Vienna Historic District
Travel comes suddenly. The city hustles us through each spot, each meal, each person. Each moment changes and we are lost in the novelty and craziness infecting our lives in that out-of-the-ordinary spot.
Time brings stillness. We have the luxury to reflect on the place we visited and what we did there. We can erase the rough edges of a place with the lighter golden haze of our memories. Sometimes, I like the after of traveling more than the during.
It is that way with Vienna for me. Neither Patrick nor I were particularly impressed with the city --- it was too old fashioned, too slow, too ancient. It didn't have the energy or the vibe of Budapest or Prague. It was more mundane. We told friends that Vienna was for our parents; Prague was for the young.
But, now, I enjoy reminiscing about the quiet moments we spent walking through the lovely gardens at Schonbrunn Palace, drinking coffee at Viennese coffee houses (more coming on that soon), and admiring the city's 17th century glamour. When we return (for we probably will someday), I'll leave my rose tinted glasses on.
April 14, 2014
mammoth construction zone
Acropolis (and partial view of the scaffolding)
I mentioned a while back that Patrick and I weren't all that impressed with Greece. A large part of that unenthusiasm related to Athens and the Acropolis. If you'd asked me before I went to Greece what is the number-one-must-see attraction in the country, I would have said the Acropolis of Athens. Right? It's the one Greek monument that everyone knows. It's the one attraction we were most excited to see.
Views from the Acropolis
You have to understand that Patrick and I love, love, love ruined architecture. I can see the place as it once was, so many years ago, with the walls standing, the floors in bright mosaics and tiles.
Amphitheatre outside the Acropolis
At Pompeii, we walked amongst the ancient common man, so much like us though long since dead. At Ephesus, we marvelled at the splendors of the ancients. And, in the tiny town of Ivailovgrad, Bulgaria, we were amazed by intricate floor tiles created centuries ago. We love ruins, even when nature takes over, destroying the artistry of man.
Acropolis restoration (note the reconstructed Temple of Athena Nike, with the integration of the original stones)
But, the Acropolis in Athens is no testament to ancient man's work. Right now, it's very much a work in progress. Cranes and scaffolding cover most of the buildings and tourists are prevented from entering the interior. Several of the surrounding temples have been dismantled and are being reassembled.
Acropolis restoration and scaffolding and a restored temple
There are a lot of issues surrounding the restoration project, not least of which whether or not the Greek government has the funds to finish the work. So far, the UN has paid for 50% of the restoration project (currently running around $90 million.)
December 18, 2013
Venice is still busy in November. There are tourists everywhere in the bright and sunny days. (Though, is there ever a time when the tourists leave Venice altogether? Probably not.) We like the November evenings better than the summer evenings. There's less heat, humidity, and stench. I pull my fleece jacket close around my shoulders and Patrick zips his up to his neck.
We walk away from the Grand Canal, into small narrow alleyways, away, away, away from the noise. We see a small door against a wall, light shining out as the door opens and closes, and men with half-filled wine glasses and burning cigarettes standing right before the entry, ushering us in with wafts of noxious smoke. The decor is minimal, with a few wooden benches and tables crammed against the corner of a wall and men and women standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the long bar.
We immediately see the attraction. Cichetti are arrayed in platters and bowls across the bar. There is a good variety at this one: peperoni grigliata --- grilled and peeled red bell peppers; baccala --- pureed salted dried cod; carciofi grigliata --- artichoke hearts, marinated and grillled; mozzarella e pomodoro --- fresh balls of mozzarella with sliced tomatoes; bruschetta with prosciutto; calamari; and more.
And, there are the cipollines al aceto balsamico, or balsamic glazed cipolline onions. The first bite surprises us. Our mouths pucker from the vinegar and then relax as we taste the underlying sweetness of the reduced balsamic vinegar. We try another bite. This time we are prepared for the sensations of vinegar and sweet and we feel the texture. Soft, billowing layers of onions melt against our tongue and we catch hints of rosemary and butter. We go back to the counter and order them all.
And, we return the next night and order all the cipollines again.
When we came back to the United States, I tried a whole host of balsamic glazed cipolline recipes including ones from Mario Batali, Deb from the Smitten Kitchen, and Bon Appetit magazine. None of them had the puckering sweetness of the cipollines we tried in Venice and I realized that the problem is that every single one of these recipes relies on sugar to enhance the flavor of the balsamic vinegar. I dropped the sugar and simplified the recipe. The result has a less thick glaze than what you might get if you make Mario Batali's recipe but it is, I think, a purer and superior version of the dish. It is a fundamentally Italian recipe --- very few ingredients of extremely high quality --- so that the cipollines take on the strong flavors of red wine and balsamic. We serve it often in the winters, with rich casseroles and soups, as a small plate or side dish, sometimes for the holidays, to remind us of Venice's meandering canals.
December 4, 2013
cobblestone and brick
View of Siena rooftops
Like pretty much every other person on the planet, we love Tuscany. Tuscany has everything going for it: architecture, scenery, food, wine, markets, and art. If you want to rave about narrow streets and yellowing buildings, you can do that. If you want to talk about churches that dazzle, you can do that. If you want to eat some of the best meals of your life ---- truffle flecked pasta, prosciutto with melon, pizza singed on coal burned ovens, fluorescent green olive oil and ciabatta --- you can do that. And, if you want to drink red wines that are earthy, smooth, fruity, or nutty, you can do that. Tuscany is amazing.
The funny thing is that, though we love Tuscany, it took us a long, long time to visit Siena, the second most important city. I think we expected it to be another Florence, another city overrun with tourists, where we wouldn't be able to see the charm through the throngs. But, we did.
The charms of Siena were almost immediately apparent in dull brick red and cobblestone streets, through the meandering alleys, over and across hills and stairs, and under bridges. The Duomo stunned in black and white.
It took us time to come to this city but, once we came, we came again and again.