Wednesday 25 December 2013

Wishes do come true in Bormio

This Christmas as we were going to be far from friends and family for the first time in many years, we wished for something very different. Our wish was for a white Christmas, staying in a cosy hotel with lots of skiing so we could work up an appetite for some delicious Italian food. We loved Bormio when we visited in summer, so we thought we'd return to this famous Italian skiing village. 
Stefano's lovely work colleague, Sylvia, comes from Bormio, so we asked her for a recommendation about where to stay. Without hesitating Sylvia suggested the beautiful traditional albergo, San Lorenzo. It is very close to the centre of town and although Sylvia hadn't stayed there, she had heard good reports about the food. 

Our plan was to work up an appetite on the slopes. Initially we were worried about this plan as there wasn't a lot of snow in the town, but there was plenty on the mountain. Great skiing every day, just as we'd wished for. 
Christmas Eve wasn't quite white, but it was memorable. 
After a delicious seven-course dinner at the hotel, we took a stroll through the streets of Bormio to find a church Sylvia had told us about, where an all-male choir sang unaccompanied. Stefano managed to quickly snap a photo at the end of Mass but we really wished that we'd been able to record the spectacular singing. 
And then, on Christmas Day it snowed!
And on Boxing Day, which is actually Sant Stefano's feast day, it snowed even more!
So much so that we wished it would stop - it was pretty hard going on the old girl's legs! 
And then on our last day, even that wish came true!
The sun shone. The snow stopped. We skied in perfect conditions and 
caught a glimpse of the competitors training for the first World Cup downhill race of the season.
The end to a wonderful week in Bormio. 
Vi vediamo ancora Bormio.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Sparkling Milano!

The feast day of Sant Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan, falls on the seventh of December and signals the traditional start of the festive season.  Just like magic, Milan morphs into a more glamorous, sparkling, Christmassy city.
Dome of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Christmas market beside the Duomo.
On this magical date the opera season at La Scala kicks off.  Even if you can't get a ticket to the opening night, everyone can join in the fun by watching the performance live on the huge screens hanging from the sparkling ceiling of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Only the very rich and very famous go through the archway into La Scala on opening night.
It's not just the shops that put up their decorations in time for the feast of Sant Ambrogio. This tradition also applies to families who often spend the feast day decorating their trees before heading off to the city centre to marvel at the giant Christmas tree in the Piazza del Duomo.
Christmas lights along via Manzoni
Window displays in Milan are spectacular. Along the streets of the Quadrilatero d'Oro the shop windows are breathtakingly beautiful. It's expected that during December the Milanese will make their evening passeggiata past the shops to soak up the festive atmosphere, but there's no expectation that anyone will actually enter to buy.
Incredibly lavish window display by Dolce and Gabbana.
Miniature displays of those sweet blue boxes in the window at Tiffanys.
The place to buy all things Christmassy are the markets. In the days leading up to the feast of Sant Ambrogio  three Christmas markets  attract huge crowds: L'Artigiano in Fiera, the Christmas food markets around the Duomo and the traditional O Bej! O Bej! market which circles the Castello Sforzesco.
O Bej! O Bej! market at the castle.
And to really make sure that everyone's feeling the Christmas spirit there's a festival for Milan's signature Christmas cake, panettone. The panettone festival is the place to taste a huge variety of this delicious type of fruit bread / cake before purchasing one, or many, to share with friends.

There's even a very tempting gelati-filled panettone. Possibly a little too large for Stefano and I to demolish?
They do Christmas well in Milano.
Buon Natale!

Thursday 5 December 2013

Public displays of affection

Last week I had coffee with an Australian friend, Emily, who is studying in Milan. As we swapped stories about confusing Italian verb tenses, where to find the best chocolate spoons in Northern Italy, and where NOT to sit when you go to a calcio (football) match at San Siro, I mentioned a quirky Milanese bar, Wineria, that I'd read about online. 
Stefano thought it was more for the 'younger set' so I suggested that Emily might like to give it a try on a Wednesday night with her friends from Uni. Why a Wednesday night? Well at Wineria, on Wednesdays in November and December, the first glass of wine is free, well almost free, you pay with a kiss.  Here's how it works...(If you don't see a YouTube clip here just google Wineria Milano on YouTube. It will make you smile.)
Promoting wine and love, how very Italian!  And public displays of affection, well that's even more Italian! A few weeks ago we visited one of Italy's most romantic cities, Verona. So romantic, in fact, that public displays of affection (PDAs), in one particular area of the city, are now strictly controlled by the local council. But more about that later.

Stefano's sister Monica, brother-in-law Paul, and their son Xavi, had been staying with us in Milan, so they joined us for a long weekend in Verona. Paul and Monica have visited Italy many times always accompanied by their classic guidebook, Earl Steinbicker's Walks of Italy.  Following Earl's suggested route, Paul led the way through the pretty cobblestone streets of Verona.  Although our first day was chilly and grey, Verona still sparkled.

Our apartments were just around the corner from the beautiful Piazza delle Erbe. Although we ate out at lunchtime, we were very glad to stay in and cook dinner together each night, only venturing into the cold night air for yes, you guessed it, gelato!
Over our long weekend the weather brightened and we enjoyed some gloriously, crisp autumn weather which was perfect for exploring Verona's Roman Arena.
After enjoying the views and imagining what it would be like to attend an opera there in the summer, we took to the trail again to complete the recommended sights on Steinbicker's walk.
We faithfully followed Paul and his guide over our two days of walking around Verona till there was only one site left to visit - casa da Giulietta.  There we discovered that Juliet's house is now subject to strict controls by council to manage all public displays of affection.
The tunnel leading to the courtyard of casa di Giulietta is heavily graffited with the usual hearts and initials, and in the courtyard, just beside the famous balcony, a metal grill is filled with small padlocks. These new traditions of announcing one's undying love have been officially sanctioned by the local council in an attempt to manage the less attractive method of publicly displaying affection by sticking love letters to the walls of Juliet's house with chewing gum. To combat such sticky PDAs the council employs guards to police the courtyard and issue fines of 500 Euros to anyone writing on the house or pasting anything sweetly sticky on the walls.
The council controls seem to be working as the house looked clean. The guards on duty kept a watchful eye on all visitors queuing to fondle Juliet's right breast, another strange tradition that's evolved at this Italian home of love. So after a quick wander through the courtyard leaving all breasts, paddlocks and grafitti walls untouched, there was only one more thing to do before we caught the train back to Milano.  As it was Domenica, we had to follow the Italian tradition of pranzo con la famiglia
Our thanks to Monica, Paul and Xavi for wonderful company, great apartment selection and trusty guiding through the streets of Verona.  Thanks also to Steinbicker for another great walk in Italy.

Ci vediamo prossima volta a Parma.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Primo giorno per Xavi

As Milan is only a six hour flight from New York, Monica, Paul and Xavi visited last week for an autumn break. Although they arrived at lunchtime it was a busy first day for Xavi.
First a quick stroll to the local train.
A quick refuel on piccola pasticceria,

then on to Parco Sempione for a strange Italian rope-balancing game.
After an exciting ride home on the tram

it was easy to eat hands-free pizza while watching Peppa Pig.
And of course it's never too late to finish the day with a quick gelato from the local gelateria.

Grazie Xavi per un grande primo giorno a Milano da tua zia e lo zio.