Tag Archives: Milan

C’era una volta

On Sunday, we drove out of Milan toward the northern lake country, for one of my favorite days of the trip, the “medieval dinner.”  Our bus barely made it up the steep gravel roads and dropped us off in front of the gates of a large stone house, where we were warmly welcomed by Elena, the owner, who immediately ushered us inside.  As we warmed ourselves in the spacious living room, adorned with interesting artwork, she recounted us the story of the house and her family’s relationship with it.

medieval house

outside i Vallicelli

Known as i Vallicelli, the house has records dating back to the early 1500s, which describe all of its past residents and their professions, although there are structural indications that the building existed since the 1000s.  Elena had moved into the house with her husband when she was younger, and the historic building and the surrounding natural beauty inspired her.  The property was almost a miniature natural preserve, with various wildlife and fruit trees, and when her children were born, she began making homemade jams.  This hobby has since expanded, and our tour of the house next led to the modern kitchens and storerooms, where the incredibly delicious preserves are now concocted and packaged.

also raspberry jam on the side, yum.

orange tart, the final dessert

After our introduction to the charming property was complete, we began the real business of the day–a feast.  The marathon meal (which would last about 4 hours in total), began with light appetizers: breads, regional cheeses and salami, tomato and olive pastes, and some of the homemade preserves.  Each course had been paired with a specific wine selected by a sommelier, and we clinked glasses for our first brindisi with a sparkling rosé.  Moving to the table, we began the first course, two types of quiche, one onion, and the other ricotta and spinach, accompanied by Pinot Bianco. We switched to red wine for the main course: beef, marinated in wine and spices for a week, and polenta, which had been cooking in an iron pot over the open fire since we had arrived.

polenta

polenta on the fire

By the time the vegetables arrived, we were all wondering if we would physically be able to survive the massive meal, but the cheesy cauliflower was too good to pass up.  Finally we were served a dessert wine, and made it to the final course, but there were two different desserts to finish: spiced wine-soaked pears, and an orange tart. Despite the fact that we finished off the meal with espresso, everyone was asleep about 5 minutes after we settled onto the bus…exhausted by the portions, and dreaming of polenta.

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Food, Slowly

On Saturday, the first full day in Italy, we left Milan and drove through the snow-dusted countryside to Pollenzo, a small town which is home to the Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche, the relatively new gastronomic science university associated with the Slow Food movement. We took a short tour of the university itself, which offers seemingly too good-to-be-true courses on things like “cheese” and “food marketing” and both undergraduate and graduate degrees in gastronomy, and food culture, communications, and science (it’s not actually a culinary school, where any practical cooking takes place though). There was even a “sensory room,” for performing tests on different types and ingredients of food, including, naturally, taste tests. The complex also houses the Banca del Vino, a literal “wine bank” which stores cases of promising modern wines from Italian vintners to stand the test of time.

Gastro University

University of Gastronomic Sciences

The highlight of the visit to campus was a meeting with Carlo Petrini, the president of the Slow Food Movement, which is an international movement, that in addition to countering the modern plague of fast food and highly processed ingredients, seeks to promote sustainable and fair agriculture and a return to local, fresh, traditional recipes and ingredients, to be cultivated, prepared, and enjoyed with care and appreciation. Petrini spent most of the day with us, lecturing a bit on the history of the site, sharing a meal and casual conversation, and presenting a video on the principles of Slow Food, which was both thought-provoking and inspiring. His message really resonated with me, and still has me thinking about the importance of food in our lives, both culturally and nutritionally, and how many different aspects of society the seemingly simple act of eating touches–from science to business and international economics.

No visit to the Slow Food headquarters would be complete without a meal, however, so we spent a large part of our visit in the restaurant on campus, for a multiple course lunch. The menu: vitello tonnato (cold veal with tuna pate), flan di broccoli con fonduta (broccoli flan with cheese sauce), tajarin al sugo di salsiccia di Bra (Piemontese pasta with meat sauce), and panna cotta. The pasta, traditional to the region, was homemade with 40 egg yolks per 2 pounds of flour!

so much more delicious than it looks

incredible panna cotta

The panna cotta was indisputably the most impressive part of the meal, however, a sweet creamy dessert, with an indescribably light yet rich consistency, somewhere between the feel of sour cream and pudding, with caramel drizzled over the top…definitely something to be enjoyed slowly.

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La Vita alla Milanese

Only an hour after I finished my last fall semester exam on Thursday, I was headed to Newark airport with the rest of my Italian seminar (since down time is for the weak). We arrived in Milan on Friday morning, and checked into a lovely four star hotel (thanks, Princeton!) in the neighborhood near the Stazione Centrale, coincidentally enough on the exact same street I stayed on two weeks ago. The first thing I did in Milan was to break one of my cardinal rules of travel–I napped for 5 hours. Usually I subscribe to the theory that jet-lag is best avoided by staying up and going to bed at a normal time in the new time zone, but this time I just couldn’t resist.

La Scala opera house

La Scala opera house

Five hours later, I struggled out of bed, along with my fellow napping classmates, tried to put on something classy-looking and headed out for a night “alla Milanese”, at La Scala, the famous opera house, where we saw a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. Our seats were far, far up in the Galleria, basically the furthest away seats that can be bought, but we still were able to see the stage fairly well, especially if we stood up occasionally. And in front of our seats, tiny screens displayed the words being sung, either in Italian or an English translation to make it easier to follow along and understand the plot. I certainly didn’t expect it to be disappointing, but I was still surprised how much I enjoyed the show–the costumes and sets were exquisite as well as the singers, and the plot was fairly fast-paced. 

in La Scala...just before they told me not to take photos

Overall an unforgettably impressive night on the town. During the two thirty-minute intermissions we were able to mingle and buy drinks with the other opera-goers (many of whom were wearing their furs). It felt like quite a local night in the city of fashion, and a cocktail afterward across the street from the hotel finished it off, ensuring that I got a restful 8 hours of sleep, even after the long nap.

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Ciao, For Now

During our last full day in Sardinia we made the long drive from Cagliari, which is far in the south, all the way up the east coast back to Olbia. Along the way we passed through the mountainous regions, even catching glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the center of the island. The road, known as l’Orientale, also took us through some incredible towns that seemed to barely cling to the sides of the mountains, where the side streets were pericolosissimi–not only was there barely enough room for one little Fiat on the two-way streets (which people natually parked on anyway), but they twisted around blind curves, and were unbelievably steep. One such town we drove through was Orgosolo, famous for its beautiful and fascinating murals, many of which comment on life in Sardinia.

welcome to Orgosolo

welcome to Orgosolo

Olbia, when we finally arrived, was much more charming than my guidebooks had made it sound, but was another town that I could tell would be unpleasantly swarming with tourists in the summer (and way out of my price range, since it’s close to the posh Costa Smeralda resort area). Now, during the off-season, it was calm and pretty, perfect for window-shopping in the expensive stores, and wandering down the quiet alleyways and along the shore.

Olbia in the morning

I felt like we had just arrived, and it was hard to give up the keys to the rental car, but soon we were landing again in freezing Milan, after having enjoyed the mild weather of the Mediterranean (it was in the 60s for most of the week). During the last 15 hours in Milano, we toured La Scala opera house, and wandered around the fashion district a bit, returning to our new favorite Asian-run Italian restaurant for one last pizza. I’ll be back before long though…I’m returning to la bell’Italia with my Italian Slow Food seminar in just two weeks! We’ll be leaving on the 21st of January, and I’m looking forward to seeing Milan again, as well as journeying on to Bologna and Naples…so look forward to more blogging coming soon! I’m in the process of adding the most recent trip photos to my Shutterfly site, so continue to check back for a closer look.

Buon 2010

a Milan office building wishing a happy new year

Update: As of the evening of Jan. 8, the new album is all up.  Enjoy!

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I Can See Fireworks from my Bedroom Window

Though all of you in the States have several hours left to go…happy new year!  I have officially been living in 2010 for almost an hour now.  After thawing out from the afternoon walk, we went to dinner at an interesting neighborhood restaurant, which served authentic Italian fare, owned, served, and prepared by a Chinese family.  But we knew it would be a good choice as soon as we saw the crowds of locals around us, many enjoying a traditional good luck multiple-course New Year’s Eve dinner of “seven seafoods.”  We stuck with massive hearty pizzas and limoncello to warm us up instead.

light show!

twinkling lights on the Castello Sforzesco

After dinner, we took the metro to the Piazza Duomo to check out the festivities downtown, and as soon as we emerged from the underground it looked and sounded (and sometimes felt!) like we had suddenly come upon a war zone. Firecrackers were whizzing through the air, and popping up suddenly underfoot, or exploding so closely nearby that our ears were ringing. The whole area was absolutely mad, but the locals seemed used to it, walking their dogs and children around despite near misses with mild explosives. We braved the scene for awhile and admired the musically coordinated lights display on the face of Castello Sforzesco.

sidewalk fireworks

Don't try this at home, kids.

We headed back to the hotel just before midnight…the perfect time to catch a viewing of the excellent neighborhood fireworks display.  Opening the hotel windows we could turn one way and watch the restauranteurs from earlier in the night setting off fireworks and in the other direction was another huge set…the kind that I definitely think would be illegal for private use in the States: set up on the sidewalk and shooting way up into the air to explode right above the apartments across the street.  Cheers!

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

The three of us arrived in Milan this morning after a long but uneventful plane ride, and set off almost immediately to beat jet lag by tackling the city on foot.  I was shocked to discover how freezing it was as we walked (not sure why this surprised me, since we flew in over snow-capped mountain peaks), but the weather was bone-chilling, especially because I’ve packed primarily for the more temperate Sardinian climate.  The holiday decorations around town were cheery though, even on this dull and foggy day.  Colored lights adorned many of the trees, and hung over the streets, and twinkled on the ceiling of the Galleria shopping area, where oversized mistletoe hung.  In the fashion district, posh store windows displayed holiday cheer, and little fabic-covered Fiats served as planters for light-covered trees.  Inside the famous and spectacular Duomo were several small nativity scenes, and in front an enormous Christmas tree decorated by Tiffany’s.

holiday cheer

holiday cheer on a foggy day in Milan

Aside from admiring these typical Milan sights–the Duomo, La Scala, the fashion district, Castello Sforzesco–we also happened upon some fun holiday street markets.  Not far from the Duomo were the Mercatini di Natale, where traditional candies, pastries, meats, and cheeses, were sold alongside jewelry, pottery, dolls and cold-weather clothing for unprepared travelers.
merry, merry!

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