Saturday, November 29, 2008

O Holy Night


Thanks to mein Bruder for making me aware of this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

White Gold

I had been looking forward to today for a while – a trip to the truffle market in San Miniato, a hill town 40 minutes by train from Florence. Fall is a great season for culinary treats in Tuscany, from the porcini mushrooms to the new harvests of wine and oil all the way to truffles. Now, to be honest, I still don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about – I mean, they taste good, and they’re rare, but I wouldn’t pay exorbitant sums for a tuber (and couldn’t afford to, anyway). Nevertheless, a taste of luxury isn’t bad, and so we ended up in San Miniato, which has a truffle fair and market for three weekends in November, along with a crowd of tourists trying to get on a small bus from the train station up to the town. The weather was perfect – one of the coldest days so far (highs around 10 degrees), but sunny and a visibility for miles and miles. Once in town, we first did some sightseeing, after all San Miniato also has some sights, such as a 13th century castle built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. On the way we passed many stands selling all kinds of sausages, cheese, specialties from around Italy, and wine, but only when we got to the Piazza del Duomo did we find the real treasure – white (and some black) truffles for sale.
They seemed to start at around 15 Euros for a small cherry-sized specimen, so we passed on that and got some new olive oil instead. We were not to go without truffles altogether, though, since outside the tent with the truffle salesmen were several food stands, where we indulged in frittata al tartufo (truffle frittata) and tagliolini al tartufo (egg noodles with truffle). After lunch, we made our way through the rest of the town, which was in full truffle festival mode, with many opportunities to eat and buy truffles, other food and drink, and crafts and plants. Finally, we took the bus back to the train station, where we had to wait for almost an hour before the train took us back to Florence.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some more random observations

  • Italians don't seem to like urinals. That's the conclusion I've drawn from their absence in almost all restroom facilities - even in airports and other places where you'd think there would be a big demand.
  • My Italian colleagues introduced me to a famous (?) tradition: the appearance of the calendars for the new year. Mostly, these consist of attractive women in various stages of undress. The interesting thing is that these are prominently featured on the websites of the major daily newspapers such as La Repubblica or Corriere della Sera, which are of a similar standing to the New York Times and Washington Post in the US or Frankfurter Allgemeine or Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany. Warning: you probably shouldn't look at the calendars at work.

Sunday in the City

Skydiver landing near Ponte Vecchio. Notice the smoke in the Italian colors.

Fall has now reached us here in Italy as well, although during the day it can still get up to 20 degrees. One of the delights of fall is the cuisine, and apparently a highlight is the new olive oil that is available this time of year. Since we don't have a car, we're pretty much stuck to the cities, so after reading about a market in the Piazza Santo Spirito, we decided to check it out today. It turned out to be an antiques market, with all kinds of used clothes, books, and furniture, as well as stands of soap and incense sellers. So we didn't get any olive oil, but we did get some lunch there, porchetta for Ben and some fried polenta for Kristen. Afterwards, we walked through the city some and came upon an exhibition of Buddhist art by Shinjo Ito, a 20th century Japanese artist with free admission in the Alinari Photography Museum. It had some nice statues as well as some good calligraphy, all quite traditional. Then it was back to the apartment for the rest of our lazy Sunday.

Metal Things

I've been taking pictures of door knockers and other small metal decorations in Florence and nearby cities ("I collect tote bags"). Here they are.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

American cheese?

Or toast? Well, it has 48% cheese...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008


This is the most important part. It ain't over till it's over. We don't want something like this to happen:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Someone used Babelfish

Tonight's dinner

Lasagna with Chard, Tomato Sauce and Ricotta. Since we couldn't get any chard at the grocery store yesterday, we used cavolo nero, a pleasant tasting green which seems to be available only in Italy.


Today's trip was to the nearby city of Prato. We took the bus, which was quite cheap (2.30 one way) and reasonably fast (~40 minutes). Once there, we walked from the station into town and stopped by the Biscottificio Antonio Mattei, where biscotti (or cantuccini or cantucci, whatever you want to call them) were created 150 years ago. We got a mixed bag of biscotti and brutti buoni, and then walked on. Since most of the sights were closed for the lunch break, and it was approaching lunch time, we went looking for a place to eat.
Prato, in addition to being well known for its textile industry, is also home to the largest Chinese population in Italy, and not having had any Chinese food for quite a while, we went looking for a Chinese restaurant. We wandered away from the center towards the west, and having seen more and more Chinese signs, were assured that we were going in the right direction. Eventually, we were the only non-Chinese left on the street, and we found a restaurant, though without a menu at street level. Still, we were hungry and adventerous, so we went into the Ristorante Ciao, which turned out to be a type of Chinese fondue place (again, we were the only non-Chinese in the place). We got a big pot of broth which sat on a burner in the middle of our table, and ordered various ingredients to go in there: beans, mushrooms, tofu, noodles, shrimp, etc. All in all it was quite good.
After walking back towards the center, we now visited the Duomo, probably the most important site of Prato. In here, we saw several fresco cycles, including the story of the sacred girdle, and magnificent frescoes by Filippo Lippi above the altar. On the outside of the cathedral is a pulpit from which the girdle is shown several times a year, designed by Donatello. From there, we went on to Santa Maria delle Carceri, another church with ceramics by della Robbia, and went through the Cassero, a mediaeval corridor from the Prato castle to the city walls on our way back to the station to take the bus back to Florence.


First, fashion = ugly.

What is with the pants that guys are wearing now that are so small and tight that they can't pull them all the way up? I mean really. Che cazzo?