Category Archives: Italy

National Pizza Day in the USA

53 Naples Pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

February 9th in the USA is National Pizza Day. 

First, the facts…

… Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

The main meal of the week was Sunday dinner which was usually roast beef, pork or lamb (chicken was a rare treat and a turkey was only for Christmas) served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, which for some reason mum always called batter puddings, and strictly only seasonal vegetables because runner beans weren’t flown in from Kenya all year round as they are today.

We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine; Monday was the best of the left-over meat served cold with potatoes and on Tuesday the tough bits were boiled up in a stew (we would call that bouef bourguignon now) and on Wednesday what was left was minced and cooked with onions and served with mash and in this way one good joint of meat provided four main meals with absolutely no waste.  Thursday was my personal favourite, fried egg and chips and Friday was my nightmare day with liver or kidneys because I liked neither (and still don’t!)  I complained so much about this that later I was allowed the concession of substituting sausage for liver but I was still obliged to have the gravy (which I didn’t care for much either) on the basis that ‘it was good for me!’

If we had been Catholics then we would have had fish I suppose but we didn’t have things out of the sea very often except for fish fingers.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

Centro Storico Naples

It was lunchtime and because we were in Naples we had to visit a pizzeria because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.  Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the famous pizza on a visit there in 1889. Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas – of which, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) the simple and patriotic version was her favourite.

A lunchtime pizza stop in Rome…

Pizza Stop in Rome

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  And, I am not the only one who thinks pineapple is wrong on pizza; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  He said…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.  For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy itself has a National Pizza Day!

Maybe because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

Canada joins in on Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.  If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit”.

poutine-pizza

Happy National Pizza Day USA  and Canada and Australia too, I believe – have an extra slice for me (no pineapple preferred).

pineapple-pizza

 

Malta, Washing Lines

Italy washing LineMalta Washing Lines 2Malta Washing Lines 1

 

An alternative Donald Trump inspired Disney EPCOT World Showcase

trump-hall-of-presidents

Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.

Here are some ideas that they might consider…

Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.

great-wall-of-china

Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.

magnificent-seven

No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.

Little People Elves Iceland

Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.

epcot-eu

Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’  a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.

nigel-farage

The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.

My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.

dead-forest

Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.

Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.

bomb-factory

With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.

victory-day-parade-2016

That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.

Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?

EPCOT USA

If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here… 

Around The World in Eighty Minutes

Travelling – Car Hire Advice – Driving in Italy

“To an American, Italian traffic is at first just down-right nonsense. It
seems hysterical, it follows no rule. You cannot figure what the driver
ahead or behind or beside you is going to do next and he usually does it!”  –  John Steinbeck

There are three main problems when driving in Italy and the first is the condition of the roads.  Unlike Spain, where the Government has spent millions of Euros investing in and improving the transport infrastructure and built many new roads and where driving is a pleasure, in Italy they clearly haven’t spent any of their EU money on highway improvements and the annual maintenance budget is zero.

The condition of the roads is appalling which makes using them rather like like playing Russian roulette. Pot holed and poorly maintained and with white lines that were first painted when Mussolini was in charge they are down-right dangerous.

On account of this there is a general speed limit of fifty kilometres an hour but Italians generally ignore that and this is the second problem – the drivers.

In Italy, traffic regulations currently in force were approved by the Legislative Decree number 285 of 30th April 1992 and are contained in the Italian Highway Code called the Codice della Strada, but anyone visiting a busy Italian city or town would be certain to dispute that there is such a thing as a highway code in Italy.

Italian drivers obey no rules and have no self-control, manners or tolerance,  junction priorities mean nothing because show a moment of hesitation and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness and an opportunity to pull-out, cut you up or just simply push in.  They are ignorant and impatient and show a split-second of indecision and they go for their car horn like a trigger-happy wild-west gunslinger.  At a junction or a roundabout the Italian driver narrows his eyes and flashes a ‘do you feel lucky punk’ sort of glare while his right foot hovers menacingly over the accelerator pedal.

Street Parking in Italy

Driving in Italy is like one massive demolition derby!  Red lights are ignored, speed limits are purely advisory and it appears to be compulsory to drive while speaking on a mobile phone.  After half an hour or so my nerves were in complete tatters and my stomach was as twisted as Chubby Checker and as knotted as one of the trunks of the thousand year olive trees at the side of the road.

Then there is the third problem – parking!  There is no parking discipline because an Italian will gladly block you in, double-park, use the bumpers to nudge other cars out of the way, scratch and graze other parked vehicles on the way in or the way out and generally disregard all of the normal civilised rules of parking a car.

Car Parking In Italy

I love the way Italians park… it looks like a parking competition for blind people.  Cars are pointed in every direction, half on the pavements and half off, facing in, facing sideways… fitted into spaces so tight that the only way out would be through the sun roof.  (Italians) park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap.” –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

We thought that we might now leave the coast and take the main road towards the town of Fasano and then on to another of the white cities, Martina Franca where we arrived about forty minutes later and where the traffic was at its murderous worst and by the time we had found an empty car park  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Kim wasn’t too far behind me.

I found a car park the size of a football pitch and to be safe I parked the car right in the middle where there was no other vehicles and then walked towards the centre.  I wasn’t absolutely confident  because what normally happens to me in these situations is that I find a good parking spot like this and then a few seconds later someone in a 4×4 or a twenty year old beat-up Transit van comes along and parks right up next to me.

Perched on a hillside Martina Franca didn’t look anything special so we rather unfairly wrote it off as not worth stopping for and we carried on to Massafra where the driving deteriorated even further where I swear the drivers were all competing in some sort of scrap-heap challenge.  Caught up in the flow of speeding traffic I was terrified by the narrow lanes, the closeness of the steel barriers at the side of the road and just how near people were prepared to drive to the rear end of our car.

At every junction I had an expectation of a collision – at a roundabout I showed some hesitation and a twenty tonne truck just cut straight across me, missing me by inches!  I realised by now that stop signs are completely meaningless as, on approaching one, an Italian driver just ignores it and simply pushes the front of his car into the flow of traffic while he continues to chat away on his mobile phone.

My nerves were in shreds and I was so pleased to get back  to Alberobello and park the car in a safe place where it was now going to stay until tomorrow morning when happily we would be returning it to the Sixt car rental office in Ostuni.

You have probably guessed this already but I didn’t enjoy driving in Italy and it will be a very long time before I do it again!

Sicily Car Hire

The next day it was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car.  The man at the hire car desk silently and menacingly checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable.

I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check.

He inspected both inside and out, several times as I recall,  and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.

Italy’s roads are dangerous and 2014 was probably the worst year and according to EuroStat there were thirty two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-one road deaths in the EU and five thousand, six-hundred and twenty-five of them were in Italy. That is about 17%.  In the ten years up to 2014 the Italians slaughtered sixty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty five people in traffic accidents so it pays to have your wits about you when crossing the road and why if you want to be sure of avoiding death on the highway in Italy it is probably safest to visit Venice.

European Capital of Culture 1986 – Florence

“…we used to go and stand on the bridges and admire the Arno. It is popular to admire the Arno. It is a great historical creek with four feet in the channel and some scows floating around. It would be a very plausible river if they would pump some water into it. They all call it a river, and they honestly think it is a river, do these dark and bloody Florentines. They even help out the delusion by building bridges over it.” – Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

The most famous bridge in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio, which crosses the River Arno and like the Rialto in Venice is instantly recognisable by the thousands of tourists who visit it annually and saunter aimlessly from one side to the other and then back again.  It is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Nazis as they abandoned Italy in 1944 towards the end of the Second-World-War.  Knowing just how much the Nazis used to like to blow things up this must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!

Shuttered Door Polignano a Mare Puglia Italy

The first bridge on this site was built a very long time ago by the Romans and was constructed of wood on stone piers.  It was ruined in 1117 and later reconstructed but destroyed again in 1333 by flooding, it was then rebuilt once more in 1345, but this time much more sensibly using stone.  Due to the high volume of traffic using the bridge, a number of shopkeepers set up shop to catch the passing trade.

florence-firenze

The first merchants here consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to travelling soldiers but when the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth and an appreciation for the finer things in life they promptly cleared the bridge of all the dirty trades that were a bit of an eyesore and certainly responsible for polluting the river below and replaced them with goldsmiths and similar upmarket shops.

Today it remains lined with medieval workshops on both sides and some of them precariously overhang the river below supported only by slender timber brackets that look as though they are in imminent danger of collapse.  A number of these shops had to be replaced in 1966 when there was a major flood that consumed the city and swept some of them away but this time was unable to destroy the bridge itself.

Running along the top of the bridge is a corridor that the Medici had built so that they could cross the river without having to mix with the riff-raff below and is now an art gallery but we stayed down below and pushed our way through the hordes of tourists.  Today, as everyday I suspect, the bridge was busy with street traders and shoppers and the ever-present scrounging beggars.

Along the bridge and especially in the middle around the statue of the Florentine sculptor, Cellini, there were many padlocks clamped to the railings.  This, I found out later, is a lover’s tradition where by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.

Urban Wall Art Wroclaw Poland

This is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed releasing later.  Apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year.  To deter people there is a €50 penalty for those caught doing it and that is a much higher price than I would ever be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this legend because according to ‘EuroStat’, even though it has doubled in the last five years, Italy has one of the lowest divorce rates in the European Union.  Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for sure I’m willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!

On the south bank of the river there is an area of the city known as the Oltrano (literally ‘Over the Arno’), which was an area of palaces and gardens developed by the Medici in the sixteenth century where they moved to get away from the overcrowding and the pollution of the old city.  The walk along the embankment took us as far as the Porta San Niccolò, a fourteenth century City gate and from there we climbed what seemed like never ending winding steps through lush mature gardens to the Piazzale Michelangelo where there were far reaching views over the rooftops of Florence on the north side of the river.

Florence Statue

The pastel facades of the buildings with their terracotta tiled roofs were just as they appear in the guide books and looked magnificent under a sky becoming ever more steadily blue.  At this location there was another copy of the statue of David and several other Michelangelo masterpieces but all of this was spoilt somewhat by the presence of the tacky tourist stalls catering for the continuous flood of day trippers arriving in torrents by coach.

The City was stretched out below and as we surveyed it and appreciated its size we knew instinctively that we had not allowed nearly enough time for the visit to Florence as we only had enough for a frantic dash around the major sites and certainly didn’t have time to visit the many museums, palaces and gardens that we would have liked to have seen.  We made a decision that we would have to come back another time.

What A Difference Thirty Years Can Make (1)

14 Amalfi Coast  Vallone di Furore 2004

… the village of Vallone di Furore, a narrow fjord where steep rock walls sheltered an enclave of fishermen’s houses and a tiny harbour with a beach littered with small hard working fishing boats all resting for the day.  I had seen this place before and thirty years later it was completely transformed.  In 1976 it was a shambles with dilapidated buildings but now it was renovated and restored but had kept its charm intact.

Have you ever returned somewhere years later and found it greatly changed?

Read the Full Story…

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Entrance Tickets – Palazzo della Ragione, Padova

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On a visit to Padova it is impossible to avoid the magnificent medieval market hall, the Palazzo Della Ragioni, which is a huge building that dominates the centre of the city and separates the two sections of the daily market.  At ground level there are food stall, butchers, bakers, fishmongers and purveyors of dairy produce and the assault on the senses from the competing cacophony of sights and smells was wonderful, eye-popping and a true sensory symphony.

It was here that I decided that the next time I visit Italy, or France or Spain or anywhere else for that matter, I will find some self catering accommodation so that I can enjoy shopping in places like this, selecting the ingredients for myself, cooking simple food and eating and enjoying my own interpretation of local recipes.

Padova 2

It was with some difficulty that we located the entrance to the upper floors but after circumnavigating the building we found the steps and paid the modest entrance fee.  The two-story loggia-lined “Palace of Reason” is topped with a distinctive sloped wooden roof that resembles the upturned hull of a ship and is said to be the largest of its kind in the world. It was built in 1219 as the seat of the Parliament of Padua and was used as an assembly hall, courthouse, and administrative centre to celebrate Padua’s independence as a republican city.

The magnificent hall is eighty-one metres long and is considered to be a masterpiece of civil medieval architecture and today is a must-visit site for both its floor-to-ceiling fifteenth century frescoes that are similar in style and astrological theme to those that had been painted by Giotto in the nearby Scrovegni Chapel and a wooden sculpture of a horse attributed to Donatello which is massive but simply dwarfed by the interior scale of the building.

Padova_Palazzo_della_Ragione_BW_3

I stayed in Padova in preference to nearby Venice, it is a lot cheaper, not nearly so crowded and has a fast and reliable train service to its more famous neighbour.

If you are thinking of going to Venice then I recommend doing the same.