"You Americans are always concerned about your weight. Even if you are thin, you think you are overweight. If you have a big stomach, you're embarrassed and want to lose weight. You even have operations to stop you from eating too much. In Italy if I get too thin a Nonna will stop me on the street and say 'You need to eat more. You’re too thin. Also you’re dog is too thin. EAT MORE and feed this poor dog!'"
Especially in the peak tourist months, the Amalfi Coast is bumper to bumper tour buses and its towns are chock full of tourists stepping on one another's toes. I wouldn't dream of driving the Amalfi Coast in summer--it was crazy enough in October when we were there! And I wouldn't want to rely on the sporadic local buses where you'd have to wait for an hour just to get on, and when you do you'd be standing for an hour or more just to get to your destination... a blood-curdling drive going around cliff hanging curves at the blazing traffic jam speeds of 6 miles an hour. Well, I have a suggestion... Instead of going to Amalfi, go where the tour buses aren't dumping off thousands of tourists--Cinque Terre in the northern region of Liguria!
Cinque Terre literally translated means Five Lands, a reference to it's five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, and even it isn't technically part of the Five Lands, I would include the wonderful port town of Portovenere just to the east with its naturalized island of Palmeria just opposite the town. The rugged coastline rivals the Amalfi Coast in beauty and its five villages along with the surrounding cliffs are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site. The advantage of visiting Cinque Terre is that cars--as well as tour buses--can't reach the villages. They are only accessible by local trains, by foot paths (old donkey paths) running between them or by boat-taxis and ferrys. While the Amalfi Coast gets bus tours from cruise ships and has more tourists because of its proximity to Naples, Sorrento, Capri and Pompeii, the Cinque Terre villages stand on their own. But, if you are staying in Cinque Terre, there are very doable day trips to Genova, Portofino, Pisa and even Florence if you have the extra time to take a train or rent a car.
Tourism in the villages is more laid back than Amalfi. Here you will find more low modest hotels and rental apartments and more B&Bs than in Amalfi where chic Luxury hotels abound. And although Amalfi has some great hiking with its Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) high above the towns and villages of the Coast Road, the Cinque Terre has its paths connecting each village... and they are wonderful walks with gorgeous views. Keep in mind however, that these walking paths--although well paved and often wide promenades--have lots of people walking them in the high season. They are also rugged in terms of changes in altitudes--lots of ups and downs, so you'd better be in good shape. I wouldn't recommend Cinque Terre for seniors or people with heart or breathing difficulties. In Amalfi, the Path of the Gods is for more serious hikers with some easier parts paths mixed in all throughout the peninsula, but most of the tourists are going to the chic towns of Positano and Amalfi Town--the place is very touristy.
When visiting Italy in early spring or fall, you might have better weather in the south, but by American standards, the weather is still warm enough to enjoy a slightly off-season trip to Cinque Terre. In later October the rains and some winds start to come, so plan your trip later in the month. If you want to swim in the sea, plan your trip at the shoulder of the high season. If you don't mind more crowds, humidity and heat, plan your trip in summer. Personally, I would also squeeze in some time in Portovenere and perhaps have a water taxi drop me off on the Isola Palmeria--a national park with wonderful naturalized beaches that look back at the the town. There are hiking tails on the Island with amazing views and lots of nature to enjoy.
Of course, you might not want to hike between all of the towns... You will want to take the trains also. The Cinque Terre trains connect six stops: La Spezia (just down the coast to the east of Cinque Terre, it's where you would make connections to other major Italian cities) the official "Five Lands" of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, and the town of Levanto. If you're coming from elsewhere in Italy, you would have to connect to either Florence, Milan, or Venice and then move on to La Spezia to connect with the Cinque Terre train system.From La Spezia to Riomaggiore is about 10 minutes, and then roughly 5 minutes between each town thereafter. The trains run an irregular, perhaps some would say unreliable schedule, but you can usually catch a train every hour or so. You can also travel between towns by water taxi which leave every hour or so.
Along the Via dell'Amore, lovers place locks and throw the keys into the sea...
The simplest walks between towns are between 3/4 of a mile and 2 miles so you might plan on walking through all Five Lands... The Monterosso to Vernazza path is the most demanding and can easily take about two hours, while the By comparison, the Via dell'Amore which clings to the cliff above the sea, is all paved and relatively flat and can be walked in as little as 30 minutes.
Bottom line... Cinque Terre is a bit less touristy than the Amalfi Coast, has less of that chic element and more of the backpacker feel, and is more suited to serious hikers and walkers looking for a more intimate getaway.
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Ok, so I've dropped the ball a bit here. I admit it. After all, I've been an advertising photographer for over 45 years and I haven't even talked shop about cameras on Grand Voyage Italy. Well, things are going to change... here's my first camera review, but look for more posts on other cameras and photo techniques and tips for travel photography in the near future...
When I planned our Italy voyage I knew I didn't want to be loaded down as a pro photographer with my larger camera kit and multiple lenses. This was a different kind of trip for us--to discover our roots. I didn't want to feel like I was working, but yet I wanted to bring enough photo-power to capture the best images of this trip of a lifetime. We decided on two cameras, the Nikon P530 (42X zoom) and the P600 (60X zoom). These were affordable (one more so than the other) and considering the lenses were integrated into the camera body (not removable), I wanted two similar cameras so we always had a backup. As it turned out, the choice was perfect for us. The bodies on these cameras is smaller--much smaller--than my hefty D7000 (a half pound difference!) Lisa could tuck hers into her "mule bag" and I fit mine comfortably into my messenger bag. After all, I didn't want to advertise my presence as "photographer". The cameras were easy to use, lightweight (especially with my wrist strap) and the fact that the lenses on these cameras are in the "Super Zoom" category meant we didn't have to miss shots or carry a traditional DSLR with a variety of lenses. So, now there is a new model that I'd like to talk about...
The Nikon Coolpix P610
The features of the P610 can't be beat... 16 megapixel (full resolution), 60x optical zoom lens, GPS, built-in Wi-Fi, "Near Field Communication" compatibility (NFC), and Full HD video. Combine this with one of my favorite features... the flip out Vari-angle display. This is handy for taking shots looking up from ground level or holding the camera at arm's length over your head, as when taking shots over a crowd. The lens is still a Super Zoom at 60x, just like our P600. That's equivalent to having a range from 24 – 1440mm in a traditional 35mm format camera! There's even vibration reduction for when you're zoomed way in (though, again, shut this feature off to prevent unnecessary battery drain when you don't need it.) If you do a lot of zooming-in at distant objects, I'd recommend packing a tripod, or save space while traveling and get a sturdy mini tripod like the Cullman Magnesit Copter. I brought one along and got amazing steadiness out of it.
From wide angle to zoomed all the way in...
The other amazing and useful feature of the P610 is the wide range of ISO... 100 - 12,800! This is fast enough to take decent photos in a dark room or a dark street. Of course, you should only use these higher ISOs when you absolutely need them (all high ISO settings on all cameras trade off capturing a well exposed picture with lessened quality), but it's great to know they are there (like when you want to capture the details of a fresco inside a cave in Puglia without flash). Most shots outdoors would do best with an ISO 100 setting for the best quality image, but to prevent hand hold camera shake (if you've just come from a point and shoot camera) perhaps a setting of 200-400 is a good compromise.
The communication features are great also. Our P600 had Wi-Fi and we used it several times while in Italy to transfer shots to our phone so we could then Email them to friends. Basically, you connect your phone (or in our case, our Kindle) to the camera's Wi-Fi hotspot--very easy to do. We also used this feature to dump shots to our phone or Kindle and then back them up to Dropbox. Very handy to have. The Near Field Communication feature is useful if you have a NFC enabled smart phone... tap your phone to the camera and it instantly makes the Wi-Fi connection. Another very techy feature is that the LCD display automatically switches to the internal electronic viewfinder when you hold the camera up to your eye--and vice versa. On the P600 I have to press a button when I want to switch finders.
I personally see little use for the GPS feature. This has to be turned on from the menu and will tag photos with lat/long coordinates. Useful for posting photos on Panoramia and Google Earth, I suppose. It also has a feature which lists points of interest near your current location. Sorry, but I don't really need it to tell me that the Eiffel Tower is nearby. I'd recommend keeping the GPS turned off if only because it's a real battery drain.
The camera has a multitude of shooting modes for all levels of photographic expertise. If you want full manual control, you've got it. If you want full-auto, it's there too (and does an excellent job). If you prefer selecting Scene modes, here they are: Backlighting, Bird Watching, Beach, Black and White Copy, Close Up, Dusk/Dawn, Easy Panorama, Fireworks Show, Food, Landscape, Moon, Museum, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Sunset and Scene Auto Selector which analyzes the scene and selects the most appropriate one automatically. Enough for you? This is a one very powerful camera that amateurs should not be intimidated by.
The P610 improves on the P600 by delivering 360 shots-per-charge, where the P600 could only manage 330. If you use video a lot (which is excellent in HD, btw) plan on bringing along extra batteries. Video and flash eat batteries alive on these digital cameras. I brought 3 batteries for each camera and could have used an extra one or two each. A super charger like the LEPOWER 40 Watt, 5-port charger saves bringing along lots of power blocks but also charges batteries very fast when plugged into it's two high power USB ports. Combine the batteries with one or two 16 or 32 Gigabyte SDHD cards, and you'll have enough storage to capture thousands of photos on your voyage.
So, if you want a great near-pro quality, Super Zoom camera system, this might be the perfect choice. Happy shooting!
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Fontana dei Tritoni, across from the Verita della Bocca, Rome
For over two thousand years fountains have provided drinking water and decorated the piazzas of Rome and other cities in the Roman Empire. In Rome in 98 AD, a Roman consul was appointed curator aquarum or guardian of the water of the city (basically, the head of the water department).
Rome alone had nine aqueducts feeding 39 monumental fountains and 591 public fountains (used to supply the people with fresh running water), not counting the water supplied to the Imperial household, baths and owners of private villas. Each of the major fountains was connected to two different aqueducts, a sort of backup system in case one failed.
Even today, Rome has more than 2000 fountains, fifty of which are National monuments, more fountains than any city in the world.
Lucas at a NASONI wetting a cloth for under his cap, Palatine Hill, Rome
The fountains of Piazza Navona, got their water from the Acqua Vergine, with only a 23 foot drop, so the pressure was much less. Its water could only fall downward. The Trevi Fountain's architect got around this problem by lowering the fountain below street level and by letting the water cascade and tumble to add an illusion of a higher degree of water movement.
Nowadays, the fountains of Rome use both gravity and mechanical pumps to perform for the viewers.
Potable water fountain, Vatican
Just like the ancient Romans, Italians today rely on aqueducts as well as modern public water systems to supply them with water. This is especially true of the Puglia aqueduct (the longest aqueduct in Europe). Started in mid-19th century, the aqueduct took nearly a century to complete and arrived in Leuca at the tip of the heel of Italy's boot. This solved the lack of water in the rain deprived South. The end of this aqueduct displays fountains and a man made 300 foot tall waterfall that cascades down to the sea. The cascade is turned on a few times each week during summer (for more about natural and man-made cascades in Italy, see this post).
Fountain in Ravello, Amalfi Coast
Public fountain in Ravello
One of over 2000 fountains in Rome
In the past, fountains in Rome operated purely by gravity. The source was always higher that the fountains themselves. The higher the source, the more water pressure... enabling monumental fountains that could shoot water displays high into the air. The fountain in Piazza San Pietro was supplied by the Paola aqueduct, whose source was 266 feet above sea level, which meant it could shoot water 20 feet up in the air.
The famous Triton fountain also used high water pressure from the Aqua Felice aqueduct (130 feet above the fountain) enabled jets of water to shoot 16 feet above its conch shell.
Fontana del Pantheon, Rome
In Rome and elsewhere in Italy, you can assume that all public fountains (the ones with spigots) are potable (drinkable) water, unless there is a sign saying "non potibile". We all thought the water from Italian fountains was fresh and tasted as good as New York City public water--known for having one of the tastiest water supplies in the U.S. They came in handy for wetting bandannas or napkins to place under out caps, to cool out arms or necks, and especially for refilling our water Thermos.
These special fountains in Rome were given the nickname nasoni (big nose). The nasoni are much smaller, usually round and stout, made of cast iron, are about three feet tall, and produce chilled fresh water. Each nasone the Roman initials S.P.Q.R. (Senatus Populous Romanus). The water for the nasoni comes from a huge reservoir in Peschiera which travels about seventy miles before emerging from the spout of a city fountain.
Potable fountain at Pompeii--when we needed it most
All photos in the above section Copyright Finzi Photography, 2014 - All Rights Reserved
A Few of Italy's Most Beautiful Fountains There are wonderful fountains all over Italy in large cities and small villages. Some are amazing feats of engineering, many contain world class sculptures, while others display the talents of their architects. Some have become day to day hangouts for the locals, to sit, gossip or have a gelato. Others are objects of art that are treasured by the world. Still others are monumental in scale and in legend... Here are a few:
La Fontana di Pretoria, Palermo, Sicily
The Fontana di Pretoria stands in Piazza Pretoria in Palermo. Its sculptures depict fables, monsters, and nymphs all spraying jets of water, which also falls and cascades between them.
Fontana Greca, Gallipoli
The Fontana Greca in Gallipoli, Puglia stands near the bridge adjacent to the castle, in the stretch that connects the old town with the new part of town. This fountain is famous, because many consider it to date from the 3rd century BC which would make it the oldest fountain in Italy--although others contest this.
Fontana di Diana, Caserta
On the grounds of The Royal Palace of Caserta in Caserta, southern Italy, is one of the most magnificent sculptural cascade fountains in all of Europe--La Fontana di Diana. It was palace was constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century.
Fontana dell’Elefante, Catania, Sicily
The Elephant of Catania standing since 1239 is the official symbol of the city of Catania in Sicily. One legend claims that when the town was first inhabited, an elephant drive away wild and dangerous animals and kept the people safe from harm. Others claim that it is a magical statue, built in Byzantine times, to protect the town from the nearby Mount Etna volcano.
The Turtle Fountain, Rome
The Fontane delle Tartarughe (The Turtle Fountain) is a fountain of the late Italian Renaissance, located in the Piazza Mattei, in the Sant'Angelo district of Rome, Italy. It was built between 1580 and 1588 by the architect Giacomo della Porta and the sculptor Taddeo Landini. The bronze turtles around the upper basin, usually attributed either to Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, were added in either 1658 or 1659 when the fountain was restored.
Fontana del Nettuno, detail
Fontana della Barcaccia, in front of the Spanish Steps, Rome
Built in 1627, The Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Ugly Boat) is a Baroque fountain in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. It is in the shape of a half-sunken ship with water overflowing its bows. The boat shape one of the worst floods of the Tiber in 1598 when Piazza di Spagna flooded 3 feet deep. After the flood retreated, a boat was left behind in the square. It has one of the most popular locations in all of Italy... right below the over-visited Spanish Steps. Restoration on the fountain has been carried out several times, the last being in 2014, through a private donation of €200,000. A few weeks after the unveiling, the fountain was damaged on 19 February 2015 by a group of footballhooligans.
Fontana delle Anfore
I think this is an absolutely wonderful sculpture... the Fontana delle Anfore (Fountain of the Amphora) in Villa Borghese. The artistCiociaro,toooften left in the shadows,boastsforty worksscatteredindifferent prestigious venuesin the capital.
The Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) is a fountain in Rome, Italy, located at the north end of the Piazza Navona.The fountain as it exists today was finally completed in 1878 by Antonio della Bitta, who added the imposing sculpture of "Neptune fighting with an octopus" and Gregorio Zappalà, who created the other sculptures, based on the mythological theme of the "Nereids with cupids and walruses".
The Trevi Fountain is a fountain in Rome was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci in 1732. Standing 86 ft high and 161 wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and perhaps the most famous fountain in the world. Taming of the waters is the theme of the sculptures assembled on the fountain... with Oceanus riding a shell chariot pulled by hippocamps (sea horses). In the niches flanking Oceanus, Abundance spills water from her urn and Salubrity holds a cup from which a snake drinks. Above, bas reliefs illustrate the Roman origin of the aqueducts in which a virgin discovered a new source of water which caused a new aqueduct to be built bringing the water to the spot where Trevi sits today.
The fountain was brought to worldwide attention when the film Three Coins in the Fountain was released in 1954. The story centered on the legend that if you toss a coin into the fountain with your right hand, over your left shoulder, while standing backwards, you will return to Rome someday. Originally, it was said that a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City. It gained more romantic popularity in 1960 with Federico Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita when Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni broke the rules and wet their passions in the fountain. Each night, the Roman Catholic charity Caritas collects the coins from the fountain, donating the cash to charities around the world. They collect well over $3000 a night from the fountain.
"The 'rhythm of Italian life is changing'. We Italians always thought of drinking alcoholic drinks, especially wine, as a something to have with food, and never would think of drinking to get drunk, as the binge drinking that is so prevalent in the United States. Getting drunk interferes with our Bella Figura. But now our young people are being influenced by Americans... by going to clubs frequented by young American tourists and students where they drink just to get drunk, and by watching American reality TV shows like Jersey Shore and others on MTV. Getting drunk is becoming fashionable for them. It's a threat to our way of life and cheapens the value most of us have in enjoying a great bottle of wine with a wonderful meal and friends."
I'd like the big picture window better if I could see my pizza baking a bit faster...
When we bought our house 17 years ago, we inherited a Whirlpool double wall oven... black glass front, very 1980s. We never had two ovens before so we thought it was great. Well, within a couple of years the upper oven failed. The repairman disconnected it and signed its Death Certificate and amputated its umbilical cord from its still breathing lower brother. It's been so long since we used two ovens at the same time that we couldn't even remember what it felt like.
Ok, fast forward to the last few months. We started getting error messages. Some were for overheating (I think), others were for Lord knows what, and still other warnings would beep furiously with the oven on, while it refused to let me shut it off. Things were getting scary. Visions of burning the house down were not pleasant. As each week went by, and with each pizza I baked, I got more and more paranoid about the situation!
Then I did some exploration to see what would be involved in replacing the ovens. I hated the whole idea since it was a premature and only partial dip into replacing our entire kitchen, which we desperately need to do (it needs a total rip out from the joists on up). Ok, so I'll see if I can fit a 27" oven into a cabinet designed for a 24" oven. It looked like I could, by a margin of 1 inch. Then I checked out the electric and discovered that some idiot--besides having installed an old glass fuse box inside one of the kitchen cabinets--had tapped the oven cables directly into the back of the fuse box sub panel for the kitchen. A real no-no, against Code and a fire hazard! In case there was a problem with the oven, I'd have to shut the entire kitchen subpanel down. Sigh. More reason to move forward urgently.
So, being the way I am (a pretty good DIYer with a "do it right" attitude), I figured this project just got bigger... I now had to install a brand new subpanel for the kitchen just so I could kill that old electric feed and connect the new wall ovens to a brand new 100 amp subpanel with breakers and not screw in fuses. I would never jeopardize my family's safety by tying it into the old electrical setup. No way.
This involved lots of planning (I've done all my own electric for over 40 years, but never installed a subpanel before), parts purchases, running very stiff, thick cable through a fairly complex cellar ceiling from one cellar into the other (our house used to be a two family... so we have two cellars)... and somehow fish the cable under the 6" of "crawl space" that was under our kitchen floor, and up and into the back of the cabinets.
Well, I did it all, over the course of a week. I got a friend to help lift the new wall ovens over a radiator and window stool which were against the right side of the cabinet--a very grueling and awkward install indeed. Thanks, Denny!
So, we got it up and running, tested the ovens by heating them up and burning off the factory oils (they sure do smoke a lot when you first turn them on) and was ready for the first real test... Pizza!
Ok, so the first fiasco was caused by me using a lower oven exclusively for years since I've been making my own pizzas. When I slid my metal pizza peel into the upper oven and pulled back, the rear of the pizza over-shot the back edge of my pizza stone and hung down and dripped toppings all over the back wall and bottom of our brand new, spanking clean, cobalt blue sparking oven interior! Che cazzo, I was mad at myself. Brand new oven with baked-on pizza toppings within the first hour! When I thought about how it happened, I realized that my arm was held a lot higher than I was used to and my shove-and-pull-back pizza peel technique was way off. Stupido, I thought to myself. (You can't believe how long it took for me the next morning to clean the mess and put the oven back into factory showroom condition.)
The second problem was my timing for the pizza was way off. My first try was a flat pizza cooked right on the stone... in the old oven it would take 3-5 minutes on 550 F. In this oven it took 18 minutes! Very frustrating.
So that was three pizzas ago (in our house, 1 week = one pizza since I make one every Saturday evening). The last two pizzas I did in my large round rimmed pan. Typical cooking time in the old oven was 15 minutes at 425 F. The first time I tried the pan pizza it wasn't baked until 35 minutes! The second time (last night) I thought,"Ok... preheat the oven longer so the pizza stone gets very hot." (I always bake pan pizzas sitting on a stone to help brown the bottom crust). The old oven would preheat within 35 minutes or so. I preheated the oven to 425 F for over an hour before putting the pizza in. I even used my new handy-dandy laser guided, instant read, digital thermometer to make sure the stone was hot enough. Yep... readings of 418 to 440 across the top of the stone said things were A-OK for pizza blast-off.
I expected the pizza to cook in my normal 15 minutes... but it took 25 minutes!
Sigh. This is frustrating. But I think I figured out what's going on. The old oven had an exposed lower heating element. This new fangled oven (both top and bottom) has hidden elements. The steel of the oven is masking and diffusing some of the heating elements effect on food. The other reason is the old oven required a 50 amp circuit breaker (lots of electrical juice going through the wires), while this one, being more efficient (it will save $$$) requires only a 40 amp breaker (less juice)... the end effect being that there is less electrical current converted to radiant heat in this oven. Less power means it's less efficient for baking.
So, I'm still learning how to use this oven. My next test will be to use the upper oven on convection mode (the lower one is a traditional radiant heat oven). Yet another test for pan pizza will be using one of my darker colored pans. I'm also going to read up on how to calibrate my ovens so I know that the temperature I set them to is as accurate as possible. The other ideas I've had is to try using my Emile Henry red ceramic pizza tray to bake on. If that doesn't work, I'll look for a dark colored pizza stone or have one made (slate? soapstone?) or buy a black steel plate I've seen some use for baking pizzas on.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Lisa baked two types of cookies for the very first time in the convection upper oven and (of course) her stuff came out beautiful. (sigh) She's in love with the oven! She's especially loving the fact that she could bake two half sheet pans of cookies at the same time in one oven without even having to turn them.
I'll give another report when I get things going a bit smoother for pizza baking... Gotta go. I'm a bit depressed so I'm getting out a cup of milk and one of Lisa's black and white cookies and a raisin oatmeal cookie... washing my cares away...
--Jerry Finzi, former Pizza Maestro
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