Archive for March, 2010

Adelaide River War Cemetery Northern Territory Australia

The movie AUSTRALIA informed younger generations of Australians and reminded older ones, of the air raids and subsequent loss of many lives in the Defence Forces and civilians in World War II. During my stay in Darwin I regularly drove past the airstrips built parallel to the Stuart Highway.  See the ‘Strauss’ field below with its two-dimensional mock-ups of different planes that help us imagine the planes used in those days.  Captain Allison W. Strauss (male) was killed in an air raid when his Kitty Hawk crashed in the Darwin harbour. I think it is far-sighted of the government to retain the airstrips as tangible evidence of those terrible times.

On 19th February 1942 in the morning at 09.58hrs the first raid hit and 243 people died that day. Twenty three aircraft were destroyed and eight ships were sunk. All in all Darwin was bombed 64 times between that date and November 1943.

For me to be reminded of the devastation, it was not the movie, but visibility of the airstrips that led me to take a drive to Adelaide River, some 90 ks ‘down the track’ to pay my respects at the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

Although the cemetery is well away from the main road, it is well signposted. On arriving at Adelaide River I followed the signs to a bitumen road, either side of which was carefully maintained with plants, shrubs, trees and well manicured lawns. I was impressed that several signs are posted to let you know what flora and fauna are to be found here and for those wishing to stay longer, picnic amenities are provided.

Originally the graves were marked with simple white crosses. Now that more graves have been relocated from civil cemeteries,  isolated sites and temporary military burial grounds it has become a well laid out and designed site marked by uniform brass plaques. Many are individually inscribed with personal messages so I presume penned from members of their families. Some graves have basic information only and there are many unmarked graves as the identities are still unknown.

A special section has been landscaped at one end as a tribute to the people who were killed when they volunteered to stay behind in Darwin to run the Post Office, a vital communication resource.The Post Office received a direct hit and nine workers died. There are also graves for the thirty one aboriginal people in that section of the cemetery.

The Adelaide River War Cemetery is Australia’s most visited war cemetery with an average of 75,000 visitors yearly, amazing for such a remote place.  I recommend a visit here if you ever go to the Northern Territory. Roz

4 Comments

Where the hell is Noonamah?

Jabiru on Elizabeth Valley Road

Where the hell is Noonamah? is a bumper sticker you see driving around Darwin. Well I know very well where it is, my sister lives a couple of ks north of Noonamah in Elizabeth Valley and I have passed it every day for the past week. It is also known as the home of the Green Frog Races. Such a salubrious association with my temporary neighbourhood I know.

Some 46 ks out of Darwin on the road, south of course, all roads have to lead south of Darwin since it is located on the north coastline of Australia. I first came to Darwin 38 years ago, not as visitor but as a resident. The cyclone forced me out the first time but I returned for another stint in 1975-76. I return regularly to see family so have noticed the changes. However it is only now that I can see how Darwinites have also become avid rural dwellers. I was on the road one morning at peak hour, that is around 7am to 7.30am here and the traffic travelling into Darwin, from even further south than Elizabeth Valley/Noonamah was as busy as my local Coronation Drive or the hectic road to the airport – Kingsford Smith Drive in Hamilton in Brisbane.

My Sis

But getting back to Noonamah, which by the way is a very popular hotel and the place where my sister is warmly greeted and where she is allowed to park her four-wheel drive which is mighty handy when her local roads are under too much water to drive her little Mazda. Carol can do a relay with her Mazda to the pub on her way home from work, and then pick up her Toyota Hilux. No I am not paid by car companies to promote cars, it is just easier to describe the make of the cars because everyone seems to know what they are and isn’t having a Hilux just so de riguer in the top end.

The Noonamah Tavern has hosted the Green Frog race charity event for 20 years. Betting on this race raises as much excitement as the Melbourne Cup. The frogs race each other from the centre of a circle to its outer perimeter over three heats. But not all excitement is about frogs, see this story filed by Neena Bhandari.

Buffaloes, horses, frogs and even cane toads have propped up at a dusty outback highway pub in Australia’s Northern Territory, but to find a saltwater crocodile as a drinking buddy came as a shock even for regulars at the Noonamah Tavern. On Sunday night, three regulars at the bar discovered the 60-cm male saltwater crocodile in front of the pub.

“You could say we were a bit surprised. He was pretty complacent, easygoing, but we weren’t going to test him out,” barmaid Sarah Sparre told the Australian Associated Press.

“They brought him in so everyone could have a look. We took a photo of him and then put him in a box with his mouth taped,” Sparre said.The creature was taken to the Darwin Crocodile Farm by the Parks and Wildlife Services.

Carol has her own legend. On our way home between Noonamah and her place, she pointed out a little causeway where she saw a large crocodile that had just come up from the river below. She got quite a shock and if she had been in her little car she would most likely have hit it and the water-logged causeway would have slid her into the river at the very least. Every time I drove past that spot I kept a lookout for a croc and when I saw people standing at the side after a heavy rain with fishing nets I hoped they would not be a headline the next day.

For all my time in living in Darwin in the past I never had an opportunity to see in the wild, the largest flying bird in world, the Black Neck Stork known here as Jabiru (Xenorhynchus asiaticus) and nearly every day we would see a family of them.

I was quite taken with their size, they grow to a height of about 1 metre tall, long thin orange legs, a black and white marked body and a shiny blue-black neck, with a long black beak. I got out of the car to take the photo, walked quietly across the road but they were on to me and would not let me get close. Roz

3 Comments

my favourite commercial galleries in Paris

Tony Cragg

The private contemporary art galleries are not easy to find in Paris. Most Parisian buildings have locked doors and then more locked gates into courtyards. If you are lucky, some of the entry codes are deactivated during the day making it easier to gain access but as many galleries are not open every day, it can be complicated to find them, unless you read this and print out for your next visit.
My guide will tell you the addresses and times the gates or entry doors are open.

For a dose of heady art and cream of the art world, set off to the 3e and 4e – the (e) is an abbreviation for the number of the arrondisements – Paris is divided into these ‘districts’. It is in these districts you will find the galleries that show many contemporary international artists.

However for a first time visitor to Paris you may find small shops selling a variety of work, particularly on the Left Bank, between the Seine and Boulevard Saint Germain.

Most of these galleries have-
bilingual (including English-speaking) owners and staff. Therefore, don’t be shy about approaching them for catalogues, price lists and information.

Galerie Karsten Greve

With branches in Paris, Switzerland & Germany its artists get good coverage. The gallery is big. It exhibits the work of legends in the art world, artists like Debuffet & Louise Bourgeois. In 2008 Bourgeois had a major retrospective at the Pompidou.
Tues-Sat 11-7pm
5 rue Debelleyme (3
www.artnet.com

Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin
Enter inside a courtyard, large exhibiting spaces, publishes own magazine and has a gallery in Miami, US.
Shows Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and major French name Sophie Calle.
Tues – Sat 11 – 7 pm
76 rue de Turenne (3e)
www.galerieperrotin.com

Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

Another ‘galerist’ moved into the Paris scene, this time from Saltzburg.
Definitely one of the big boys of the scene here. In 2008 an impressive Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibition.  It shows two artists known as Gilbert &  George. Tony Cragg’s work filled 4 galleries in May 09.
Mon-Sat 10 – 7 pm
7 rue Debelleyme (3e)
www.ropac.net

Galerie Yvon Lambert

This gallery has been around for some 30 years, expect to see big names here, installations, dedicated area for videos. I never miss this gallery.
Tues-Fri 10 – 1 pm, 2.30 – 7pm Sat 10 – 7 pm.
108 rue Vielle-du-Temple (3e)
www.yvon-lambert.com

Chez Valentin
A new find for us this time, currently showing a young English artist. The gallery has a reputation for exhibiting experimental art. Located on the street not far from famous Place des Vosges.
Tues-Sat 11 – 1 pm &  7 pm
9 rue St Gilles (3e)
www.galeriechezvalentin.com

Galerie Jean-Luc & Takako Richard

Opened first gallery in Bastille known as Galerie Oz but don’t think that meant Australian art. They are now in the heart of the 3rd in a deceptively large gallery whether you enter from rue de Turenne, or from its other entrance at 3 Impasse St Claude. Showing international artists including some Japanese, the co-owner is from Japan. Good website also in English to view ahead gallery programme. Expect to see ‘name’ American artists here regularly.
Tues-Sat 11 – 7pm
74 rue de Turenne, 75003 (3e)
www.galerierichard.com

8. Galerie Maria Lund

A gallery that is easy to find as it is on the street. Ground floor and basement exhibiting space.
Showing many artists from Maria’s home country Denmark. We liked the  enigmatic work in photography and painting by Peter Neuchs in May 09.
Mon-Sat 12 – 7pm
48 rue de Turenne  (3e)
www.marialund.com

I will be back in Paris in September so will post an update. Roz

1 Comment

making macarons in Paris

Laduree's last stop for macarons

Macarons are the big sweet obsession at the moment, in Australia that is. Television cooking programmes have included them in the competitions to find top home chefs. Yet macarons have been around for a long time in France but for some reason they have hit the big time here. I learned to make them in Paris at my friend Paule’s cooking school Promenades Gourmandes. Paule Caillait – don’t mistake the name as Paule is a woman.

Paule specialises in cooking tours and classes in Paris and takes you shopping first and then you find out where and how the French who live in the trendy areas of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements shop for ingredients. Her tours are followed by a cooking class in her contemporary large kitchen with its glorious cast iron Lacanche cooker.

For the macaron classes she invites Joël Morgeat, maître pâtissier to lead the class.  We found him a charming young man who spoke a reasonable amount of English, but if there were any misunderstandings or faux pas on our part, on standby were Paule and her French friend Carol who speaks English fluently. By the way Paule speaks English just as fluently which will appeal to anyone considering doing a cooking course in Paris.

For our macaron class, the ingredients were all laid out in the methodical style of the master pastry chef, everything ‘measured’ and ready for us to tackle the art of making macarons. The first rule you learn is not to measure by cups and spoons etc. but by weighing.

It was hands on for us all and I took on the grapefruit flavour whilst my colleagues tackled chocolate and raspberry.

An essential part of the process is to make an Italian meringue, you do that by cooking sugar and water to a state where it becomes sort of plastic like a piece of silicone and can be rubbed between your fingers. After it reaches that state, the hot sugar liquid can be poured into lightly beaten egg whites. You then whip those almost into oblivion, for at least another 10 minutes until really stiff and glossy. I thought the electric mixer might burst a ‘foofoo’ valve like mine did before I left home. I kept watching it but being a later model, it stood up to the test.

The procedure to test the readiness of the cooked sugar is in the danger zone and Joel showed us how he uses his fingers to test it.  He places his fingers in cold water and then plunges them into the boiling pot and then, its fingers straight back into the cold water! It was not something we were anxious to emulate but he insisted! I was a bit of a woos at this, quietly thinking I’ll be hunting down the confectionery thermometer back at home. That is if I am ever in the ‘mindset’ to set aside 3-4 hours uninterrupted by nuisance telephone marketing calls to make them!Paule is the one with the dangly earrings. The other person is a student, not a picture of me as I am the one taking photos.

Nothing but the best goes into these babies, finely ground almonds, caster sugar, butter, egg whites and almond paste are the ingredients for cases and fillings. The flavourings are entirely up to all individuals concerned, but we learned the correct consistencies to aim for when using either melted chocolate, fruit juice, fruit coulis or simple bottled essences of flavours. My recipe called for pink grapefruit zest and juice.

I discovered my piping ability was incredibly rusty, you just have to have a piping bag attached to your elbows every day to keep piping skills up to scratch. We all had to learn or regain old skills quickly as we piped the macarons out and later more piping required to fill the cooked macarons.

Baking the macarons was both straightforward and complicated, how can that be? Well we used two different ovens and results depended on how they performed, one was the Lacanche electric cast iron oven and the other, a regular domestic fan forced electric oven. Another factor was how many trays went into the oven at once, this affected whether the macarons cooked evenly. Experimenting at the class with our teacher taught us that we are going to have different results in our home ovens and not to get despondent, just to keep practising.

We learned when to put the macarons in the oven, don’t rush this part as I have seen done on TV’s Masterchef competitions. Once they are piped on the trays, let them settle and form a light firm crust on top to set for baking.

Watching Joel take them out of the oven was mind-boggling. Joel carefully poured cold water under the baking paper sheets to aid in cooling the undersides of the macarons. See my photo of how he tipped the tray lightly toward the sink and the water ran down the tray under the macarons. Now undertaking this crazy procedure without wetting the macarons takes a lot of practice.

Our macaron shapes varied slightly but all achieved the trademark effect of sporting a delicate frill around the edge.

If taking a class in Paris appeals to you, after you have read this blog go back to the top and click on Paule’s name and it will take you straight to her website for more information about her classes in Paris.  If you have a macaron story or know where to buy quality versions in Australia please share through the  ADD A COMMENT section at the end of this blog. Roz

8 Comments

Pisa, more than the tower

I have been to Pisa several times, like most people, as a day tripper but each time I look beyond its famous tower. It is also a university town and there is plenty of evidence when you walk further, that there is another vibrant atmosphere behind the scenes. However I think living here would be a nightmare for the middle-aged locals, what with tourists, students on bicycles, cars looking for car parks – it can be a challenge.

Having said that if I ever go to Pisa again I will try to stay overnight as a good art museum to visit here. The National Museum of San Matteo with pictures and sculptures of the Tuscan schools from the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The museum is closed on Mondays. Piazza San Matteo in Soarta, 56127 Pisa,  050 542640‎

Borgo Stretto is the commercial centre with a number of arcades. In the middle ages the street was linked by two bridges over the Auser River to the north and the Arno to the south. Initially small workshops were opened which later developed into an urban centre with residences and warehouses for merchants.

Having said that Pisa’s tower and surrounding buildings is compelling viewing. Some of these photos were taken by John who decided the climb to the top of the leaning tower was worth it for aerial views of the city.

Once you are in the back streets, the crowds diminish and then you suddenly come out of a narrow street to find a large piazza that affords you an excellent view to fully appreciate more of the architecture in this town.

On the last couple of visits we headed for a little restaurant Osteria di Cavalieri mainly because it was a Slow Food endorsed one, a good place to start anywhere in Italy. With no pre-arranged booking we managed a table and it was a welcome relief to sit somewhere tranquil away from the hordes of tourists. The sformatino of zucchini Sformatino di zucchine con crema di pomodoro was so light it resembled a twice cooked souffle.

If it is lunchtime then it is ideal for eating a pasta dish and of course one that is a local speciality. We had this buttery rag pasta with cannelloni beans.

The restaurant’s website advises if you drive in, go to Piazza Carrara for parking, it is around 100 metres from the restaurant. I am hungry remembering this meal and the glass..or two…I have trouble remembering the quantity I imbibed so it must have been more….of this medium bodied white, a Vermentino wine from the nearby region of Bolgheri with low acidity and tannin. I write often about visiting Slow Food restaurants, that is because I am a member and I know how Slow Food goes about accepting a restaurant into the fold. It must comply with showcasing local ingredients and local techniques. Also I like that there is a price point that is affordable. Roz

2 Comments

White Sands Resort, East Coast Tasmania

Smoked salmon entree

Living in a small town has its benefits and word spreads quickly about people with an interest in food.  I was contacted by the local ‘gourmet’ club’s leader (lower case and inverted commas because it is not an official club with office bearers and constitution etc) rang me to invite us to a dinner at a restaurant but due to a chef’s untimely departure the group had to go elsewhere – to the White Sands Resort half way down the highway toward Bicheno.

Eye fillet steak on a tart

Its location is known as Iron House Point and it gives its name to the beer brewed on site.

We were offered a beer tasting before our meal so without trepidation I joined in the spirit. We gathered at the small bar area in full sight of some of the resorts guests in the dining room. We could see another more appealing incomplete building next door that will possibly replace the restaurant. I suspect it is behind schedule as the brochure on the resort advertised it to be ready in 2009. I actually expected we would have the tasting in the brewery and with the group standing in a tight space it was not conducive to fully appreciating the beer tasting. Management should be thinking this aspect of promoting and selling the beers to people who are actually on the property more thoroughly.

Pork belly & scallops

The meal portions were huge and from what I could see around our two long tables, well received. However there was a substantial delay in receiving our meals. Too be absolutely fair, slow service was not entirely the fault of the two young chefs, whom I spied through the pass working flat-out, but I do blame the manager whoever that is, no sight of one. Had a manager been present to oversee such a large group, complimentary bread could have been sent out to allay the hunger of those who chose only a main course. Surely a crowd of 40 calling themselves a ‘gourmet group’ would have warranted more service and the on site attention of a manager.

Pumpkin Risotto

Everyone liked the food, but the nonsensical idea of presenting a large fillet steak on top of a tart needs to be reviewed by the chef. It looked silly and pushes the tart filling down, you still have to remove it to eat both the steak and the tart. I had the pork belly and scallops, a bargain if ever there was one, a meal for two really. Do Tasmanian’s really expect this much food in a course?

The resort comprises a series of self-contained semi-detached units with very large decks opening out from the living area.  I plan a return for another meal and beer tasting when the new building is completed. Roz

This one had more sauce

Leave a comment

Pitigliano, a hill town in Italy

One of the most spectacular of all the hill towns in Italy is Pitigliano. My friend Sharon Bernardi was the first person to tell me about it and when together we began escorting tours around Tuscany I had to include it in every visit as it has the WOW factor.  Pitigliano goes back to Etruscan times but its physical architecture and remains are medieval. For several hundred years Pitigliano was a frontier town between the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and to the south, the Papal States.  The town was once home to a large Jewish community, mostly made up by people fleeing from Rome during the counter-reformation persecutions. There is still a small Jewish presence here and a small synagogue you can visit was restored in 1995.

I am in the official entrance courtyard at the Palazzo Orsini, the handsome well is carved with elements of the coat of arms.

From the main piazza near the Orsini Palazzo walk to the arch and you can see the remains of a tall and very visible aqueduct at the very top of the butte.

We always headed first with our group to the Palazzo Orsini, once we bought them the entry tickets we let them wander at their own pace around this former seat of power. Not everyone wants to spend the same amount of time looking at the same exhibits, though I must say the dungeon and its weapons of torture is always fascinating to our groups.

I particularly like the coin and jewels room where there is striking garnet and coral jewellery and black mourning jewellery.

A ticket into the Orsini Museo is around €3.50 and it always amazes me how people so often skimp on paying an entrance fee, they have already taken great time and cost to visit monumental places. I recommend this visit, it is not a lot of money to spend to immerse yourself in the tangible reminders of the history of Palazzo Orsini’s rulers and occupants, all the way from the 12th century to the eventual opening to the public in 1989. Check the opening hours and try to go before or after lunch as they close in summer at 1pm and re open at 3pm. Closed on Mondays as is the restaurant I suggest you visit.

The back streets and side streets are full of photo opportunities for those shots of well-worn stone courtyards and alleys.

One of the highlights of our foodie focussed tours is to revisit the restaurant here in a cellar dug deep into the tufo. The wild haired chef owner with long curly grey hair is always on hand to greet us.

His Osteria Il Tufo Allegro is a member of the illustrious osterie documented and endorsed by the international Slow Food movement.Vicolo della Costituzione, 5.

We also make a beeline also for the Jewish bakery Panificio del Ghetto in via Zuccarelli where I like to buy its special of pressed dried fruit, spices and nut pastry. A sliced section is here on the plate with the biscotti. Sfratti means “sticks” in Italian, as well as ‘evicted’ in the days when landlords were allowed to persuade unwanted and delinquent tenants to leave by force of a rod. This cookie is a popular Italian Rosh Hashanah treat, and got its name from its resemblance to a stick, the Jewish sense of humor transforming an object of persecution into a sweet symbol. I am about to hunt down a recipe for Sfratti as I won’t be back in Pitigliano for some time. Roz

Wafers from the bakery

3 Comments

Daniel Alps at Strathlyn

Photo: visitvineyards.com

After reading a plethora of articles about this restaurant we finally made it for lunch. We don’t exactly live in the area so made a special trip.

The restaurant is at the Ninth Island Vineyard and that means it is well positioned for clients requiring a quality repast on their way around touring wineries. It also affords the diner some lovely views of the Tamar river.

We weren’t given a premier viewing position but then we were there for the food. Just as well because the actual restaurant fit-out was disappointing, tired and actually quite boring and lacking in warmth. The toilets are a let down also and need some TLC. Sorry to go on about toilets in a post about food, but today they are an important part of the equation, we should definitely visit there to wash hands before eating shouldn’t we.

Daniel Alps’s food at least has a deserved high reputation and this now broadens to offer a deli style store and cooking classes in Launceston. The staff at his restaurant were among the best we have found for politeness and appropriateness in service.

The servings at the restaurant are on the slightly larger than normal size, what is larger than normal, those you see on the mainland is what I am comparing them with. My Springfield venison was cooked to perfection. An uncomplicated dish but if not the right quality meat and cooked with care it could be a waste of a dining opportunity.

I was nursing a very damaged back so was not up to taking photos, and the wood backed Thonet style chairs did not help.I did not write down all we ate but we enjoyed our food and would return. I just hope for any international visitors I take here in the future that the look of the place is improved.

Another quibble is that they do not have website. Having a website is paramount today for all restaurants, maybe they will catch on soon as now they have a town store and cooking class programme. This is the way of the present, not just the future for marketing.

I am on the email mailing list so received this information to share:

Alps & Amici  in partnership with Electrolux  are delighted to advise the eagerly awaited cooking classes are here and we are letting you know first.

“Dan’s kitchen: Ready-to-go restaurant style dishes …. tips and tricks on how to jazz up your week night dinners or wow your friends at your next dinner party” – Tuesday 30 March 2010

“How to get the most out of your spices ….” – Thursday 22 April 2010

What’s included in the demonstration? The classes are an intimate demonstration style where you will have the opportunity to watch, learn and interact with Daniel Alps.  During the class you will be tasting the food being demonstrated.
Matching local or international wine/beer tastings shall be served to enhance the flavours of what has been prepared.  All participants shall receive the recipes from the evening along with a pantry bag and 10% discount on anything purchased on the night.

How much does it cost?  $75.00 per person all inclusive (incl gst)

How long is the demonstration?  We ask that everyone be at Alps & Amici at 7.15pm ready for a 7.30pm start.  The class shall conclude about 9.30pm.

How many people in each cooking demonstration?  There will be a maximum of 10 people in each class so get in fast.

How can I book?  You can call us on 6331 1777 or email us on info@alpsandamici.com Monday – Friday during our opening hours.  We are open Monday-Friday 7.30am-6.30pm and Saturday  8.00am-2.00pm

How do I pay Payment is required at the time of booking – we accept Visa and MasterCard or cash (if you come in to the store).

What if the class I want to attend is full?  We shall have a waitlist available for each class.

Group bookings or private classes  If you would like to book your own private cooking class outside the dates we offer please contact us as they are available on request.

What else is happening  more demonstrations to come …. we shall be in touch shortly with dates and themes for winter … Saturday afternoon cupcake classes …  free in store tastings on a regular basis

Daniel Alps at Strathlynn is also part of the Alps & Amici family ….

95 Rosevears Drive
Rosevears TAS 7277
Australia

Phone: 03 6330 2388
Fax: 03 6330 2599
Email: strathlynn@pipersbrook.com

It is a competitive field so to stay in business it helps to diversify and expand but it is a must to upgrade what you already have. Roz


5 Comments

ITALIA, keeping it basic

I have been travelling to Italy for many decades and have had a variety of experiences as I have taken people on tours in many of its regions. In my personal travels I have had to go to the Police to file reports on damaged hire cars and stolen property to generous help from locals who have gone to great lengths to assist a total stranger.

Emergency numbers – why not print this out and keep with you

Carabinieri 112

State Police 113

Fire Dept 115

Road Rescue 116

Financial Guard 117 (I don’t actually know what this guard does)

Medical Emergency 118

Marine Rescue 1530

Medical matters

Australia’s Medicare has an arrangement with the Italian health department – we are an accredited nation so you should be able to receive basic temporary care until you organise full cover for anything serious.

Medical Insurance – based on my experience with a client of mine who arrived already ill to begin one of my Tuscan tours, was that a hospital or doctor in Italy has to declare you unfit to travel and must sign off on a form for you to request your medical cover travel company to fly you home. You cannot contact them and ask them to assist you to get home without an Italian doctor signing off.

Daylight saving in Italy starts on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.

Telephone - the international dialling code is +39

Buy a phone card that you can use in phone boxes for cheap calls home or outside Italy or take a spare mobile phone and buy an Italian sim card. It works for us. We use it for making calls around Italy.

Cost of making or receiving mobile phone calls is too high – Remind your friends that if they ring you on your mobile, it costs you to take the call if you are with Telstra. They should SMS you instead. I get all my guests travelling with me to put the mobile phone numbers in their phones of all people on the tour. It really helps if people get lost or are running late.

My group walking into Sienna's gates

TO TAKE A CAR OR NOT TO TAKE A CAR….

Hill towns and walled cities – If you decide to take accommodation in either, be prepared to leave your car outside or to have limited access. If you are travelling by train you may still have to take a taxi from the train station into the walled town. These towns are ideal for walking around but tend to be incredibly busy by day with tourists – it is only at night and early hours of the morning when you have a chance to walk around and enjoy the town. We stayed inside the Tuscan town of San Gimignano and could drive in – albeit on a special back of the town route to drop off or pickup but had to park the car in a car park outside town, not the safest idea but having said that, we did not have an incident.

Here is a good example of a perfectly positioned hotel in one of Italy’s medieval towns. Umbria’s Spoleto has Hotel San Luca, it is on the edge of town, you can park your car and comfortably walk up into this hill perched town.

Bologna

If you stay in very expensive hotels inside some of these towns they often do provide parking so it pays to enquire. We stayed in Bologna and although the hotel had a parking place, it was outrageously expensive so they directed us to an open car park nearby and each day we paid the 24 hour parking fee. Not ideal but manageable in the circumstances. We have friends who would not even attempt to drive into Bologna and we understand why. It is difficult to find the right way to drive in and out and I recommend the train to Bologna any day.

If this information is useful for you please let me know on the blog or send any other helpful basic information for fellow blog reading travellers. Ciao Roz

1 Comment

Puglia, food wine and bread

Some towns in Italy have no charm at all, quite a statement for Italy but when we went down to Puglia we stayed outside the town of Fasano – it was in the rather ordinary category, but we headed for a stunning resort -Masseria San Domenico, a former farmhouse, the Italians in this part of Italy call it a Masseria. We had a car so we could still go into nearby Fasano for shopping and to visit its Enoteca.

This trip is where I discovered Italy does have massive shopping malls like we have in the suburbs. We call them shopping centres in Australia, whereas they are ‘malls’ in America. We pulled into one between Fasano and our resort to check it out and see if there are any differences. We came away with a motorised copper polenta cooking pot. I report here that I have used it many times since and do not regret the purchase. It was fun to see what different types of kitchen equipment you could buy in the equivalent to a K Mart. I know it is more romantic to buy from small shops run by locals but if I was living in Italy I would not hesitate to take a trip to one to set up my home.

If you don’t want the extravagance and expense of the above Masseria, you can also stay in the Trulli houses, the whitewashed dome houses that are typical of this region.

The spires on top of the houses have various meanings, some are primitive holy symbols and some are magic symbols that represent zodiac signs. The local jewellers here reproduce the symbols into jewellery and trinkets ranging from the small souvenir to expensive precious metal jewellery.

Be prepared for restaurants that do not print a menu, they just offer what is fresh that day. Like Sicily here they make the delicious latte di mandorla, a non alcoholic drink made from almond milk and iced water. The local sweet dessert wine for dipping your almond biscuits is Moscato di Trani. Having tasted a special ricotta based cake at the Salon del gusto, the Slow Food extravaganza of a food fair, we tracked down the maker and had a tour of the bakery. We were then taken to a relative’s pizza bakery, one that is making pizza’s for export around the world.

The food speciality here is orecchiette, a wholewheat pasta. Of course fish is popular and the taralli (doughnut shaped dry biscuit) are sold everywhere and great for a snack when you are travelling in the car around Italy. The bread of Puglia is worth a return trip, inside it is light cornmeal yellow in colour and has the most amazing texture. I have a memory of eating the bread immediately like a child, taking out chunks before it reached home. Whenever I see Pane Pugliese bread on the list at bakeries I have to laugh to myself, they have no idea what real bread from Puglia tastes like.

When we were in this area we drove past a communal olive press. The people inside immediately invited us in to see the production. Puglia produced 43% of Italy’s output and that is 14% of the world’s total. They have over 45 million olive trees that are on 360,000 cultivated hectares. Its low pollution and sunny climate with the right amount of rain, together with a mineral rich lime tufa soil make this an ideal growing area. The sea breezes are complimentary as they are to growing grape vines.

For wine buffs, here are some local wineries recommended by Masseria San Domenico.

Cantine Calo Michele e Figli, Via Masseria Vecchia, 1, 73058 Trulie (Le)

Leone De Castris, Via Senatore De Castris, 50, 73015 Salice Salentino (Le)

Cantine Fatalone, Vicinale Spino Marino, 291, 70023 Gioia del Colle (Ba)

Cantine Taurino, Strada Statale 605, 73010 Guagnano (Le)

Enoteca Sileno in Melbourne specialise in hard to get wines from all over Italy and they also will stock the olive oil of Puglia.

I will have to go back to Puglia soon for another fix of the Pane Pugliese. Roz

5 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 393 other followers

%d bloggers like this: