Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arezzo Antique Market - a fabulous way to spend the day!!

Arezzo's monthly antique market is definitely one of Italy's best Antique markets. Held on the weekend of the first Sunday of the month, it is a wonderfully eclectic mix of furniture, art, vintage textiles and bric a brac. One of our favourite activities is to wander it on a Saturday morning and over our many visits, we have developed a ritual for the day - we arrive early (more choice), have  a quick espresso or 2, before wandering all the streets ensuring we visit our favourite stalls, then around 1pm, stop for lunch at Osteria L'Agania, a simple trattoria with a changing seasonal menu of locally produced product. On this visit to Osteria L'Agania we ate home made pasta with generous quantities of fresh truffles shaved over the top, and the most delicious fresh porcini mushrooms we have ever tasted - prepared by simply frying them. We were told that this season of porcini mushrooms has been one of the best ever and my taste buds can certainly testify to this.  

This particular visit coincided with an art festival in the city which presented itself in delightfully obtuse and unexpected installations - one a huge cascading waterfall of books from the window of a building in the main mall, another a sea of old clothes strung high in the ceiling space of the colonnade around the main piazza. I love the fact that Italy allows young artists the opportunity to display their art in such a public forum - these pieces often push the boundaries of what many may consider art to be, but that is exactly the point - it continues the discussion about culture and engages a wider audience. Without doubt it injected a sense of fun, fascination and enquiry into the city of Arezzo - and in the end this creates public spaces with a wonderfully inclusive vibe.

Some market visits are more fruitful than others, but we always manage to find something that makes its way back to our home in Citta della Pieve. On July's visit we bought far more than we intended but are thrilled with our unexpected purchase! For the past 2yrs we always visit a stall holder in the main piazza who often stocks refurbished old carpenter's workbenches ready to begin a new life as a table or console. Although not really in need of a new kitchen table, this weekend, the price and the quality of the work bench he had totally captivated us, so early Sunday morning, it was delivered into our kitchen....and it looks spectacular!! We have had a piece of glass made for the top, to cover the recesses for the carpenter's tools to become a supremely gorgeous & practical kitchen table. The 2 original vices are still in place, and the cut out recesses for upturned tools and the solidity of the timber would all no doubt have many a story to tell. It is this table's history and previous working life that we totally love.

We also managed to find another 2 pieces of artwork for our ever growing gallery walls in both our bedroom and living room - all of €15 each, they are framed in elaborate gilt frames, and bought from one of our favourite stalls, (the main reason we always arrive early on a Saturday is to get first pick of this stall holders artworks as they are always interesting and well priced!) Individually, none of  the art pieces are especially grand, but en-masse they make a beautiful mosaic gallery wall.

Many of the pieces in our Citta della Pieve home have come from this excellent monthly antique market and a significant part of the fun was the hunt to discover and uncover.
Arezzo was hosting a art installation across the whole city, and the hanging clothes in the background of this photo are part of this
An Art installation in the portico of the main Piazza
Our new kitchen table! The history of this piece compliments our centuries old
apartment and we are thrilled with this purchase
Unfortunately I missed out on this antique marble font with pedestal (should have visited before lunch!),However  I intend to watch for another in the future as it would make a sensational powder room sink. The price was not much more than a ordinary white porcelain one.  Obviously though the trick is getting it back to Australia!
Timber doors from an old convent - € 300 for the pair they were really beautiful and I thought good
value with a wonderful story to tell
Our regular lunch venue - delicious seasonal food
Home made pasta with shaved fresh truffle - delicious!
Fried fresh Porcini mushrooms with Tuscan white beans - food doesn't get much better than this! 
Product changes regularly but there is always treasure waiting to be discovered
A wonderfully fun book sculpture - part of the art installations throughout the city of Arezzo
And here is the finished product in our kitchen at Citta della Pieve - we are thrilled with the results
Another shot of our new, but very old, kitchen table in situ

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gorgeous Lake Como - Lago di Como

There are many superb places in our wonderful world - beautiful vistas with magical serenity that make one truly grateful to be alive, well Lago di Como, Italy's 3rd largest lake just north of Milan is without doubt one of the best of them. 

We have just spent 10days in this heaven on earth, running our tri-yearly conference. It was spectacular with the perfectly predictable warm summer weather, and many thoroughly enjoyable events. Aside from a very good academic program, our week was non stop with a plethora of social activities which included walking tours of Como city, local wine & cheese tastings, shopping to the Amani factory store in Vertemente (worth going to as several years ago they tripled the size of the outlet & now stock all forms of Armani clothing - however some visits are more fruitful than others) and a visit to Fox Town outlet centre in Switzerland. No visit to Lake Como is complete without dinner at Isola Comincina, the lake's only island. 

We were also lucky enough to secure tickets to see Wagner's Siegfried Opera at Teatro La Scala in Milan, the original opera house on which all others have been modeled. At 6hrs long I will admit I thought it may be too much for a non Wagner aficionado, however it all passed in a moment and was truly spectacular - for music buffs, the conductor was renown Daniel Barenboim so the music was especially incredible. I am not sure if I will ever get this opportunity again so I am thrilled to have experienced this amazing opera.  

We also had a small private dinner at Villa d'Este and were lucky enough to be seated a metre from the dock when the gorgeous George Clooney arrived for dinner (more gorgeous in real life than any movie delivers!) - sitting under the trees lakeside at Villa d'Este is a wonderful way to spend the evening with delicious food and a magical outlook. At Bellagio we visited the gardens of Villa Melzi built in 1808-1810 as the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d'Eril, Duke of Lodi and vice president of the Italian Republic with Napoleon. Superb landscaped gardens with plants from all corners of the globe, these gardens are rather mesmerising to wander in.

We are often asked where in all of the places we run our conferences, is our favourite venue. It is a question impossible to answer as each place is special for its own reasons, but Lake Como is spectacularly beautiful, incredibly serene and certainly as many activities as we run, it never seems like work!  
Cernobbio Lake Como taken from the balcony of a room in Hotel Regina Olga

Hotel Regina Olga
Gorgeous Bellagio

Sumptuous Gardens of Villa Melzi 

The Villa owned by Richard Branson is only accessible via boat. It is available for rental at an exorbitant weekly rate!

Teatro La Scala Milan

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Punta Della Dogana Venice

On a recent trip to Venice, I visited the art of the Francois Pinault collection in the Punta Della Dogana. Although this is a massive and impressive contemporary art collection, I was particularly interested in viewing the building to see the architecture of Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The building, which literally translates to "Point of the Customs", was for centuries, Venice's custom house and is located on the triangular section where the Grand Canal meets the Guidecca Canal, next to the church of Santa Maria Salute.

Opened as art gallery since 2009, the refurbishment spectacularly strikes a balance between simplicity  and complexity in this ancient space. Filtered light and well placed volumistic voids, for which Ando is well known, are used to create a incredibly serene mood. The gallery feels almost monastic. The limited palate of materials - timber, brick, concrete and glass, places reverence on the art works contained within. It is a very considered refurbishment of the space which highlights its past whilst focusing on the future - quite magical and I feel privileged to have enjoyed it for a few hours. Inspirational architecture at its very best.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"Osteria La Zucca" Venice - my favourite restaurant

I always think of my "foodie" friend Monique when I visit a restaurant multiple times! She is such a "foodie" that she is able to name the head chef of a restaurant like I can name architects of buildings, and as such, when she travels she likes to have many different cuisine experiences. I however, will return again and again to the same restaurant and even have the same meal if I love it - when you are on a good thing.... Such was my recent experience in Venice - 3 nights in the city and 3 nights of going to my favourite restaurant, "Osteria La Zucca" to have their famous "flan di zucca" (pumpkin flan). It doesn't really get much better I think - a light mousse-like pumpkin flan with a hint of nutmeg & cinnamon and aged ricotta grated over the top - I actually had to resist having it for both entree and main!

Venice Biennale 2013

It is amazing the impact that simple paint, (or one dimensional stick-on decals), can have on a space - but that is the power of good design. I recently visited the Venice Biennale and spent a wonderfully enjoyable day being inspired by the various exhibitors from each country. The exhibition space in Venice's Giardini was a green oasis on a very hot Venetian summer day and the perfect place to get lost in thought and exhilarated by art and installations. The cafe in the grounds was similarly impressive - designed by German artist Tobias Rehberger it is an incredible use of paint and colour that bends, twists and moves throughout the space. Futuristism meets Op art, the optical juxaposition creates a vibrant  dynamic space and is proof that everyday spaces can be inspiring, stimulating and exciting.

Another wonderful work was the art of Susan Szu in the American pavilion. Her detailed assemblage of balance, shape and colour is an elaborate take on an artists workshop and one could spend hours deciphering the meaning of the pieces. Each room consisted of hundreds of intricate items that moved with the aid of wind or water and engaged the viewer in an intimate personal encounter. 

Susan Sze's installation in the American pavilion