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Archive for the ‘Travel Information’ Category

Today was clouds and rain and cold all day. But we wanted to get out and explore so we did. First things first – food!! When we arrived late yesterday most things were closed – seems Thursday is the day a lot of places don’t open in the afternoon. But we did spy T cafe so headed there this morning first thing. It is a cozy place with great pastries – pastries are big here, lots of pasticerrias.

T Caffe

Bello

While walking in the morning we spied another place that looked good – Lino’s Coffee. Way better coffee this afternoon, so we will try it tomorrow for breakfast. They have a world map with locations coffees comes from and great graphics showing the different kind of coffee drinks you can get.

Lino’s Coffee, Via della Cooperazone 7/A

The graphics

Verdi, who is from here is quoted, “Coffee is balm for the heart and soul.”

Close up

Parma is known for its ham, parmigiano, and several pastas including tortelli, a big ravioli. Kristi had the tortelli stuffed with artichokes for lunch. I had pasta with culatello, one of the many varieties of ham. It was fabulous – like carbonara but with the slices of ham. This was at Trattoria del Tribunale.

Trattoria del Tribunale, Vicolo Politi 5

There are plenty of shops selling ham and parmigiano.

Salumeri Verdi – Via Garibaldi 69/A

Did I say it was raining? 

They love their bikes here, and the rain doesn’t stop them.

The cathedral is an impressive building along with its pink eight sided baptistry. When I get inside a church like this I am reminded of how light and airy the duomo in Orvieto is.

We went into an old pharmacy dating to about 1000 a.d. The following picture is from the poison room, where glass beakers of all shapes and sizes hung on the wall created some bizarre shadows.

My foot gives some perspective as to the size of this mortar and pestle

This is a city full of color and brick. Such fun.

And it is a city of impossibly tiny shops. This one on Via Garibaldi, has wonderful pastries and breads.

We’re hoping for some sun tomorrow!

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This is just a monumentally beautiful landscape with some pretty decent man made things thrown in!

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It has been mostly cloudy, giving us moody days. The sun has poked through on occasion, however, spotlighting things.

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From Kotor looking up the mountain behind

The defensive walls and forts above Kotor reflected in the water last night.
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Risan has some beautiful 2nd century Roman mosaics. Tiny, little, subtlety different colored stones. Gorgeous. And just incredible what the Romans accomplished in such far flung places of the world.
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We can see Perast from our apartment, but this view is from the water on a boat taking us to Madonna of the Rocks which occupies all of a small island in the bay.

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Madonna of the Rocks

Below views from the island.

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We flew from Rome to Podgorica, Montenegro where we got a car. The fight in was something with these rustic, rustic mountains as we flew in to Podgorica.

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We traveled into downtown Podgorica. It had the hallmark look of Soviet era architecture – rough, cold concrete. Had lunch where the waiter proudly served his specialty – smoked salmon with big hunks of feta and an oil/lemon sauce.

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From there it was through the mountains into Bosnia – Herzegovina. The Montenegro side was tough looking with lots of roofless, empty buildings making us wonder if they were a result of the war. When we got to Bosnia the landscape was transformed – beautiful, well maintained.

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Countryside church in Bosnia-Herzegovina

We came out of a gorge into the town of Trebinje. It is a place I’d like to explore sometime, but we didn’t have time. On to Dubrovnik. This was the first view of the Adriatic.

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And of Dubrovnik

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Quite the setting, and charming travel companions!!

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Our wonderful hosts took us to their free parking and we had a nice long walk back through the city – a little exercise after a day of seated travel.

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Couldn’t have timed this boat’s passage any better.

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This is a beautiful city. It is often described as Vienna without the tourists or high prices. The Ljubljanica River runs through it in a great big oxbow. Nestled around the bow is the old city. It is picturesque and charming

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This is the Tromostovje, the triple bridge. It was initially a road bridge, and then, in the 1930s, two pedestrian bridges were added on either side. This is one of the pedestrian bridges. The old town is now car free, so it is extremely pleasant to walk.

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There are an incredible number of places to eat, have a coffee or drink. These places line the river and the streets, and nearly all have outdoor seating. When cold, as it was yesterday, some provide blankets so you can comfortably sit outside. It is also a very international city with all sort of ethnic restaurants.

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We’ve been having coffee each morning at a nice little Illy cafe. It is frequented by university students. Popular with them are these big bowls of cereal filled with yogurt, and a pastry.

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We met a couple of med students, in the first of a six year program to become doctors. Here, as in Italy, waiters carry around mobile pay devices on which you can pay with a credit card. These students use their mobile phones to pay, placing the phone on the device to pay. They tell us that the government pays a portion of their meals using these devices. Breakfast was about $4, lunch $6 for very generous sized meals. Contrast that, plus free education, with the massive debt of American students. Health care, retirement – there is much to be said for the semi-socialist systems in Europe.

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We definitely feel the Austro-Germanic influence in the food.

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They have a wonderful farmers market – bags of hand picked baby lettuce!

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The setting here is stunning, sitting in the shadow of the Julian Alps.

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One of the things that is eye opening here is how well everyone speaks English. Except for an accent, you would think they are American – all the vernacular, slang and colloquialisms from home.

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The people here tell us that because Slovenia is so small they have to learn other languages. It makes sense, but the facile way they use English is amazing. Frankly, it is much easier to get around here than in Italy because so many speak English. More to come

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Nature in Gubbio

We ended up outside in nature most of the day yesterday. Gubbio has a lovely park above the city with lots of art in it, and a lift that takes you up to the top of the mountain behind the city.

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They were cleaning up the river that runs through town. It is a clean town.

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Fall in the air.

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This Baroque beauty sits right on the river.

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The park behind the city winds its way up to the city wall.

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Inside in this defensive tower was an art installation of ceramic bells – below. Very cool.

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This is the view down the lift from the top of the mountain.

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And these heels road up in the little basket from which you had to jump off! The things we do to look beautiful!!

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We walked down – a long steep walk but beautiful.

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Food

We had a wonderful dinner last night. The restaurant had great atmosphere, a fire on which they cooked and which added warmth on a cool evening, and was completely local – we were the only foreigners there. That is rare, particularly as the web and travel guides direct everyone to the same places. So we truly enjoyed the evening and are returning tonight, which we never do to enjoy it one more time!

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Then there is coffee. When we visited Abruzo a few years back we felt their coffee just was not as good as it was in Umbria – more milky. We experienced the same in Marche. Illy, our favorite, was better but still more milky.

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I liked this cup in Ascoli, which has ‘Kiki’ on it, The name our nieces on one side call Kristi.

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But this Illy coffee in Gubbio won my jeart, was just the way I like it!

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This is one amazing building. It dominates any view of Gubbio from a distance, and it is hard to capture the scale in photos. It is 60 meters tall, or about 200 feet, making it comparable to a 20 story building today. It dates to about 1321.

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Inside the main room below.

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Inside the room above the main room, below. It is smaller but still has an incredibly tall ceiling, and is surrounded by smaller rooms used by the ruling members, or consoli.

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The building had running water and working toilets, an unheard of amenity at the time. It was designed and construction overseen by a man from Orvieto. In the building are the bronze tablets below, writing of the Umbrian people from 300 – 100 B.C. They, like the Etruscans, who were their contemporaries, took their alphabet from the Greeks.

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More on the rest of Gubbio to come.

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The sassi are what give Matera its one-in-the-world character. They are clearly the heart of this city, the soul-touching, psyche-jarring aspect that affected me so deeply. But it does have a city that emerged on top of the caves, one that, for a time turned its back to the sassi. It is a pleasant city with some fine 14th century churches and some beautiful public spaces.

Their main piazza – Vittorio Veneto – is a lively place, full of people during the passeggiata and other times of the day.

Piazza Vittorio Veneto

The 13th century San Domenico Church is at one side of the piazza

Piazza Pascoli Ridola is a very comfortable space. It was cold when we were there, but this is the piazza that would have had us sitting outside.

Leading into Piazza Pascoli Ridola

Another nice piazza Sedile with the Palazzo Sedile at one end and the church of San Francesco d’Assisi on one side.

Piazza Sedile

Then there are the churches. The church of San Pietro Caveoso has a beautiful painted ceiling.

San Pietro Caveloso

The painted wooden ceiling

Another view

The duomo has been closed for years for restoration. In fact Carla, Vincenzo’s wife, has never seen inside despite her living here for 7 years. Still, it dominates the city.

The Duomo from Piazza Vittorio Veneto

A closer view

Our favorite church was San Giovanni Battista built around 1280. On one side it has some “dog tooth” detail reminding us a bit of a Norman church in Oxford, England.

San Giovanni Battista

The front door

The simple, beautiful interior

Matera is a beautiful city above the sassi. The sassi sitting below it add such an intrigue and diverse dimension to the city. One last shot of San Pietro Caveoso sitting on the edge. The stone jutting up above it houses two churches inside the stone caves, complete with frescoes. Where else in the world can you experience such contrasts?

Madonna de Idris and San Giovanni in Monte Errone churches are in the stone mount above Caveoso

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Casa Grotta di vico Solitario provides a glimpse of what it was like to inhabit one of the caves. This is unquestionably a sanitized version. As you look at the images imagine what the smells must have been like and how dark it would have been with only one door and perhaps one or two small openings to provide natural light.

Like the trullo house in Alberobello, this sasso had one main room in the center.

The main room

This gives a sense of the height of the cave. Bed on the right and alcove beyond the dresser at back.

Off it were several smaller alcove like spaces. This particular cave was indicative of life in the 1950s. It had a kitchen. In it was a stove with 3 fireboxes heating

The kitchen had a small window at top. Stove was vented outside.

several cook top surfaces. They exposed some of the channels leading to the

Exposed channel that would carry water to the cistern.

cistern. The small hole giving access to the cistern was there, where they would

The hole into the cistern, which is lit up from below.

drop a bucket to get water. There was one large bed in the main room, raised off the ground and the cold. The tops of large storage  trunks served as sleeping surfaces for the children.

The loom, just to the right of the cistern opening.

There was a small table in the large room. This is where the dinner would be placed. Inhabitants would serve themselves, standing to eat. A large loom took up considerable space. And, as with the trullo, the expensive and prized mule was kept inside the sasso. Now, can we imagine this space lit by the door and 2 small windows and a few candles? Would it have been whitewashed? I don’t know.

I thought the floor was beautiful.

This was the condition into the 1950s. 15000 people occupied what realistically could support half that number. Today the sassi are being transformed into beautiful spaces. But it is good to have a reminder of what it once was like.

Entry door to Casa Grotta di vico Solitario

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You just never know! We were lucky enough to have made reservations at alla Dolce Vita B&B. Matera has dozens of choices for places to stay. But we, fortunately, ended up here where Vincenzo, a native son of many generations, and his French wife Carla have set up shop. They are a treasure.

Vincenzo tells us Matera's story

Vincenzo is passionate about his home. He took us out behind their property onto the graveyard that sits behind overlooking the gorge and gave us a

The depressions were the graves. Beneath the graves in cave is the church.

fantastic introduction to Matera. He began eons ago when the sea laid down the layers that were eventually eroded by Torrente Gravina di Matera, exposing the caves. He explained how the area has always been feudal, from the

The view down to the gorge from the graveyard

Romans to the Church to the mafia. The general populace received protection and jobs from the powers that be – for a price. He showed us a church tile on a building – evidence that the church was given the dwelling by its owner in return for a guaranteed place in heaven. The surviving family still occupied the building, but now paid rent. It was business!

Animal bones as structural members of the building

On the same structure he showed us how nothing goes to waste – animal bones used as part of the roof support structure. Why? Because bones neither rust nor rot. He said, “Your animal kept on giving, even after death!” (How likely would we have been to notice this, let alone get an explanation? Like I said, Vincenzo is a treasure.)

The front of alla Dolce Vita B&B

When the government began relocating the sassi dwellers to new apartments, the two sassi emptied and deteriorated. With UNESCO designation has come tourism and the opportunity to reclaim and appreciate the sassi. So now government is encouraging people to repopulate the sassi, offering incentives. It was a long and arduous process – 10 years – to get their B&B up and running. But what a warm, cozy, comfortable place. We had an apartment, complete with kitchen.

Vincenzo explained the intricate water collection system and the cooperative nature of Matera’s citizens. This is a city of stone. You see virtually no green spaces in the sassi. Water is a problem. So they collected it off the roofs and

The circle to the right is access to the cistern below. You can see channels leading to the circle to direct surface water into the cistern.

stone surfaces in cisterns below the surface. They are all interconnected. If yours fills it flows into your neighbor below and so forth. Ultimately there are several huge communal cisterns for the last overflow. Should it fill, it flowed out into the street to wash away sewage. The caves were used in summer to collect water from moist air condensing on the cave walls.

Communal space for several dwellings. They shared a wood oven in this space. Wood being scarce, they heated the oven and shared the oven for cooking.

We’ll take a look at a cave dwelling next.

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