Monday, February 19, 2018

Civitavecchia for the day- Voicemap audio guide

having lunch  in Civitavecchia 
Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, with its 2,000 years of history, is a complicated city.

Founded by Emperor Trajan,  it was continuously attacked by  Saracen pirates  during the Middle Ages. This caused the inhabitants  to flee  the coast in favor of  a safer site further inland where Pope Leo had a new town built. But  by the 1500s  it   was beset by malaria and plague  and the  remaining inhabitants returned to their old city  on the sea - "Civita Vecchia"  -which literally means "old city".

Civitavecchia today-   Da Baffone

Heavily bombed  during WWII,  the city  is now undergoing a boom as the top   port of the Mediterranean with over 2 million visitors arriving  during the cruise season of April to November.

The  Visitors' Center and  system of   transportation within the port and the town  are presently being updated  to become  more "user friendly"  just in time for the cruise season of  2018 .

It  was the right time for  an audio guide to help   cruisers and crews  enjoy their day  ashore in Civitavecchia.

 When the   team contacted me from Capetown, South Africa  suggesting I write and produce  an  audio guide to  use  with Smartphone and Google technology, I hesitated since I am not  a techie .

  Thanks to  the technical help  from  my South African team and  a group of local friends who want to promote their city,  the audio guide "Stories and Secrets of Civitavecchia" it is now a reality.
Some of the local fellows  who   helped  with  the audio guide 

The  app  for Civitavecchia will be a boon to  those who dock in town for   the day and want to explore the city  on their own. 

This is especially  important  during the  hot summer days when  many older cruisers  find it exhausting  to take the bus or train  all the way in to Rome.
 Now they can stay local and enjoy a leisurely   guided walk close to their cruise dock.

visiting the fish market 
One downloads the app on  a Smartphone  and then chooses  the city  and itinerary desired. 

Following the instructions  and map visitors  now have  a new way to explore  the city,  on their own . 

Raphael paintings discovered in a private home. Piazza Leandra 
 My voice  and  Google tehcnology   accompany  visitors  and help them  find  their way as they explore  the hidden corners, courtyards and  markets of  Civitavecchia.

 We will walk through  the quaint historic center, see sites and  hear  stories of Japanese samurai, the artists and architects  (Raphael, Michelangelo,Bramante) who built  its Renaissance treasures, the wars and troubles, as well as the best place for a gelato. 

With archeologist Francesca Pontani (right) , inside the Raphael room.

"Stories and Secrets of Civitavecchia"  with Mary Jane Cryan 
Try  it  now, listen to the first  locations, and bookmark  to download  when you are on your cruise
              Also  available "Stories and Secrets of Viterbo"  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving at Tuscania's 12th century San Giusto Abbey

Whether you have been in Italy for  a few weeks or  for fifty years,   old traditions and seasonal treats are never forgotten. 

Thanksgiving   is perhaps the best loved American tradition for it means  getting together with family and friends, relaxing and enjoying  good food and music.   

 Refectory, Abbazia di San Giusto, Tuscania 
tower  and cloister,  San Giusto Abbey 

 A few years ago  the culinaryconcierge team of Mark and Ginger Medina-Rios  brought  the  traditional Thanksgiving  meal  to Tuscania   and now  it is a consolidated  “happening” loved by both expats, visiting Americans  and local  Italians. 

This year both lunch and dinner sittings  were offered along with  a few special twists and  additions.  

The rectory of the  magnificent 12th century  Abbey of San Giusto, hidden in the Marta river  valley  near Tuscania  was the setting for the  Thanksgiving meal  and entertainment. 

 Recently restored after centuries of abandonment, the Abbey is now  a splendid example of  medieval religious  architecture  where the church, cloister, refectory, and abbey rooms have been  returned to their simple, original splendor.
Ginger  with some of the guests 

guests from Tuscania, Vetralla, Castel Cellesi 
 After  admiring  the  Abbey and its  resident cats and donkeys, the guests who arrived from as far away as  USA, UK, Rome, Orvieto, Orte   and towns in-between, were lured into the Refectory by the sound of music  and the perfumes  emanating  from Mark’s kitchen. 
Some of the Orvieto group 

musicians from Montefiascone 
serving mulled wine 

Under  the  high ceilings of the refectory   appetizers, mulled wine and  aperitivi  were enjoyed along with ethnic and   folk music   by  instrumentalists of  Minima Mysticanza  from Montefiascone.

Mark and  Ginger, along with  a small   team of helpers,  orchestrated  the  luncheon and evening meals  to perfection.
Mark carves the turkey 
 The location, the history behind the monastic complex, the music and good will  all added  to the special atmosphere. 

As plates of delicious food  and bottles of wine from the Sergio Mottura vineyards  were passed back and forth along the long  tables, strangers  became friends,  connections were made and consolidated . 
 The  monks who inhabited these halls  hundreds of years ago  had never tasted most of the foods  offered: pumpkins, turkey and sweet potatoes  had still to arrive from the New World.

mini pumpkin pies 

and then the dancing began 
The afternoon evolved with guests enjoying  mini pumpkin  pies and some even added to  the  entertainment   dancing  the tango, jigs and reels .

More about the history of the  San Giusto abbey    at this link and in  the book
see chapter "Mysterious Sites of N. Lazio"

 Signed copies can be ordered directly from the website .

Monday, October 30, 2017

Special Women of Castello Ruspoli

    Yesterday  I was honored to be among the music loving guests gathered at Castello Ruspoli in Vignanello for  luncheon and concert of the 9th international  prize for Baroque singing  and musical studies. 
I have often written about this  castle,  one of central Italy’s  most  significant historical properties, that has been in the same family since 1531.
Donna Giada and  Manola at castle entance
brick floors  spina di pesce16th century

imposing facade of Castello Ruspoli, Vignanello 

It was the first visit  since my  discovery in a local church of the only portrait of  an infamous ancestor of the Marescotti-Ruspoli family, Ortensia Farnese. The story of Ortensia’s  nefarious deeds   is narrated in my recently published  “The Painted Palazzo/Il Palazzo Dipinto” , the 7th publication dedicated to the  Tuscia/Etruria  area here in central Italy.  
Ortensia, Madonna del Riscatto, Vetralla

Ortensia Farnese  fresco discovered in Vetralla

The contest for Baroque singers and musicians is named for  Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli  (1672-1731) a patron of Handel . It  is a unique experience for scholars  and performers offering  a monetary award and solo concerts at the castle and later in Copenhagen and Havana. Singers and instrumentalists specialized  in Baroque music compete in alternate years .

Guests for the luncheon and concert were greeted in  the castle entrance hall by Donna Giada Ruspoli and shown into a cozy room where  aperitivi were served . 

the gardens created by Ottavia Orsini 
Other  guests  took a stroll in the magnificent  gardens designed in 1610 by Ottavia Orsini Marescotti, daughter of the creator of  Bomarzo’s  Sacro Bosco. The gardens  retain  the original   design and parterres which are lovingly  maintained by the castle’s  gardener, Santino.
Gardener Santino greets  Prince Stash    and Tan 

As well as  great patrons of the arts and benefactors,  the historical Marescotti-Ruspoli family also  included  saints  and sinners. 
In  the family chapel on the ground floor  mementos of the family saint, St. Giacinta, are kept. 
in the chapel 

dress of Saint Giacinta Marescotti 
papal shoes and robes 

 Upstairs in the many rooms of the piano nobile, numerous family portraits  line the walls and vintage photos show other  Marescotti –Ruspoli ancestors.  A memento  of Ortensia, and her  three  unlucky husbands, can be seen on the fireplace mantle – a half erased coat of arms.
fireplace with  coat of arms
buffet  in front of the fireplace 
castle rooms 

still life  

setting up for the luncheon 

Luncheon was  held in several salons  of the piano nobile, next to the main hall  where the concert  was held . 
program of the  concert 

The  audience of music  connoisseurs  was enthralled by the voice  of this year’s  winner of the Ruspoli prize,   Hungarian contralto Dalma Krajnyak, accompanied   by Luigi Trivisano at the clavicembalo.  
named after his ancestor, Francesco Maria Ruspoli 

Surely Handel and his Ruspoli benefactor, Prince Francesco Maria, were  smiling  down on the castle yesterday as history repeated itself with beautiful music, good company and interesting encounters .

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Where the locals eat-Da Mondino, Tarquinia


After a month at sea on Azamara Quest this summer, dining on the  wonderful food  cooked by the only other Italian on board, Chef Fabio from Sicily,  we were  completely spoiled and  not       interested in venturing out to any local restaurants. 
spaghetti con le vongole 

Symbol of Tarquinia, the  Winged Horses 

But  a work day organizing book sales at museums and tourist offices in  the seaside town of Tarquinia  was a good excuse to  take a walk on the beach.

The magnificent  early autumn days  were another reason  to escape work mode and stop in Tarquinia for  lunch . 
entrance area, just beside the Tarquinia railway station 

The numerous seafront restaurants at Tarquinia Lido  were  all closed up tight, for it was a Thursday, and this late  in the season they open  only on weekends when the Romani descend on surrounding seaside towns and restaurants, most of them yearning for a  plate of fritto misto or spaghetti alle vongole.
fritto misto  calamari, gamberi, roasted potatoes, local Cerveteri wine 

main dining area - we are the first to arrive 

Luckily Fulvio knows the area well, having worked for many years as administrator in the local hospital. 

He remembered that the locals often went to a place called Da Mondino, hidden inbetween the railway  station  and an overpass, not a very  elegant location but very popular  with local business owners for lunch break. 
view of the overpass, from Da Mondino

hungry  firefighters start to gather 

A large,  kitsch fountain could be seen from atop the overpass, and after a few minutes trying to  find the entrance, we pulled into a parking space under the overpass, next to  a fire truck. 

Passing near the kitchen a whiff of delicious fish told me it was open for business and along with the fire fighters we were the first to arrive.
 In a few minutes  an elderly curved gentleman sauntered in and headed to his  corner table, greeted warmly by everyone.  

vintage details  

The official  name of the restaurant is Al Passo del Cacciatore, but everyone  knows it as  Mondino's, from the name of the owner, originally from Sardegna: Edomondo, shortened to Mondino. 

trees,  fountains and entrance to Da Mondino  

The place quickly filled up and by 1 p.m. most tables were full and the waiter and kitchen staff  bustled around, doing what they have done for decades, cooking and serving  hearty local dishes.     
It was a business crowd  on lunch break but they were also interested in eating well, like all Italians.  
the tables start filling up
fireplace and door to the kitchen

Mondino's  photo hangs over the kitchen door  and a battery of  well used aluminum cooking pots line the kitchen wall.

 His sons, helped by a very professional waiter, run the place and  they have spruced up the unassuming building over the years, adding an  events hall at the rear along with a children's play area and fountains. 

green gardens, playground, fountains and  magnolia trees 

Great day out, excellent price/quality ratio.  We spent  33 euro for an excellent lunch with wine, mineral water and a sorbetto al limone.