Saturday, December 17, 2011

BACK IN ITALY SOON TO OUR NEW HOME IN CITTA DELLA PIEVE



We will soon be returning to Italy to begin the enjoyable job of fitting out our new Italian home in Citta della Pieve. If you remember the photos I posted some time ago, there is nothing new about it, except that it is new to us! The cotto floors are very uneven and dip significantly, the thick stone walls are certainly not straight, and the chestnut timber ceiling beams are gnarled and aged - and it is absolutely beautiful, has wonderful character and we are very excited about the prospect of finding just the right vintage pieces to fill the rooms. 




Some items, like beautiful bed linens, favourite books and some gorgeous fabrics I have had made into curtains for the bedrooms, we will be sending via unaccompanied luggage, an expensive but speedy way to see our things in Italy. However the majority of items we will find by wandering the markets and antique shops in small villages and towns across Europe, and over the months our little house will become a home. I will post entries along the way. 



Like many villages across Italy, Citta della Pieve has the large old walls surrounding the perimeter of the original town. These walls were used for defence and protection of the villagers. Today newer buildings have spread beyond these walls as the village has outgrown its original footprint, but the place still has the feeling of its medieval origins. Perched high on a hill on the Umbrian Tuscan border, it is the perfect place to chill out (and yes it will be cold, so we are hoping the fireplace and heating work!) and relax before leaving for Cortina D'Ampezzo to run our biggest conference of the year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

OUR NUTCRACKER COLLECTION - 19YEARS IN THE MAKING!

Some of our Nutcracker collection
No two Nutcrackers are identical and they each have their own personalities
Traditions have a funny way of sneaking up on you, I feel. Many years ago when my younger son F was celebrating his very first Christmas, my parents gave him and his older brother O, a beautiful nutcracker after we had been listening to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The following year, they gave O & F another nutcracker for Christmas, and now 19 years later, they have given them one every year since, and as a family we have developed a wonderful Christmas tradition along the way! We have written the year under the base of each one, and no two are identical. Each year they make us laugh as they line up across the table to celebrate Christmas. Yearly we all repeat the same jokes - about the 'leanness'  of the year relating to the little nutcrackers or particularly skinny ones, or the success of the years relating to the fat/large ones. We each have our favourites, plus nick names for many of them, and they have now become part of the fabric of our family and a wonderful source of entertainment for us all. One day when O & F leave home we will split the collection, but whatever happens we will continue to add a new nutcracker each year. These 'little men' give us such delight for the 4 weeks they show their faces each year!  

Our Nutcrackers have become the only Christmas decoration we display each year as they have such visual impact!

They do actually crack nuts, with their movable mouth, but we rarely use them for this purpose!

This centre Nutcracker is our 2011 addition - our 19th one!! My favourite is on the left of this photo
I love a sparkle!

A FEW FAVOURITE PLACES TO EAT & DRINK IN FLORENCE




We were recently running a conference in Florence, and after many visits there over the years we have a few favourite places we visit to eat & drink.  

Life is too short for ordinary food ..... 
Choosing favourite places to eat & drink in any city is a very subjective thing - not just because the writer has particular preferences for food, interior decor & mood of a place, but also because one may have struck a place on a particularly good/bad occasion or chosen particularly well/badly from the menu. So listing the places I enjoy frequenting when we are in Florence means I am putting my neck out, but I am doing it anyway! My preference is always for good honest local food with simple but efficient service, as opposed to silver service - so these places are lovely, but certainly not glamorous. 

A delightful wine bar 
LE VOLPE E L'UVA (the fox & the grape) Piazza dei Rossi 
Whether you are a wine expert or novice you will enjoy sitting at the bar in this atmospheric enotecca which is situated between the Ponte Vecchio and the Pitti Palace. The sommeliers have collected a large variety of mostly Italian wines which are available by the glass, and together with a plate of local cheese and meats it is a perfect spot for a light lunch or dinner. We love that it attracts a local crowd who the friendly staff seem to know, so you don't feel like a tourist even though right in the midst of tourist central.   

Photo from www.levolpeeluva.com
A wonderful Panini Bar
DA'VINATTIERI Via Santa Margherita 4r  Conveniently located under a medieval vault in case of inclement weather, this tiny hole in the wall has exterior stools for seating. It sells very simple, local food - a good selection of panini and a few choices of bean/pasta dishes washed down with local wines by the glass. Fabulous for a short break in a tourist's busy day, but one that will reinvigorate you to continue the impossible task of seeing all that Florence has to offer. (A beautiful traditional leather shop is opposite - he hand crafts superb leather boxes by moulding them over timber blocks, so be sure to check it out also.)
A great bread shop 
CANTINETTA DEI VERRAZZANO Via Dei Tavolini 18/20R Not all Italian bread shops are created equal,  so make sure you go to the best! This one offers a very good cup of coffee, either standing at a beautiful marble bar or seated at tiny tables, many varieties of bread/tarts/cakes in the bread shop, or a small restaurant for a quick meal - but my favourite is the delectable seasonal foccacia served directly from the oven. It is a wonderful pit stop in the middle of the day, or simply a great place to buy fabulous bread for your meal.

Photo from www.verrazzano.com

A lovely restaurant to enjoy an intimate dinner
ORA D'ARIA Via dei Georgofili 11R
Located opposite the old jail, the name colloquially means 'hour of the air' and refers to an inmate's one hour of daily exercise time. In contrast to many of the traditional eating places in Florence, the menu at Ora D'Aria is modern and innovative. We find the environment quiet, and the decor contemporary and stylish - particularly the wonderful view of the open kitchen - it is a place worth luxuriating for awhile. A few weeks ago I read that Ora D'Aria received its first Michelin star, so if you are a foodie, then it is worth visiting for this.


A lovely (if noisy)Trattoria  
RISTORANTE IL LATINI 6r (Palazzo Rucellai) 50123 Firenze tel (+39) 055210916
We like this place even though I am warning you it is noisy, busy and can be quite raucous. The food is Tuscan favourites, served in good portions by happy waiters who like a chat. Rustic traditional food rules the menu and there is a good choice of options. The house wine served in chianti bottles is reasonable and well priced. 

Photo from www.illatini.com
A rustic Tuscan Trattoria
TRATTORIA ANGIOLINO Via Santo Spirito 36/R Recently we were lucky enough to coincide our Florentine visit with a good friend of mine from Sydney, and this is the place we all went for a lovely Tuscan meal of good pasta and vegetables. I know the place is known for its Bistecca Fiorentina, but I love the vegetables or a simple pasta dish, as a huge chunk of meat is rarely my thing. A traditional Tuscan menu and rustic simple tablecloths add to the simplicity of this place. 

Fabulous Gelateria
GROM Via del Campanile (and many other places in Italy as due to a fabulous product their popularity is spreading rapidly). There will be little disagreement with this choice as many people rate this Gelateria very highly. Inspired by the slow food movement, the gelati in this establishment is made with fresh seasonal fruits, no colorings or artificial additives and a host of other high ingredients. Flavours vary with seasons but are always interesting exciting and some of the most wonderfully intense tastes you can have. Queues can be very long but it is absolutely worth waiting for! At the same price as other ordinary establishments, why go anywhere else?  http://www.grom.it/eng/index.php



If you have some other places that you love to visit send me an email - I would love to try some of your recommendations.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

VISUAL IMPACT

As a Designer, I am wired to see the visual of life - be that in nature - the captivating light of sunset, and the variation of colour in autumn leaves, or in the built environment with architectural elements or clever product display/packaging. I also enjoy how a simple element such as colour, can have monumental impact. 
So I am adding some photos I have taken recently which I feet capture the 'visual' well. 

 This red & white striped shop is a butcher shop in Panzano Italy - certainly one which will not be missed, and I love how the mustard exterior of the neighbouring building compliments it.

Window display in a Roman shop - a strong visual impact to display watches by simply using coloured straws in perspex boxes

A shop selling paint powders in Venice displays them in purpose built timber boxes - the colour is a visual feast for passers by
This wisteria hanging in a private garden in Citta della Pieve Italy is magnificent


The shape of these security bars on these windows turns function into a feature


I love the architectural detail of the timber junctions and ceiling detail in this interior
The magnificently intricate Art Nouveau mosaics of Cafe Imperial in Prague. Built in 1914 it is certainly worth a coffee, wine or meal here so you can take in the beauty of the craftsmanship 

Ospedale degli Innocenti - Filippo Brunelleschi, 1419. (The hospital of the Innocents)


Located only a short walking distance from the main tourist attractions in Florence is a magnificent architectural building often missed by tourists, 'Ospedale deli Innocenti' (the hospital of the innocents). Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419 it is considered one of the early examples of Renaissance architecture.

This building began its life in 1445 as a foundling hospital (similar to a modern day orphanage) through the generosity of the silk merchants guild, one of the wealthiest guilds in Florence. The architectural importance of the building lies in the elegant nine bay colonnaded fa├žade, and its clear sense of proportion and order. The size, height, and distance between the columns contributed to the sense of regularity and geometric order which became an important element in Renaissance architecture. 



Above each column, is an intense blue glazed ceramic tondo designed by Andrea della Robbia in 1490, with a design that features a baby in swaddling clothes, a reference to the use of the building. Babies were anonymously left in a basin at one end of the portico, which was replaced in 1660 by a wheel that enabled babies to enter the building without the parent being seen. Above is a moving inscription in Latin taken from Psalm XXVI: "Pater et mater reliquerunt nos, Dominus autem assumpsit" – "Our father and mother have forsaken us, the Lord has taken us in".

The elegant colonnade on the facade of the building

The place where babies were anonymously abandoned.


I have visited this elegant building many times previously, but my recent visit was the first time I have been inside. The interior is as elegant and well proportioned as the exterior and houses a small but lovely art museum. 
A Beautiful painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) is one of the significant artworks housed in the museum
The interior courtyard is beautifully proportioned and has a serene calm about it


Friday, October 7, 2011

A HOME IN CITTA DELLA PIEVE, UMBRIA ITALY

For the past 2 years, L and I have been looking to buy a small home in Italy. One would think when you have an entire country in which to look, that the process would be reasonably easy. However it has proved rather tricky, for it is only after seeing places that are not suitable, can you clearly define the parameters of what is important in the quest for a home under the Italian sun. In the end we decided we could not compromise on the following factors - 
1.An old home with original characteristic appearance including terracotta floors, gnarled timber beams & thick stone walls
2.Within the old city walls of whatever place we chose
3.Within easy access to a major airport and close to major arterial roads
4.Local amenities such as restaurants and services within walking distance from the home. 
5.An area to be able to sit outdoors - a small balcony or a loggia, but somewhere to enjoy a wine in the Italian sun
6.Our limited budget! 
So, after looking at many different regions and countless houses in each of those regions, 6 months ago we found a small town called Citta Della Pieve on the Tuscan/Umbrian border and it is absolutely delightful. It ticked all of our boxes. In this town we looked at a quite a number of homes and then found one we fell in love with. After negotiations from Australia and a trip back to sign the initial contract, just over 6 months later, we have celebrated our first night here! And we couldn't be happier with our choice!


It is certainly characteristic, in a building which the previous owners told us was built around 1650. It was part of a large palazzo which was subdivided 20years ago and they restored it with simplicity and a light hand. It has been their holiday home for these 20years and their creative personalities have produced painted walls and ceilings in most of the rooms (not all will stay... but time will tell as to what replaces them). It has cotto (terracotta) floors which dip significantly all over, thick walls which are a long way from straight and monumental old timber beams to hold the ceiling up. It is not large and certainly not grand, but absolutely perfect for us, with a loggia (covered terrace) that has an arched terracotta roof and a sign embed on the wall which states it was restored in 1843. The view from where I sit as I write this post is out to the magnificent countryside and mountains in the surrounding area. I have no doubt we shall spend many hours in this exact spot working on our computers or simply sharing a glass of wine with each other.


So here are some photos -


The entry to the communal ingresso is the door shown here. Unlike any other places we looked at, over the past 2 yrs, this apartment is on the ground floor (therefore no stairs, which in Italy can be particularly onerous) yet the loggia (covered terrace) at the back is elevated one level due to the slope of the land - a perfect scenario really! 

 View from our loggia

 The loggia with beautiful old arched roof

The Living room with original fireplace (that we are told works very well) and paint colour that was reproduced from sample chips found under layers of other paint. Imperfect beautiful cotto floors and timber beams that have stood in place for almost half a millennia.  

 The previous owners painted the entry vestibule in precise detail. The 2nd bedroom entry is on the left of this photo and the living room entry is to the right.

 Our beautiful historic loggia

The view down the lane way outside the 2nd bedroom window 

Currently we are camping in a way - a new air bed mattress (which is surprisingly comfortable) and a table and chairs left by the previous owners are the sum total of our current furniture, but it couldn't be better as we are so delighted to call this piece of history our home.

There are definitely things that I would like to do to this home (all Designers like to stamp a place with their own ideas), but in the first instance we will just take it slowly and think. We intend to spend some months here in the beginning of 2012 so it will give us time to consider the choice of furnishings and to enjoy the process of gathering pieces that will make it our home and a reflection of us. I imagine it to have a collection of mismatched antique/2nd hand finds with personality, warmth and soul - not too perfect, but 'lived in' and real. Comfortable furniture to sink into and read a good book and a place to sit and relax while I beat L in a game of Scrabble, are also essential.

Winter is cold, and Summer is hot in this part of the world, so the interior choices will need to accommodate both ends of the climatic spectrum.  

So after 3 months here, from Christmas this year, and hopefully fully furnished with a collection of finds, this home will then be ready for holiday rental. With only one and a half hours by train to both Rome and Florence (we sit almost exactly half way between the two), it is a wonderfully central location to discover Italy and still relax in the laid back nature of the Italian countryside. In addition, one can sit on the loggia and enjoy the beautiful produce and wine from the surrounding region. 

La Vita e Bella! Carpe Diem!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

JERUSALEM - HISTORICAL, RELIGIOUS, DIVERSE

I am in Jerusalem for work and it is my first time here. It is culturally diverse, has deep historical & religious importance plus extremely complex geopolitical issues. So much of its history is alive and on display. Many religions see it as the epicentre of their beliefs... the stories differ somewhat ..... yet often they revere the same shrines of importance ....... surely this means our similarities are far closer than our differences, and somewhere we should be able to find a point to agree upon and respect each others differences.  

View of East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements 
A street in the Armenien quarter in the Old City - largely unchanged for centuries
Architecturally monumental Dome of the Rock in the Old City

 The seemingly unending views from the ancient Masada Palace in the Judean desert. In the midst of an arid hostile desert, this 2000+ year old palace was built on top of a plateau by Herod the Great, between 37 & 31 BCE. The isolated site encompasses an armoury, bath house, palace, storerooms to hold food for months and a sophisticated water aqua duct system. Masada is best known for the violence that occurred there in the first century CE where the Zealots were able to resist the might of the Roman army for 2 years, and in the end chose mass suicide rather than surrender.

A significant amount of this palace remained intact when it was excavated in 1963.

This star signifies the actual birth place of Jesus Christ underneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Jerusalem - even though there are large amounts of tourists visiting this shrine, the church and cave of the manger are very moving in their simplicity & religious significance.

A section of the wall in East Jerusalem which divides the city - incredibly sobering in its presence, dividing communities from each other, plus from education, health and commercial services. Until you see this for yourself and have someone explain the extent of it and its impact, no international news service can possibly make you understand the emotional, physical psychological & commercial impact this wall has already had and no doubt will continue to have in the future.
We can only hope......
The Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem
This photo was taken in the home of a Palestine Refugee in Sheikh Jarrah Jerusalem, where they have to maintain 24hr vigil in their home to retain possession 
The remains of 2 different synagogues in Capernaum which is situated on the Sea of Galilee. The Bible cites this as the home of Jesus after he left Nazareth. The black basalt rock in this photo is the remains of the synagogue which Jesus is said to have taught in.   

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Food Markets in Italy

I am back in Italy for work and as always, it is wonderful to be here. One of the first things we always do, no matter which Italian city we arrive in, is to take an early morning walk to the local food markets. A fix of local produce always satisfies - the gorgeous looking fruit that is every bit as tasty as it appears, the fabulous array of cheese, in particular Buffalo Mozzarella which is undoubtedly my favourite, and the wonderful prosciutto and meats - all these things are definitely on my shopping list. Food markets in any city are some of the best places to wander, not just to see the produce but to also engage in the local life, as unlike the major monuments, churches and museums, markets always have more locals than tourists. 









And as a Designer, I do love this amazing attention to detail in regards to presentation! How beautiful do these food products look! I mean it is only lentils/dried beans/paprika etc but they look like something an artist would paint masterpieces with. Presenting spices with artfully cut pyramid shapes, or figs with beautiful leaves to separate them so that each individual one is special - it makes food an art form and eating an event. I think this is so integral to the Italian way of life and I feel goes a long way to negating the whole concept of fast food, over eating and long term cold storage of produce. 


Some of the Food Markets to visit in major Italian cities are
RomeCampo dei Fiori - Piazza Campa de' Fiori - morning fruit veg & flower markets
FlorenceSan Lorenzo Market - Piazza S. Lorenzo to Via dell'Ariento, around Basillica San Lorenzo, & Sant' Ambrogio Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant'Ambrogio, the market is both indoor and outdoor - smaller than San Lorenzo but probably more local customers 
Venice: Rialto Food Markets amazing Fish Fruit and Meat (previously mentioned on this blog)