaps referring to the salt production method of heating salty groundwater.  There was a salt mine there until 1925.  It is, however, known mostly for being the birthplace of, well……, actually. My dream of visiting my birthplace was finally realized during our stay in Italy.

A Lutheran Heritage

 After the usual conflicts over the centuries, the leadership was taken over during the 13th century by a group of families who turned into a new ruling class. Among them were the Bonhöffers; the ancestors of the German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The town joined the Protestant Reformation very early. Johannes Brenz, a follower of Martin Luther, was made pastor of St. Michael’s Church in 1522 and quickly began to reform the church and the school system along Lutheran lines.

St. Michael’s Church, with its famous staircase, towers majestically over Schwäbisch Hall’s marketplace. It was consecrated in February 1156 by the Bishop of Würzburg. From the marketplace the 53 steps of the vast staircase lead up to the Romanesque vestibule of the church.IMG_3032

The Archangel Michael – a stone sculpture from the late 13th century – watches over the trading on the marketplace and over the town as the guardian of justice.

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The Church Interior
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 And naturally a portrait of Martin Luther hangs in the church.SH R 17


The Marketplace
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 The Town


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The Hospital

(still there after all these years; part of Psalm 121 is in German on the original stone sign)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,…….

The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.



Feb 20

Florence (Part 2)

Florence (known as Firenze)  – birthplace of the Renaissance – a city of history, architecture and fashion.  It actually became the capital of Italy in 1865 but was replaced by Rome after 6 years.

The Arcone arch in Piazza della Repubblica erected in 1895.

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Narrow streets (like most Italian cities)

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Christmas Market – gifts from many different countries.

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Even German sausage!

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The famous Ponte Vecchio bridge from a distance.

...and close up

…and close up.
Thought to have been originally built before the year 996, this landmark structure was destroyed by floods in 1117, reconstructed and then destroyed by another flood in 1333. During WWII it somehow remained standing when all other bridges were destroyed by the Germans on their way out of town. It was originally filled with butcher shops, but today is known for jewelry, art and souvenirs.

Another bridge on the Arno River.


The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore; the main church of Florence. Known as Il Duomo di Firenze.

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Feb 11

Ostia Antica

The suburb of Ostia used to be the harbor city of ancient Rome at the mouth of the river Tiber.  However, due to silting it is now over 2 miles from the sea. There were as many as 100,000 resident there in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  It then slowly became a retreat for the wealthy when it was no longer a sea port.  It is said that over two-thirds of the town has now been excavated and is becoming more popular for tourists since it is close to Rome and less crowded than Pompeii.

There are very few signs that describe each building but they are the remains of docks, warehouses, apartments, shopping areas, and baths.

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Close up of the stone work.


One of the oldest brick theaters in the world. It is still used for concerts today.

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This was a bakery. The horses or mules did all the work.

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A bar where wine was poured and served to guests.

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Mosaic floor in the Neptune baths where everyone went to socialize. Olive oil was used to wash instead of soap.  Parts of it are currently being restored by hand.

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The House of Diana and other multi story residences in an area where the lower middle-class lived.

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Feb 03

David (or Florence Part 1)

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.  Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.     1 Samuel 17:38-40

  • 1410 – The Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral decided to commission 12 large Old Testament sculptures for the buttress of the cathedral.
  • 1464 – Agostino di Duccio started on the David using a large block of marble from a quarry in Carrara in northern Tuscany.
  • 1476 – Antonio Rossellino was commissioned to take up where Agostino had left off but his contract was terminated for unknown reasons.
  • 1500 – The block of marble was remembered and the cathedral wanted to find someone to finish it. Michelangelo, only 26 years old was chosen. He worked on it for more than two years.

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  • 1504 – The sculpture was finished and it was obviously too large to raise to the top of the cathedral so it was placed outdoors in the Palazzo Vecchio.  It took 4 days to move it a half mile. His hands are feet are large and out of proportion and that may be because it was originally planned that it would be placed on top of the cathedral.David (5)
  • 1873 – David was finally moved indoors to the Galleria dell’Accademia where it is visited by thousands every day.david-face-760x985


Jan 29

Collegiate Church Stuttgart

One of Stuttgart’s best known landmarks with its two contrasting towers is Collegiate Church.  Excavations show that a church has existed at this location since 1000 AD.
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This beautiful church is known as an Easter-Church because the good news of the resurrection is passed on by the means of word, image and music. (Photo: Uli Kraufmann)

When the Reformation came to Stuttgart on May 16, 1543 Konrad Öttinger delivered the first Protestant sermon in the Duchy of Württemberg in the Collegiate Church. In 1553, the reformer Johannes Brenz became the Collegiate Church’s first Protestant provost. Today, he still lies buried below the chancel.

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Bomb attacks on Stuttgart in 1944 destroyed all but the towers and the North Wall. It was rebuilt in the 1950’s in a more modern open style so that the altar and chancel could be seen from any seat.  This sandstone altar sculpture is known as “Hollow of Light”  by Holger Walter. It reminds us of the grotto of birth as well as the cave of the burial of Jesus.
   An extensive renovation was done in 1999 when the suspended acoustic glass ceiling panels were added and a new pipe organ with 5366 pipes in 81 registers was inaugurated in August 2004.



The Counts of Wurtemberg; buried here


Jan 20

Italian Police Are Not Happy

One of the more interesting things about the Italians is that they always give you notice when they are going to strike.  Usually it is a transportation strike and it lasts about 3 hours and then life goes on.  Last week it was an air traffic controller strike.

On February 12, however, nearly 60,000 police are planning a nationwide strike.  And guess where?  Yup.  Rome.  Right here.  They plan to strike for 24 hours and have a rally in Rome.  I think we are going to be out of town that day.



Seems that 83% of police officers in Rome called in sick on New Year’s Eve (only 165 out of 1000 showed up) while 130,000 people attended a free outdoor concert.  Interestingly, 10% of the officers claimed they were donating blood.  Afterwards, only 30 of them “had no justification” for their absence and were facing disciplinary action.  The police said they stayed home because of a long-standing dispute over pay and conditions.

The Telegraph reported that there was a “defamatory mudslide” against the police from politicians after that night.  Apparently for the last 10 years “the government has had little respect for the role and functions of the Local Police…”  So now they are mad enough to strike for the first time in history.

Let me just add that having learned to drive in Rome, the lack of traffic police for one whole day will be felt.


On a fun note, The BBC recently reported that Lamborghini has donated a specially made edition of one of its latest Huracan LP 610-4 sports cars to Italy’s State Police.  The German-owned Italian carmaker has previously donated top-of-the range sports cars to the state police. Taking delivery of the new Huracan at a ceremony in Rome, State Police head Alessandro Pansa says it will be used to “enhance street security” and crime prevention. “This Lamborghini represents Italy and the quality of its people,” Pansa says, “The same we find in both men and women who wear the uniform of the State Police.”

Nov 29

Mama’s Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American friends and family!

We considered trying to make the usual fare but decided to go out instead.  Turns out that if you want a turkey you can ask your local butcher a few weeks in advance to get one, but we didn’t know that until it was too late.  Also, there is only one store chain that we know of that carries canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce.  So we ended up at a little restaurant on the north side of Rome called Mama’s.  Thanks to BH for researching places to have American Thanksgiving dinner.

ristorante-mamas-locale-jazzThe website says “Feels Like Home” in English and everything else is in Italian.  The restaurant opened in 2006 and is owned by an Italian-American, so every year they do their best to have a Thanksgiving dinner.  It is a lovely little restaurant that is fairly easy to drive to.  We were a party of 6 1/4 and I believe we all had a pretty good time.

It started with corn chowder, which is not customary for us at Thanksgiving, but was pretty good.  Then the main plate was served with turkey, dressing (not cornbread), ham, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and salad.  The IMG_3269[1]sweet potato would have been great if it had been fully cooked.  It even had a marshmallow on top!  It didn’t taste like “home” but I have to applaud the effort.  Dessert was a plate with pumpkin pie, apple pie and ice cream.  Most said that the apple pie was the best.  House wine was included and we had espresso, naturally.

All in all it was a good time but maybe next year we will start early gathering supplies and making our own.  Haven’t quite figured out how to store a turkey in the tiny fridge and even tinier freezer, but we have a year to work it out.

 I know for a fact though that if anyone ate Thanksgiving in a restaurant back home, they didn’t have this….but it’s Italy after all.


Nov 20

Cooking in Rome

Eating and Cooking in Italy is a daily challenge.  If I had known what I know now I would have packed a lot more kitchen stuff!

  • Frozen fruit is a novelty….because you buy and eat fruit in season.  I don’t have a problem with that except when I want berries and I want them now.  Of course since my freezer is so small I have no place to put them anyway.
  • The tourist trade has messed things up.   If you read anything about eating in Rome (or Italy) it is always about the problems caused by tourists.  Ordering all the “famous” dishes when those ingredients are not in season.  So you can get them at the tourist restaurants but then you really haven’t had the best of the best.  Just a frozen product most likely.  But hey…if you are here once and just for a few days, you probably won’t know the difference.  I can proudly say I would know now.
  • Buying food is certainly challenging…IF you are looking for American foods.  If you want Italian foods and fresh produce there is no shortage.  However, when you are addicted to Mexican food, withdrawal isn’t easy.  And you really can get tired of pasta and pizza.  Trust me.
  • If you have wireless service while in a grocery store it’s ok, but if not you may buy something you didn’t intend.  Or you may end up with something you don’t need.  Google translate is a life saver.
  • If you can get over having employees meet your every need, then you won’t care if you are ignored or treated poorly.   After all, you are just there for food, not friendship right?

So what is a person to do?  Well, you take an Italian cooking class of course!

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This was a very enjoyable class that I took with a friend and we are so glad we did.  We learned a lot of things…such as:

  • Garlic is not as popular here as we have always been led to believe.  They mostly use it to flavor the olive oil when cooking.  If garlic is going to be heated in any way, it is smashed a little and then added whole to the pan of oil.  After it has browned, it is removed and discarded.  If it is going to be added to something like a dressing or sauce that is not cooked then it is cut in half and the stem removed.  We were told that there is where the most garlic taste comes from and it is removed so it doesn’t over power the food.
  • When in season (see above) squash/zucchini/pumpkin flowers are stuffed with cheese and other good things, battered and then deep-fried. They are truly delicious but a little goes a long way.
  • The saying “when in Rome…” truly applies.  If you are in Rome, you eat Roman dishes and if you are in another part of Italy, you figure out what dishes belong to that area and eat that.  For example, don’t eat Carbonara outside Rome…it’s definitely Roman!

All the ingredients were fresh and purchased that morning.

 Our menu for the day…..

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There were 12 of us in a very small kitchen.  But it was such fun!  Five hours worth of fun!

The first course (known as the primo piatto) was Gnocchi.  Not my favorite dish even though it is the best I ever tasted.  They are soft little dumplings made from (in this case)  potato.  They can also be made from flour. There is a talent for making the little ridged dumplings.  I didn’t get it down exactly, but once in the water, they all looked the same and as I said, the sauce was really delicious.


The main course (or secondo piatto) was Chicken alla Romana. Really very easy and tasted delicious. The trick, we learned, is to put it in a smaller dish than you normally would so that all the flavors mix.



We also made a vegetable side dish….this veggie is usually called Italian broccoli but is known as Romanesque cauliflower or Romanesco broccoli.  It tastes just like cauliflower to me and since it’s so ugly, I don’t think I really need another food that tastes like cauliflower.



The last was, of course, dessert. I think I will let the picture speak for itself. I will say that it was easy and delicious.



Our class. South Africa, US, UK, Australia and Germany!

Nov 10

This Old House



Beneath a 16th century building in the middle of Rome are some very well-preserved ruins which were discovered in 2007. As was common, builders in the 16th century filled in ancient structures with all kinds of things and used that as the foundation for Palazzo Valentini. This Palazzo has been the seat of the Provincia of Rome since 1873. But underneath are the remains of luxurious villas with marble and mosaics still intact. Extensive private baths have been found and the heating system they used was also discovered. To view this splendor you can take a tour unlike any other. Walking on clear glass panels (now THAT takes some getting used to) you can see everything under your feet with a wonderful birds eye view. Modern light shows and multimedia dramatically recreate what these villas looked like and what life was like 2000 years ago.  The tour and the “show” are so well done and based on history, science and documentation that you have no trouble believing what you see to be the way it really was. There is nothing corny about it….one of the best things we have seen since coming here.  Unfortunately picture-taking was not allowed but you can click HERE to see pictures on the website.

IMG_2709The surprise at the end of the tour however was a treasure in itself.  The emperor Marcus Trajanus (or as we call him, Trajan) was the first emperor to not come from Italy.  He was known for his great work programs and for renovating the road system.  But he may have been more famous for his warfare.

His most famous campaign was in modern-day Romania.  The kingdom of Dacia was powerful and wealthy and Trajan wanted it.  He fought a mighty two-part war that culminated in Dacia becoming part of the Roman Empire in 106 AD.  This war was perfectly preserved in spiral carvings all around what we call “Trajan’s Tower” in Trajan’s Forum (completed in 113 AD) here in Rome.


At the end of the ruins tour there is a documentary showing how the intricate carvings tell the war story.  The pictures below really don’t do it justice.  It is thought that it was originally in color….now that would have been magnificent to see.



The entire scrolled carving from the tower has been photographed and is shown on these walls.

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