Thursday, October 29, 2009

Idiots Guide to Italian Wine Classifications

As Autumn draws near and the harvest and festival season is underway across Italy in the vineyards, I thought I would write a short guide to Italian wines to help you on your merry way. This guide offers a not so serious look at what those labels mean ..

DOCG - Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
The best of the best. To be sipped seriously and served on very special occasions such as marriage proposals, or sampled freely and without discretion at wine tastings.

DOC wine - Denominazione di Origine Controllata
Good stuff. Wine that has passed a strict set of tests to ensure its provenance. Probably one to bring on a first date ensuring date in question can see the label at all times.

IGT - Indicazione di Geografica Tipica
General wines that are suitable for the table. Some DOC wines fall under this to avoid the paperwork for DOC status, so worth tasting them all to check. Works well also if drunk as a second bottle and useful for third dates and beyond.

VdT - Vino Da Tavola
A table wine that is vague about its origins. Fine in an emergency but most suitable for unwanted house guests or to give at Christmas to colleagues and distant relatives you only see duirng the festive season.

So hope that helps. Best advice really, is just to try as many as you can!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Three Top Roman Museums and a discount card

A short guide to 3 museums included on the Roma Pass Discount Card
The Capitoline Musems
With their spectacular setting designed by Michelangelo, overlooking the Forum and Colosseum, these are some of the most visited museums in Rome. Browse the bronze statues, sculptures and Renaissance paintings including Caravaggio’s ‘Good Fortune’.

The Ara Pacis
The Ara Pacis monument dates back to the 13th Century BC, a peace monument put in place by Emperor Augustus. Surrounded by a controversial new modern white building, it is hard to miss this museum on the edge of the river where you can enjoy a regular programme of art exhibitions.

The Centrale Montemartini Museums.
This museum of industrial archaeology contrasts imposing electricity generators against classic Roman sculptures which found during excavations at the end of the 19th century. Housed in the enormous first electrical plant in Rome, the combination of classic art and modern machinery is strangely haunting.

The Roma Pass
All the museums above are part of the Roma Pass scheme. This 3-day pass costs 23 euros, and includes admission to two participating museums, free access to public transport, a map, an events guide and a whole host of discounts to exhibitions, shows and events round Rome. Included in the scheme is the Colosseum, and pass holders can use a special turnstile so you can avoid the queues.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Vatican Museums by Moonlight

The latest fashion in Rome is the realisation that people quite like visiting museums in the evening as well as the day. This has led to the opening of several museums as an experiment across the city including the Vatican Museums. Throughout October, the Capitoline Museums, the Ara Pacis, and the Centrale Montimartini Museums are open on Saturday evenings throughout October.

Visiting museums as night brings a new perspective to the buildings and the sculptures, as the subtle lighting and shadows highlight different features than you would notice during the daytime. Combined with the historic buildings that loom silently against the night sky, the centre of Rome feels more spiritual than during the day when the noise and traffic competes for attention with the monuments and churches.
Initiatives this year have also included the Night of the Museums where all the museums opened for free and staged special events such as a laser show at the Capitoline Museums and a classical concert in the Pantheon. Watching the choir sing in the Pantheon under the clear night sky, under the eye of the Dome, was an experience I will always treasure.

The city is planning more such events, with the Vatican looking to hold more evening events early next year, so watch this space for more details.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Italian men v English men

After having some experience now on both sides of the fence, so to speak, I would like to offer my observations on some of the difference that I think summarise the two species - I would love to hear your own ideas:

An Italian will spend half an hour choosing the right wine to go with dinner, even when dinner is just Monday evening pasta.

An English man can drink 6 pints of beer, whilst an Italian thinks half a pint is enough as after this he no longer thirsty.

An Italian man buys you flowers for no reason, opens doors for you, and always drives.

An English man buys you flowers until you sleep with him, or he has done something wrong, thinks opening a door for a woman puts him in danger of being a chauvanist, and always lets you drive home.

An Italian man always pays.

An Italian man thinks its ok to call his mum five times a day and to drive a Smart Car.

An Italian man notices what you are wearing and if you have had your hair cut. He also notices what every other women is wearing too.

An Italian man will live within two streets of his mother.

An English man thinks its ok to fart and burp in front of you after a probationary period has lapsed. But then again, so does an English girl.

An Italian man will spend a lot of time choosing socks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dripping in chocolate... The Perugia chocolate festival.

Its the start of the Annual chocolate festival in Perugia and the crowds are arriving in the droves to this wonderful Umbrian city to indulge themselves in every girls best friend - no, not the ability to pause the DVD when watching anything with Daniel Craig or George Clooney in it, but the wonderful, scrumptiuos, mood enhancing must have drug, chocolate!

Having decided to get away for the weekend, Luigi and I spent the night at Montefalco, a small medieval hilltop village surrounded by vineyards that produce the local wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco. We also got to taste a new batch of olive oil, which was so spicy it made my eyes water. Umbria tends to get a raw deal compared to its much more famous sister Tuscany, a little like Danni next to Kylie, but it has its share of stunning countryside, trattorias and hill top historic centres with winding streets.

But all this healthy living was proving too much this morning and off to Perugia we headed. Every year for ten days in the middle of October, the city prohibits traffic, provides a 'chocolateline' shuttle bus from the station and plays host to ten days of overindulgence during the Eurochoc Festival. You can eat it, drink it, sculpt it, and even play chess with it as you browse the stalls selling handmade chocolate from all over the world.

The centre of Perugia is wonderful with its large piazza, medieval buildings and fountains, but add chocolate and some late Autumn sunshine to the mix, and it makes for rather a perfect way to spend your Sunday even if the crowds are quite overwhelming at times.

So if you are in Italy at the moment, you have until the 25th October to get to Perugia. But if you are not able to get here, then no worries. It will be held again next October, but be warned, each year the festival gets that little bit bigger. A little like my waistline...

Friday, October 16, 2009

To heat or not to Heat

Well last Saturday I was laying on the beach in Sicily enjoying the warm weather and watching the last few British tourists pretending that the sea was still warm. Today I am working from home with a jumper under a fleece jacket (fashion goddess that I am) shivering as the tempeature has dropped due to a cold front from Russia. I am not talking about a visit from Silvio's good mate for cup of tea and a digestive.
Winter is arriving. The secret day passed when all Italians put their summer clothes away and it suddenly a 'faux pas' to open a window on the bus or metro. How do they know? There no gradual change, but its like a secret code. One day summer dresses, the next winter coats. Maybe its on the news.

I work from home at the moment and I am freezing. My fingers can hardly type and my furry socks are scaring the neighbours. We have central heating but I cannot put it on. Why not? well because here it is controlled centrally. Last year I thought that this meant the apartment block had a central switch and you need to wait for someone to turn it on, the date being prearranged. But I was wrong.

The date is prearranged but it is the commune that decide (the city council), and they have chosen November 11th. So on that day, all the residences in Rome can put their heating on, but even if is sub zero degrees first, we cannot intervene. They also decide when it goes off and for the last two springs, I can remember having the heating on and all the windows open to cool down.

Can you imagine that in a city in the UK or the US? Well Mr Smith, I know its snowing and you are 85, but another 3 weeks to go.... have you had your flu jab by the way?

Anyway, just off to get my hot water bottle.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back in Rome

Well three months away enjoying the sunshine and beaches of Sicily have ended, as I arrived back into Rome this weekend. Due to the excess amount of luggage, and I am not talking about my love handles from eating too many Sicilian ricotta desserts.... I took the boat from Catania to Civitavechia. 20 hours expected journey time as opposed to 45 minutes on the plane, but we romped home 1 hour ahead of schedule. It is hard to understand the speed you travel at when you fly! Anyway it was lovely and calm, and I spent the journey in a state of catnapping in my cabin, painting my toe nails and napping again, before emerging onto the sundeck to watch the coast of Campania go past, with a wonderful view of Capri and Ischia.

Me, six tourists and twenty five truckers. Marvellous.

what will I miss about Sicily? Swimming after work, the view from the beach of Taormina and Castelmola, and my little collection of waif and stray cats. oh, and the desserts.

But I have to say I am looking forward to a visit to Feltrinellis International and a browse of the English books this evening in the centre of Rome .....

So Rome blogs shall recommence soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stray Cat Strut

The stray cat population around Giardini Naxos is rampant, and heartbreaking. I am starting to become one of those mad catwomen, wandering around the streets with a packet of biscuits, a fork and fresh milk looking for suitable victims in need of my love and attention.

On the street where I live, there is a family of mum and three small kittens. Beautful gray and white bundles of long fur, I have become quite attached although my fears of them living next to the road were realised when one got run over last week. Mum has now moved them back into a garden, but this has hampered her professional begging operation to passers-by, with three small kitten faces pressed to the fence behind her, an empty plate and a loud cry.

This family are quite well fed and I am sure it is not only me that is feeding them. Plates filled with pasta are regualry left on the pavement near to where they live. What is more difficult to deal with are the injured, starving and infected ones. You don't know where to start, as you cannot treat them all. There is no neutering programme, local vets apparently believe that they should have at least one litter first although whether this is for medical or religious reasons remains unclear.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a cat living under a bush that is in a poor state. One eye has gone and the other is very infected and he may have 5% vision left in it. I cannot tell if he is old or young, but he is very loving. He cannot walk even up the steps to me without falling over the rubbish that is left there and I doubt he can survive on the streets for long. Now he has learnt to recognise my voice and I can almost touch him if my hand has food in it. I leave on Saturday, and am thinking of stealing him away to come back with me to Rome. We have an apartment there and no garden, but this is a cat that should live inside, or maybe pottering into the terrace away from stray dogs and traffic. However I don't think a week is long enough to gain his confidence to catch him.

Then again this morning he turned his nose up at best Sheba Tuna with Rice Premium, obviously not his flaour, so maybe he is doing ok after all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October marks almost two years in Italy

Its hard to believe that its almost two years since I arrived here in Italy. Whilst I still feel very English, there are moments when I realise how much I have changed. For example, at Catania airport last week waiting to board, the English lady behind me helpfully pointed out as I headed towards the boarding gate, that they were only boarding rows 20 plus, and she could see that I was row 3. Of course I was waved through, and it had never occured to me that I would be refused.

Every month, I take a little less water in my coffee, and become less fussy about what I eat, and my concept of what makes a warm enough day to remove a cardigan is at least 10 degrees higher than before. I think in kilos and euros and its when I go home to the UK that I look the wrong way when crossing the road - almost getting hit by a bus outside primark in Manchester last time. I think that 1000 euros a month is a good wage.

I can speak enough Italian to get by even if it is with a Manchester accent. I can understand almost everything, and can even watch the TV (with a comprehension rate of around 75%). I have learnt a lot about history, food, wine, people, romance, and even my own culture.

Its not been easy. I miss my family, my friends, Coronation street, newspapers. I have no money, I am still supplementing my income with my savings. Over the last two years I have discarded most of my things.

But when I set out that very first day wondering what was ahead, well did I imagine that I would live in Sorrento, Rome, and Sicily? That I would find a job travel editing (even if its not very secure and I had to do the hard slog of 18 months English teaching first)? That I would find someone with whom to share the experience with in the form of the sweetest, gentlest person I have ever met, and to enhance it with trips to Tuscany, Sardinia, the Alps, and even Paris?

Am I ready to come home? What do you think?