Monthly Archives: October 2014

Food and Fashion

For the six or so people that have consistently kept up with this blog (JG3, Becky, another person that actually subscribed to it whose name escapes me, and the other three that have looked at it on a routine basis), I offer my thanks. But what you are all dying to know, of course, is what we’ve been eating and what Italian fashions consist of these days. I’ll answer the last first.

Italians of a certain age are definitely well-dressed, regardless of where you go. The younger generation seems to be lost in the 80s, God help them. Pegged jeans and pants are all the rage among young lads, along with really bad Menudo-style haircuts. Scarves are a must, even with t-shirts. I’m not exactly sure when men make the leap from dorks to dapper, but they most certainly do. As for Ireland, if you’ve seen “The Fighter,” you know what people in Dublin are wearing.

But enough about fashion. What you really want to know about is food. Food in Dublin, such as it is, is expensive and white. And boiled. Or fried. Food in Italy is delicious and simple and expensive, unless you’re eating with relatives. Then it’s even simpler, even more delicious, and served in gargantuan, gut-busting portions, accompanied by gallons of wine. It’s a toss-up as to what the best thing was that we had. And Kat and I would certainly have differing opinions. The best pizza was definitely in Ferrara at Pizzeria Este Bar. I got a great porchetta sandwich at an AutoGrill rest stop off the Auto Strada outside of Florence, which subsequently made me sicker than hell. I had a better one in Orvieto at the weekly market, which did not.

Believe it or not, it is possible to get fried things in Italy...
Believe it or not, it is possible to get fried things in Italy…
One of these sandwiches nearly killed me....and not with its deliciousness.
One of these sandwiches nearly killed me….and not with its deliciousness.

All of this thinking about food, though, got me thinking about how utterly silly and above all pretentious food has gotten in the States. The same thing is happening to bartenders. Every time I hear the word “artisanal” applied to booze and chow, it makes me roll my eyes. So now I’m trying to imagine the things I would like to see on menus (a la’ the magnificent FUDS phony menu–Google “FUDS” and you’ll never look at a restaurant menu the same again). Kat and I were walking around Clontarf this afternoon, and I was just miserable and under the influence of high-octane Italian cold medicine. As I floated along, I came up with some doozies for Ireland…

–Mashed duck dorks with pilaf of Wheatabix, treacle drizzle, boiled apples, and mugwort

–Weed salad with tartare of leprechaun, spoonful of lard, twigs, beetles, and a hot bran mash

–Cold Conger eel puree over braised peat shank, wattles, clompies, and syrup of ipecac

–Pancreas with mash, nappies, and clotted turds under a steamed fillet roast of Lornadoon

–Steamers and bacon-wrapped sow nipples, with beets n’ cherries in a chilled sawgrass reduction

I wish I had photos…It’s a good exercise coming up with this kind of silliness. Try it and spread the wealth amongst friends or co-workers. A cautionary note, however…I’ve found that with the exception of my two brothers and my sister, no one really thinks phony menus are that funny. This leads me to believe that most people have a non-existent sense of humor…

This kind of thing just doesn’t work for Italian food. At least, not for Italian food made in Italy by real Italians. Cuisine is defined by region and everyone in that region makes the same dishes and types of pasta. We were in the Emiglia-Romagna for a week and all of the restaurant menus had the same things on them. The only universal is pizza, which everybody eats and is usually pretty good.

And speaking of food and dinner, it’s time to fabricate comestibles here at Cousin Eleanor’s house…Tomorrow, the journey back home continues.

Nothing beats a three-flight trip with a head cold…

I’m sick with a cold. I spent virtually all of yesterday (Sunday) horizontal and miserable, and thus missed out on another trip to Lucca. Kat says it was spectacular, which didn’t do a whole lot to improve my health. Or mood. I hate being sick. And here we are still in Massarosa; it’s our last day in Italy. There’s a huge dinner planned for us tonight. And my head feels like it’s going to explode. But instead of reading my whiny prose, check out the photos from our hike to Mantanna on Saturday. It wasn’t too high (a little over 1000 meters), but the views were absolutely incredible….

Looking back toward the trail head...
Looking back toward the trail head…
2014-10-25 13.54.09
Looking east toward Lucca…
Carlo helpfully pointing out a pile of cow poop to Andrea...
Carlo helpfully pointing out a pile of cow poop to Andrea…Massarosa and Viareggio are visible to the west.
The summit...
The view from the summit…
Marble quarry north of the summit...
Marble quarry north of the summit…
Uhhh....mountains...north of the summit?
Uhhh….mountains…north of the summit? Maybe northeast…
Andrea, Kat, and Carlo prior to the summit assault...
Andrea, Kat, and Carlo prior to the summit assault…

That was Saturday…Matanna…If you’re ever in this neck of the woods and have the means to get up there, it’s definitely worth the trip. Albeit a super winding-type road that will get you car sick if you’re in the back seat kind of trip…

Tomorrow morning, at an hour that is completely indecent, we’ll be up and on the road to Pisa. There, we’ll drop off the car and fly to Dublin. It’s been a grand trip. The Italian family has been wonderfully hospitable and incredibly generous. We’ll miss ’em tons, but it’ll be good to be back in our own casa…

Fall finally arrives in Umbria

Our friend Lorenzo (check him out at http://www.ristorantezeppelin.it/index_eng.html )exists and thrives in a fairly continuous state of chaos. And in such a state, he doesn’t have much time to hang out and socialize, busy as he is inducting various tour groups, as well as full-time students and interns into the mysteries of Umbrian cuisine. Fortunately, we had wheels so Kat suggested we drop in on the little hill town of Todi which is about 25 or so kilometers northeast of Orvieto. Like just about every other hill town in Umbria, Todi started out Etruscan, then became Roman, then probably got mauled by the Goths when they rolled through Italy, then became (eventually) a little self-governing commune. It’s situated several hundred meters above the Tiber, or a tributary of the Tiber, and must have been a fairly tough nut to crack from either a siege or direct assault. And because of this, it’s a remarkably well-preserved example of a medieval hill town (much like Orvieto). The only difficulties we faced once we finally got into the town were that, 1) we were starving and, 2) a wind was blowing that must have originated in Siberia. I had been bitching for nearly three weeks about not having brought a pair of shorts to Italy and now it was freezing. We made the best of it. After chowing down on a pretty good pair of pizzas, we hit the church of Saint-Someone-or-Other (at this point I’m about churched out) and assaulted the bell tower for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

The bell tower...
The bell tower…

When I was a sprout I used to be terrified of heights. The Marine Corps beat that out of me, more or less, but the wind was mighty strong, and that bell tower was pretty damn old, and although it was only 152 steps to the top, it was not at all a pleasant experience getting there.

Looking north from the bell tower...The town follows the ridgeline...
Looking north from the bell tower…The town follows the ridgeline…
There's a Kat in my belfry...
There’s a Kat in my belfry…

Like I said, the views were magnificent, but the wind was just brutal. The church itself was unlike any I had seen over the course of this trip. It had either undergone a massive restoration effort that had stalled out (apathy or lack of funds–take your pick), or it had just been a very simple church. There were no frescoes on the ceiling (though there were some very old ones in the smaller side chapels), the floor was plain red brick. The support columns were granite. No marble in sight. Actually, there was marble but it was on the sepulcher of a saint in a crypt beneath the altar (St Jacopones? Something like that…)  I’d love to provide photographic evidence, but photography wasn’t allowed in there.

We headed out for a restorative gelato then bounced over to the piazza for a look at another church where photography was also forbidden. It had the oddest stained glass window either of us had ever seen. It had two circular patterns of baby heads. Creepy. Like the previous church, this one was incredibly old and fairly spartan in design. It lacked the typical vaulted roof, in fact, and instead had a flat wooden beam ceiling. It looked more like a Roman temple than a church, which is no doubt what it was at one time.

The piazza of Todi...
The piazza of Todi…

As my parking ticket was about to expire (and we were both freezing) we decided to depart the city. We had a dinner date with Lorenzo in Orvieto. Lorenzo being Lorenzo, he didn’t necessarily join us because he was teaching his study-abroad students. But they made us a pretty remarkable meal that had me approaching panic at one point because the the food wouldn’t stop coming out of the kitchen…

The magnificent Tuscan Chianina cow. I'll take the 372 oz Porterhouse, please...
The magnificent Tuscan Chianina cow. I’ll take the 372 oz Porterhouse, please…

We bid Lorenzo ciao the following day (Thursday) after accompanying him and his students through the outdoor market in Orvieto. Thoughts of departing immediately after the market visit were derailed when he insisted we stay for lunch, though. We left with bloated bellies and a promise from Lorenzo that he would visit us in Sacramento early next year.

And now we’re back in Massarosa and will be here for several more days before we go back to California. Prior to leaving Massarosa almost two weeks ago, a fairly aggressive itinerary of dinners and sightseeing was mapped out for us. We’ll be making the rounds, visiting Cinque Terre or maybe Lucca again, and in between there will be lots of mangia mangia mangia…

Sagra Sunday, Bologna, and then way down south to Orvieto…

This past Sunday we hit a couple of towns for a pair of festivals. The first was in Brisighella, and in honor of the Mora Romagnola breed of pig. Because of poor time management as well as a bad time-hack estimate, we arrived far later than we should have. We certainly didn’t get to see the parade of pigs. What we did see was an incredibly disorganized and convoluted cashier and food distribution system. Even the locals were stunned by it. A lady sitting next to us said, “Que disastro!” I totally agreed but at that point I also had my food, so I couldn’t really complain. I had porchetta, which was succulent and delicious. Kat had about a gallon of polenta drenched with pork ragu’. Since we were heading out to another sagra, we decided that we’d have to work off the pork products and stomped up to the Rocca Manfredina…or Manfrediano…or something along those lines. It was a fortress built by one of the Manfredi family, sometime in the 1300s. The climb wasn’t that lengthy, but it was hot and muggy. And the castle museum was closed. Sadness.

Up close and personal with Rocca Manfredi...
Up close and personal with Rocca Manfredi…

In any case, we enjoyed what little breeze there was then headed back down to the car for a quick trip further up the valley to the sagra de polenta at San Cassiano. I cannot possibly convey how spectacularly cheesy the polenta sagra was. When we left–after just enough time to eat some fried polenta, which was pretty good–a magic show was taking place. And the magic show happened right after a demonstration of what looked like Italian boy scouts dancing and cracking whips in time to the accompaniment of an accordion. Suffice to say, ’twere better for me not to hang out in that kind of environment. So, we headed back down through the valley and I managed to get us back to Ferrara in one piece. My navigator was in a food coma, but I had Virgin radio to keep me company…

Monday, we hit Bologna; sort of an impromptu trip and not at all on the original itinerary. But one of Kat’s Slow Food colleagues from Sacramento just happened to be there. She’s in Italy for the annual Slow Food conference (at Terra Madre outside of Turin), along with her Sig-O. So, off Kat and I went on what should have been a forty minute trip from Ferrara. We forgot to consider the ofttimes formidable Italian road system and its crappy signage. In short, we didn’t get to where we wanted to go via the original navigation plan. But Kat got us to the rally point only about twenty minutes late, and I only committed three or four traffic violations doing it, so no harm, no foul.

We linked up with Brenda and Paul and promptly lost ourselves in the joy of speaking exclusively in English for the rest of the day. Bologna is a very cool city…perhaps a little too cool based on the number of young knuckleheads wandering around with dreadlocks. But there’s a big university (one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in Europe), which explains its earnest hipness. We hit back-to-back gelaterias, had lunch, then hit a kitchen/cooking store not far from Piazza Maggiore. And all the while we conversed in the mother tongue!! Fantastic…

The Two Towers...only 500 steps gets you to the top. The shorter one got lopped because it developed a bit of a list.
The Two Towers of Bologna…only 500 steps gets you to the top. The shorter one got lopped because it developed a bit of a list.
The palazzo podesta'....maybe? The podesta' traditionally ran the city's military and was never a local.
The palazzo podesta’….maybe? The podesta’ traditionally ran the city’s military and was never a local.

Suffice to say, getting back to Ferrara was a helluva lot easier than getting into Bologna…

Tuesday morning, we bid ‘smell ya later’ to Ferrara and headed south on the A1 for Orvieto. As this is the place where I got the numskull notion four years ago to try and write a book about medieval Italy, Orvieto is pretty special. And still a magnificent little town.

Looking south and east from the walls of Orvieto near the old main gate and guard towers...
Looking south and east from the walls of Orvieto near the old main gate and guard towers…
The facade of the duomo...
The facade of the duomo…

Kat and I walked the town, revisiting old haunts (she was here teaching for three months in 2010), sampling the gelato (not as good as Bologna, or Ferrara, or Milan…), and checking in our buddy Lorenzo, who runs a restaurant and cooking school in town. He was entertaining two large groups of Americans all afternoon and well into the evening. Lorenzo without a doubt has single-handedly made Orvieto a hot destination for American tourists. Kat and I heard evidence of it just walking around town. There are far more folks from the US here now than there were four years ago. Or even two years ago, when Kat last visited Orvieto. We’re staying with Lorenzo for the next couple of days at his family ranch/farm outside the little hill town of Baschi. And it’s a beautiful place with stunning views. And it’s a restored 500-year old villa. And it’s great to see Lorenzo, who is the ultimate mover and shaker. But at this point in the trip, Kat and I are both a little frazzled, tired of living out of suitcases, miss the dogs, and miss eating fruit and vegetables….

The Po Delta and foothills of the Appenines…

After back-to-back days behind the wheel, an operational pause was in order. The Fiat Panda is a spectacularly fuel efficient diesel (it has a range of about 1000 km) but uncomfortable as hell, both for driver and assistant-driver/navigator. So, we decided that in an effort to stretch our legs, Thursday would be cycling day. Ferrara is a great place for biking. It’s flat and drivers respect riders. We got a pair of rentals and immediately zipped off for a tour of the city walls which can be ridden around and on, in certain places.

Of course you’d love to see pictures! And I’d love to show you pictures! But the *@^%$#&@%@*& internet is so friggin’ crappy in Ferrara it’s just not going to happen…At least, not by using the wi-fi available in our flat. So, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that Ferrara is a beautiful city and riding alongside walls that were put up in 1383 is pretty awesome. What’s not awesome is sitting on a rental bike seat for five hours. We had to reconstitute our backsides with a by-God fantastic pizza at Pizzeria Este Bar. The only rough part of the evening was riding the bikes back to the flat…

Kat enthralled by the walls of Moria...or Ferrara...I guess...
Kat enthralled by the walls of Moria…or Ferrara…I guess…

Yesterday, we re-engaged with the Fiat. Kat was dying to see the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza. I was not really dying to see said museum, but went anyway. I’m the only one that can drive the car. Surprisingly enough, the museum was full of ceramics, which Faenza is famous for and has been since the Etruscans were knocking around this region in 500 BC.

After a quick walk around the piazza, which was completely dead because it was lunch time, we decided to hit the hill town of Brisighella. It’s about ten miles south and west of Faenza in the foothills of the Appenines. Not long after arriving there, we both decided that Brisighella would benefit immensely from the presence of ourselves and the dogs. The town limits, running sort of north to south, are defined by three hills, two with fortifications and one with a church. The tourist office was manned by the most informative person we’ve met since our cab driver in Milan. We departed empowered with knowledge, ten pounds of promotional materials, and plans to attend two festivals taking place Sunday (one for polenta in San Cassiano, and the other for the Mora Romagnola pig in Brisighella). What a cool little hill town…even if the lady in the gelateria had a stick up her backside.

The abandoned fortress of Dol Guldor...
The abandoned fortress of Dol Guldor…

Italy’s great, unless you want to blog consistently…

It’s been almost a week since the last post. Kat and I have become less than enthused about WordPress as a blog-hosting site. Quite frankly, it is neither efficient nor intuitive and you apparently have to have access to a gigantic amount of bandwidth in order to use it effectively. Internet was great in Milan. Not so much in Tuscany where we spent four days staying with Kat’s family in Massarosa. There was a ton of traveling, a ton of eating, and a fairly continual squeezing of the brain as I tried to understand all of the conversations through my vestigial Italian.

We spent the majority of Saturday in Lucca. We had planned on renting bikes, which can be ridden on the city walls (the medieval era defensive walls are still intact). A sudden downpour nipped that idea in the bud. But we had a great picnic on a bastion, saw the church of San Martino, and climbed up a tower for some great views of the city and countryside before the rain began.

The view from Guinigi tower...
The view from Guinigi tower…

Sunday we convoyed to two of the most famous hill towns in Tuscany: San Gimignano and Volterra. I’m still not sure which was my favorite. SG had stunning views and was packed with tourists. Volterra had stunning views and was a lot quieter. But at SG, we were able to sample gelato from a gelato world cup champion winning establishment (Gelateria Dondoli). It was pretty awesome, but gelato anywhere in Italy is awesome…

The main gate into San Gimignano...
The main gate into San Gimignano…
The north gate of Volterra...not quite as cheery and chipper as SG.
The north gate of Volterra…not quite as cheery and chipper as SG.
The long slog up into Volterra...
The long slog up into Volterra…

Then Monday we went into Pisa with our host, Carlo, and his two girls Laura and Elisa. We went through the obligatory round of poses involving the leaning tower as well as a couple of improvised ones with the baptistry. Unfortunately I can’t post those as they’re on Kat’s camera.

The baptistry, duomo, and leaning tower...
The baptistry, duomo, and leaning tower…

We didn’t feel like climbing the tower (18 euro is a bit steep) so we ended up hitting the baptistry and duomo. The baptistry has excellent acoustics. One of the worker bees sings every thirty minutes or so to demonstrate them.

The floor of the baptistry seen from the gallery...
The floor of the baptistry seen from the gallery…

I could have sworn I took video of him warbling, but I guess I didn’t. In any case, he was competing against a violent thunderstorm. Kat and I fled the baptistry and hid in the duomo, which, like virtually every duomo in Italy is filled with magnificent sculptures, frescoes, and paintings.

Then Tuesday, we picked up our rental car (a fire-engine red Fiat Panda) and zipped off to Ferrara. Now that the internet connection seems a little more durable, we’ll be able to post with a little more consistency. Ciao…

Cultural pursuits and how easily one can get creeped out by them…

Behold the ossuary of a Medieval plague cemetery that became a chapel: San Bernadino. I don’t know if the panoramic photo will do it justice, but I’ll drop in a couple more photos. Apparently, the church of St Augustino (conveniently located next to the church of San Bernadino) had a bit of a mishap in the form of it’s bell tower collapsing. It plopped right down on an old cemetery as well as the church of San Bernadino sometime in the 18th century. When the dust settled, the citizens of Milan decided to build a small chapel using the bones from the cemetery and dedicate it to all of the poor folks who lost their lives during various waves of plague that struck the city (the first of which hit way back in 1348). It is both impressive and eerie. There are thousands of bones, hundreds of skulls. And the hardest thing to take is that many of the skulls are those of children.

San Bernadino chapel...creepy.
San Bernadino chapel…creepy
2014-10-09 15.15.26
Dozens of skulls, most of which were children…

Suffice to say, this little chapel is something that has to be seen to be believed. And in all serious, though it’s a small room (maybe 20ft x 30ft) it was a powerful experience…a reminder that 1/4 of Europe’s population was wiped out in the first wave of bubonic plague that ran from about 1348-1350…

2014-10-09 15.16.06
Unbelievable…I haven’t been that freaked out since I saw the catacombs in Rome when I was just a sprout.

Now that I’ve completely dimmed the mood, let me attempt to brighten it again. Before we went to the ossuary (which, by the way, is a word Kat can’t say…kind of like she can’t say “schnitzel”…she says “oshuary” instead, which is kind of endearing), we had an extravagantly priced, ho-hum lunch. And before THAT, we spent a long while going through the Duomo including tromping around on its roof after a relatively easy 165-step climb. I can only imagine what the views are like from the roof on a cloudless day. Since we had low overcast, we couldn’t see more than a mile in any direction. But it was still pretty awesome (and a much easier, much less hair-raising climb than the duomo in Florence).

Almost to the top, looking north on the east side of the duomo...
Almost to the top, looking north on the east side of the duomo…
On the roof!
On the roof! Note gaudy Gothic spires…Oh! And Kat’s there, too…

There are over 3500 statues decorating the duomo, including this one which was probably my favorite…

The dreaded duck-dragon gargoyle hybrid...
The dreaded duck-dragon gargoyle hybrid…

There was also a ton of restoration work taking place all over in preparation for the world exposition mentioned in my previous post. It made for awkward photo opportunities, as the majority of the duomo was covered in scaffolding and sweaty, filthy Italians eyeballing all of the tourists and smoking instead of doing their jobs.

We went inside after descending from the roof but I didn’t get any pictures. Instead, I ponied up 2 Euro for Kat to get an official pink photography authorization bracelet (admission into the duomo itself is free) then watched half the citizenry of China and Japan wander around without any bracelets taking thousands of pictures.

In any case, when Gian Galeazzo Visconti ordered construction of the duomo in 1386, his intent was that it would fit the city’s entire population (40,000). Since there weren’t any pews back then, I could see how a whole lot of people could have fit inside. It is massive. It’s far larger than the biggest aircraft hangar I’ve ever seen. The supporting columns (I think there are fifty-two of them) are probably 20 feet in diameter. Very impressive. And dark. I kept feeling like a giant monster was going to swoop out of the nave and chomp on tourists. And more than once kind of hoped that would happen to some of the more obnoxious ones. I imagine it’s a little more cheery when the sun is out…

We finished up the day’s events with an awesome meal. We were enroute to the restaurant recommended by our cab driver, the chatty fellow chock full o’ knowledge the day we arrived here. Then we ran into a mom walking along with her son and daughter. The kiddos were practicing their English. Kat complimented them on their skillz and then asked their mother if we were heading in the right direction. She whole-heartedly agreed that the restaurant was awesome and assured us we were going the right way. But then she gave us a once-over and suggested we go to a place around the corner. Turns out we weren’t quite gussied up enough for Trattoria la Pesa. So, we went to its bistro instead…Ossobuco and risotto Milanese, Polenta con funghi, some vino rosso, a little salad, and a gigantic slug of grappa.

Food coma….

I wanted to eat here but Kat wouldn't have anything to do with it...
I wanted to eat here but Kat wouldn’t have anything to do with it…

Some thoughts on anatomically correct sculpture…

I’m not going to lie: arriving in Milan had me pretty excited. It was about this time last year when I decided that I had to get over to Italy if I was going to pull off writing a book in which Milan featured prominently. And less than three weeks later I got the job that subsidized the expedition, as it were. So, I was all a-tingle when we walked southeast down Corso Sempione this morning and I got my first glimpse of Castello Sforzesco through the mixture of mist and low overcast blanketing the city.

It was pouring when we arrived at Bergamo yesterday, which isn’t anywhere near Milan, but easy to get in and out of. We caught a Milan-bound shuttle that departed about two minutes after we got on it. Rush hour traffic in Milan is something to behold, as is the chaos around the central train station. Add rain and it gets ugly. The shuttle dropped us off at the station and we–eventually–caught a cab. Turns out our cab driver was fabuloso and once he found out Kat could swing the lingo, he talked non-stop about the city, the weather, and food. He also ensured we made it safely into the place we were staying. Solid dude, that spaghetti-bender…

We met our hosts, Andrea and Jessica, and they gave us the ROE (rules of engagement for you non-military types), a couple of restaurant recommendations, and left us to it. We celebrated our arrival by demolishing a gigantic salad, half a pizza (Kat) and a calzone the size of a cinderblock (me). As exhausted as we were, sleep was long in coming and when it did come it was sporadic. The mattress we have seemed to be lined with authentic Roman bricks. So, the night seemed to last about a thousand years and we didn’t get up in particularly frisky moods this morning. It also took an egregious amount of time to figure out how to work the espresso machine.

But it wasn’t raining, so that served as motivation to get the hell out of the flat. And off we went down Corso Sempione, which terminates at the Arco della Pace and Sempione Park, which used to be the private hunting preserve of the Visconti and Sforza families. And there it was at the southern end of the park: the massive red brick Castello Sforzesco.

Google Earth does not do it justice...
Google Earth does not do it justice…

Even taking into account that it underwent a complete renovation and expansion in the late 15th century, the castle is still huge and relatively intact. You can tour the original battlements and guard passages beneath the walls, as I found out this evening (and about three months too late).

North wall and moat...
North wall and moat…
The original entrance to the north wall...the inscription is tough to make out but Bernabo' Visconti is legible.
The original entrance to the north wall…the inscription is tough to make out but Bernabo’ Visconti is legible.
The Visconti sigil over the north gate...
The Visconti sigil over the north gate…

We settled instead for roaming through the castle interior, much of which has been turned into various museums. Security was pretty tight–no bags or rucksacks allowed. The ceilings were all very high, vaulted, and frescoed. We soon came face to face with Bernabo’s sepulcher.

There he is...my villain.
There he is…my villain.

The museum display called this a “masterpiece.” I’m no artist, but ol’ Bernabo looked like a fourth-grade paper mache’ project gone awry. The horse he’s on, however, was highly detailed. Here’s a snippet of the conversation Kat and I had:

Kat: So this is your guy?

Me: Yup.

Kat: That’s his coffin? His seplu–sepuler–what is it called?

Me: Sepulcher. His sepulcher.

Kat: Yeah, sepulcher! How do you know he’s in there?

Me: You want to climb in there and take a look?

Kat: Sure, why not? Nobody’s around.

Me: Bernabo isn’t the kind of person you want to disturb, or have haunting you.

Kat: Hm. Did you see the horse?

Me: Whoa! Look at those chotchkies!

Kat: I know, right?

And because you’re dying to know, of course I’ll provide evidence of the sculptor’s craft and sense of…scale…as it were.

Definitely not a gelding...
Definitely not a gelding…

Truth be told, everything was kind of anti-climactic after Visconti’s sepulcher. I mean, yeah, frescoes by Leonardo and the last sculpture Leonardo started before he keeled over, and 16th century tapestries, and a few pieces of furniture from the mid-14th century and a lot of other really old, well-designed, meticulously preserved bric-a-brac. But at the end of the day I’m a simple man, with crude, unrefined taste, I guess.

After the castle we continued southeast and hit the Duomo. Milan is gearing up for some kind of world exposition taking place next year (over 130 countries are participating) so the city is in the midst of a massive spruce-up campaign. Of course, Milanese spruce things up differently than we do as evidenced by the gigantic HD screen slapped on to the side of the duomo…

The Duomo, complete with flatscreen...
The Duomo, complete with flatscreen…

We didn’t tarry near the Duomo, as we were on a quest for a snack based on a recommendation from our hosts (panzotto). Turned out it was a bit of a dud so we swung back toward the Duomo and wandered around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (which looks like the way shopping malls everywhere should) so Kat could stomp on the bull’s balls (what is with the Italians and testicles?) We sat around on the steps of the Duomo for awhile, trying to work up the energy to go in and climb to the roof, but opted for people watching, instead. We might not get the chance tomorrow if the weather is sour, but there’s always Friday. We also swung by La Scalla, but it was closed, probably in preparation for tonight’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” Kat expressed interest in going but we don’t have the wardrobe to get in the building. Then we began the long slog back to the flat. All thoughts of dinner evaporated after a snack of pecorino, an apple, some prosecco, and bresaola. We were just too whupped…

And now, to bed…

Faith, begorrah, and other things I have yet to hear in Ireland…

Last night a helluva storm smacked Clontarf. I’m sure if King Sitrick or King Brian Boru (they of Battle of Clontarf fame) would have been around they would have said plenty of unintelligible things like, “Si’an siobhan cairbraghan” and “Siolantar findaric gaobratlis.” We stuck to English and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning chatting with Eleanor’s brother, Harry, who dropped by for a visit. It being Monday, all of the museums in Dublin were closed so we decided to hop on the train and head out to the seaside town of Howth (pronounced like ‘growth’). Turned out to be a pretty good choice, as Howth was a very cool little town and perfect for a day trip.

Now, I’ve been on my best behavior in Ireland and I’m here to tell you that it’s extremely difficult to keep from spouting off in a bad leprechaun impression every time we interact with a local. Being in Howth nipped that impulse in the bud, however, as it was full of damn foreigners.

Howth and environs...Clontarf and Dublin are due south
Howth and environs…Clontarf and Dublin are due south…not far from the Blarney Stone of Kil’gasiobhanamiar

We promenaded along the pier and checked out the nifty little shops which were all full of dead sea life and appropriately smelly. Then it was off to check out the Abbey of St Mary which overlooks the harbor…

The Abbey of St Mary, built in the 12th century...
The Abbey of St Mary, built in the 12th century…

Not sure what happened to it…Like many structures that went up in the Middle Ages, this one probably fell victim to fire. In any case, it was converted to a cemetery quite some time ago.

After the abbey and a bit o’ lunch it was time for a wee hike, so we headed east along the coastal road. As we were in the lee, the weather was perfect and the views spectacular. Had we skipped lunch we probably could have conducted a successful assault on the summit of Howth Hill, or peak, or pick an obscure Gaelic word full of consonants, like Mwrgnh. But it was still a nice walk. Why, you could even see the famed Isle of Briwgniabhional, home of the mystical Finnegan’s tamoshanter!

The island of Ireland's Eye on the left, where a saint supposedly gave the Devil a double-dose of the dickens...
The island of Ireland’s Eye on the left, where a saint supposedly gave the Devil a double-dose of the dickens…this is a panorama photo so might be tough to see.
A better view of Ireland's Eye...The notch on the right was created by El Diablo getting tossed...
A better view of Ireland’s Eye…The notch on the right was created by El Diablo getting tossed…
Looking east along the coastal road...
Looking east along the coastal road…
My Irish lass flitting about in the heather...
My Irish lass flitting about in the heather…

All in all, a smashing day. We’ll wind up the evening with a final trip to Clontarf Castle for a night cap and then try and repack our bags. Tomorrow, it’s off to Milan…

Here’s to you, you shilly sit!

As for yesterday and the whole immersive Viking experience, that was courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum (free admission=awesome). Kat spent a year in Cork for study abroad many, many moons ago and her BFF from those days, Dave, came out from the boonies to hang out with us for the day. Dave, who could be a body double for Jon Stewart, was very easygoing and held all things Dublin in utter contempt. But he did appreciate all things Viking so after a pretty leisurely day wandering around town we finally got to the museum. As expected, the Viking experience was not at all immersive but there were some excellent displays and artifacts, including a special exhibit on the Battle of Clontarf! Apparently, the Irish have this battle and its significance drubbed into them throughout school, but no one really knows much about it except when it took place (April 23rd, 1014), it was about Dublin, and lots of people were killed. Aside from lots of rusted out swords and leatherwork, there were also a lot of fantastic pieces of jewelry and other odds and ends, like the Tara brooch which was made in the 700s. And that pretty much took care of Saturday, aside from a good-bye pint with Dave…

Since we’re such enthusiastic Dublin wannabes, today was devoted to alcohol appreciation, specifically the Jameson distillery and the Guinness brewery. Because, what else are you going to do on a Sunday in Dublin? Being culturally minded, I wanted to visit the magnificent National Shillelagh Museum and follow that up with a trip to Corky O’Shaughnessy’s House O’ Spuds.  And any trip to Dublin is incomplete unless you’ve seen the peat bog art work of Dolores O’Shannahan. Kat, and the fact that none of those other places exist, overruled me. So we went boozing instead.

Nothing says "awesome" like a whiskey bottle chandelier...
Nothing says awesome like a whiskey bottle chandelier…

Now, I’ve been through the Scottish Whiskey Heritage Museum in Edinburgh with my brother, Rob. And even though we were spectacularly hung over, it still remains one of the greatest experiences of my life. Where else can you ride in a whiskey barrel whilst seeing the most awful animatronic displays outside of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland? In any case, the Jameson tour was much more tasteful and included a pretty healthy snoot at the end of it. Then it was off to the works of Arthur Guinness…

Boom...
Boom…

The brewery was immense, very modern, and unlike the Jameson tour was self-paced. This wasn’t that bad as our Jameson tour guide wasn’t particularly dynamic in her presentation. Anyway, the highlight of the tour was the free pint at the Gravity Bar seven stories up, with an excellent panorama of the city. Kind of pricey, the Guinness experience, but still enjoyable.