Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pictures from Livorno - first batch

Here are some pictures from Livorno that were meant to accompany the reports from the first three days.

Arrival day.....

The Grand Hotel Palazzo

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The view from the hotel over the Terrazza Mascagni...full of strollers on Republic Day.
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The Livornese passeggiata

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From the synagogue in Livorno....

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The small synagogue downstairs...

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At the Jewish Museum in Livorno

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At the Jewish cemetery...

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Friday, April 27: Day 3 Livorno

Day 3 Livorno

Another beautiful morning and another superior breakfast at the Grand Palazzo Hotel.

We have an appointment to tour Jewish sites in Livorno this morning. Livorno has been an important center of Jewish life in Italy since the 16th century when Jews (along with many other non-Italian, non-Catholic groups) were invited to come and settle in Livorno and help develop the commercial ventures of the Medici. The Jews mostly came from Spain and Portugal, fleeing the inquisition. The community numbered over 1,000 even into the 19th century when, with the decline of the port, business dried up. Still there is a rich tradition of Jewish life in Livorno which was centered on the large and imposing Tempio Israelitico begun in the late 17th century.

Livorno was heavily bombed during World War II and the synagogue was destroyed. The present building dates from 1962...built on the same site but in a very modern style.

Our guide is late and we spend twenty uncomfortable minutes waiting for her with two people who turn out to be our “minders” as we visit the synagogue, museum and cemetery. 

When the guide does arrive, she apologizes for her English which in fact is not very good but, with the help of one of our “minders”, we learn something about the building and the community. The interior of the synagogue is more pleasing than the somewhat odd, massive concrete exterior.....very high ceilings with lots of natural light. The ark and the bima are old—some from the old Livorno synagogue, others from synagogues around Italy. The women's gallery is upstairs- this is an orthodox Sephardit synagogue.

We are told that the Jewish community in Livorno still numbers 600, down from 2,000 at the beginning of the 20th century.  They do have services on Friday night and Saturday morning as well as on Monday and Thursday. Perhaps we'll go tonight. We learn that there is a kosher butcher shop in the market and a kosher bakery in town.

A striking feature are the two rectangular bands of red cut glass windows set high up in the front wall which sends shafts of red light around the sanctuary as the sun passes overhead. The red color is supposed  to represent the Jewish blood that flowed during the Holocaust.

We also visit the smaller sanctuary in the basement where services are held during the winter....they still use some of the religious furniture that was rescued from the ruins of the old synagogue.

Next stop is the small Jewish museum housed in an old building that used to be the local Yeshiva. There is one room with a couple of glass cases and a large gilded wooden ark. The cases have various prayer implements, Torah covers and other memorabilia—some quite impressive. There is also a scale model and some pictures of the old synagogue which was really quite impressive.

We then drive across town to one of the old Jewish cemeteries which was used during the 19th and most of the 20th century. It is quite overgrown and “our minders” and the guide are quite apologetic but I thought it gave the cemetery quite a melancholy feeling. Some of the gravestones are quite simple and plain and others are more elaborate, with carvings and sculptures. The wooden doors to the ruined building in the center of the grounds are half burnt and charred......but we don't know whether it is a result of vandalism or just accidental.

Our last stop on the tour is the childhood home of the 20th century painter, Amadeo Modigliani who grew up in Livorno and whose family was active in the Jewish community. There are rooms filled with biographical information, photographs, reproductions of Modigliani paintings, pictures of his early sculptures (he had to give it up because the dust aggravated his tuberculosis) and homages to him by Italian artists who were influenced by him.

We found the visit to Casa Modigliani very interesting...the guide was better prepared to describe his life and career. Modigliani felt that he had to leave Italy because his style of painting was too radical for the very conservative Italian art establishment. So he went to Paris, leading a bohemian life as part of the early 20th century art world that was revolutionizing modern painting.

He died an early death at age 35 (tuberculosis and meningitis) and, according to the guide, his fame world wide is much greater than his fame in Livorno and Italy. 
He was an extremely handsome, attractive man and here is one photograph taken of him in 1908 that is very reminiscent of the young Marcello Mastroianni; the photo could  easily have appeared in a fashion magazine in the 1970's.

We decide we want to have lunch outside since the day is so nice and we end up at one of the bar/restaurants that line the Viale Italia, the waterfront boulevard where our hotel is located. We pick one at random, take a table in the sun and have a very relaxing, pleasant and mostly delicious lunch. We do break one of our “rules” (and it is only the second full day of our trip) and have a bottle of white wine with lunch. We both have a tasty “land” antipasto—salume and cheese; Diana then has a large salad and I have the fritto misto. The waiter is very charming and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

After lunch, we drive back downtown to check out the right way to the ferry for our early morning departure tomorrow. We are glad that we did since the approach is quite convoluted....but I save the location on the GPS and we know the way. We make a quick stop at the TIM store to buy some credit for our “internet” key  and then go back to the hotel for a rest.

After struggling to get my internet key to work, I decide to walk back to town and see if the wireless phone store people can help.  I really enjoy the walk and it takes much less time than I expected; I was at the TIM store in the heart of the city in about 25 minutes.  I end up buying a new key and the friendly staff sets it up for me.  I walk back a different route and get to see yet another part of the city.
Diana has been on the roof quilting and enjoying the sun...we have a farewell we have lots of company enjoying the fine weather.

We decide to pass on services and since we don't have much appetite for dinner, we walk over the pizzeria where we ate on our first night. Unfortunately, the waitress who took care of us isn't working tonight so we can't get the advantage of being "returning" regulars.  But when it is time to order, the waitress from the fist night appears.  She was eating at the pizzeria with her family and was pressed into service--ostensibly because there were no other English speaking staff on duty.  She is very friendly--it turns out she is Rumanian married to an Italian--and introduces us to her 2 year old son.  

Unfortunately the pizza doesn't measure up to the fantastic bread-like white pizza that arrives on every table....but luckily we aren't too hungry.

We say goodbye to our Rumanian friend and her son...she says "Hope to see you again soon" as she did on our first visit.

At the hotel, I do a little work and we start to pack...we have a 5:30 am wake-up call.  We need to be at the ferry terminal by 7 am.

Tomorrow will be my first "sea voyage"....and we begin our 16 days on Sardinia.
Jim and Diana

 PS Unfortunately my problems uploading the pictures continue....but  am ever hopeful of a resolution.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: Thursday, April 26: Day 2: Livorno

Day 2: Livorno

Beautiful morning.....a bit cool but clear and sunny.

I take a short morning walk along the water through the Piazza Mascagni and then back into a nearby neighborhood...these walks help me get my bearings and I always find a place that I have read about in guidebooks.  Today I find the Museo Fattori, a old palazzo with galleries of "plein air" (macchiaoli in Italian) painters from the 19th century.

Breakfast at the hotel is very good....I even get a large cup of coffee (caffe doppio e acqua calda).  Luckily for me, the waiter speaks excellent English although he claims to have understood my request in Italian.

First order of business is going downtown to do some errands and shopping.  After a "tour" of some downtown streets, we park and check in at the tourist office for maps and information.  After finishing our business at the TIM (wireless phone) store, we set out on foot for the COIN department store but decide it is too far to walk and change plans.  We sign up for a canal tour at the tourist office and have a coffee on the Piazza Grande while waiting for the tour.

We are accompanied on the canal tour (a large open boat) by almost two dozen lively French tourists and few Italians.  Livorno has always been an important seaport and military base and we pass two large forts as well as the commercial harbor and ferry docks.  The ride is very pleasant with the warm sun and clear skies.  We get off (with four Italian tourists) at the landing under the large Livorno market for a tour.  This is where goods used to be unloaded when they were brought in by boat but now almost everything is trucked in.  The market is reputed to be the largest indoor market in Italy (they count the basement storage space in that calculation).  

The building is one hundred years old this is built in the "art nouveau" style with intricate iron work, lots of light and very high ceilings.  It is decorated with large wall statues of the farmers and market people who brought their goods into Livorno from the neighboring countryside.  The guides explain about the three local Livornese food specialities--cacciucco (a fish stew), torta di ceci (chickpea pancakes baked in a pizza oven) and ponce (punch)--a coffee and rum drink- and we get recommendations about where to find them. 

After the tour, I sample the torta di ceci at the recommended shop outside the market.  In Livorno, the torta is served as a sandwich like they do in Sicily.  For me, the bread seemed superfluous but the torta was light, crisp and delicious.

We have a driving adventure trying to find the department store (as usual in Italian cities, the one way streets are killers) but finally--after circling it for half an hour. we hook up the GPS and arrive at the front door.

After a stop at the hotel, we decide to skip lunch and get in the car for a drive down the coast and into the countryside.  The road along the water south of town is lined with very impressive old houses and there is a wonderful bicycle and walking path that goes on for miles.  There are great views of the water and we stop to have a gelato (our first of the trip) while sitting on a bench overlooking the Mediterranean.  The view was great but the gelato was only so-so.

We meander through a couple of beach towns...nicely kept with lots of trees along the streets..and then head up into the hills for the return trip.  This area of Tuscany is not as immediately stunning like Chianti and southern Tuscany but it is lovely to drive through--winding, narrow country roads, up and down hills with long vistas over the valley and hill towns in the distance. The early spring green and the blooming wisteria, poppies, lilacs, irises and broom add to the beauty. A very nice afternoon drive...

Back at the hotel, we go to the roof for a drink on the terrace....sipping delicious prosecco while watching the sun going down over the Mediterranean.  

We have dinner at Gennarino, the place the guide recommended for cacciucco.   Our GPS gets us right to the restaurant which is near the market (this area of Livorno is very quiet in the evening) and I find a parking space right across the street.  The restaurant is not busy (only a couple of tables are occupied) but it is attractive and quiet.  Dinner is very good.....Diana has a ravioli dish and a grilled orata and I have a bowl of mussels and clams followed by the cacciucco.  For dessert, Diana has an apple cake and I have a panna cotta--everything is delicious.  We drink a local white wine from Suvereto which disappears quickly.

The drive back to the hotel is easy.....

Tomorrow we have an appointment to visit Jewish sites in the city...the synagogue, museum, cemetery and house of Amadeo Modigliani, the painter who was born in Livorno.

Jim and Diana

PS Still having technical problems with the uploading photos....hope to resolve it soon.

PPS Here is the Wikipedia entry for cacciucco.

Cacciucco (Italian pronunciation: [katˈtʃukko] is an Italian fish stew consisting of several different types of fish and shellfish cooked in wine, tomatoes, and chili pepper. Similar fish stews are popular all the way up and down the Tyrrhenian Sea, but Cacciucco is specific to the port city of Livorno.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Italy: Spring 2012: April 25: Day 1: Livorno

Day 1: Livorno

We are off again....

The flight from Dulles to Brussels and on to Milan is very comfortable..empty seats next to us and extra legroom in Economy Plus.  Even the food is palatable.   I sleep a good bit, Diana not at all.

Rental car pickup goes smoothly and we get on the autostrada for the 3.5 hour to Livorno.  Sandwiches on the Autogrill....very good as usual...and by mid-afternoon, we are entering the center of Livorno.  Shops are closed and traffic is light (we had forgotten that this is Republic Day, a national holiday.)

As we drive along the waterfront, there are many strollers out for their holiday passeggiata.  We find our hotel, the Grand Palazzo, easily--a large, imposing building just across the street from the Mediterranean.  
Our room is high ceilinged, nicely decorated and light, with a balcony looking out over the water.  

I take a quick reconnaissance stroll around the neighborhood while Diana sleeps and then we go out together to explore a bit.  First we head up to the roof of the hotel....there is an amazing terrace with a bar, restaurant and swimming pool and a wonderful vista of the town and water.  Right across the street is the Terrazza Mascagni, a large, extremely attractive park with a broad pedestrian esplanade right on the waterfront.  Today being a holiday, it is very lively....families with children, young people, African salesmen, kite fliers....enjoying the sunny, cool day.  We walk with them for while, then sit on a bench and watch people and the ships out in the harbor.  

We decide on an early, simple dinner in the neighborhood...I had walked past a pizzeria/ristorante around the corner on my earlier stroll and we walk over there.   It turns out to be a great choice...the people are pleasant and the food is very good.  Irresistible white pizza, spaghetti with clams for me, pasta with lobster and artichokes for Diana, a green salad, a carafe of refreshing white wine....we are happy.

And tired....luckily, it is only a few steps back to the hotel.  But we are very happy to be back in Italy.

Tomorrow, the weather forecast is for warm and sunny....and we will explore Livorno.

Jim and Diana

PS  Pictures will appear tomorrow...I have to work out a few technical snags.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Map of Spring 2012 Itinerary

Itinerary for Italy Trip - Spring 2012

Here is the itinerary (revised) for our upcoming (Spring 2012) Italy trip.

4/25: Leave Dulles for Malpensa Airport (Milan) (A)
4/25-28: Livorno (Leghorn) (B)
4/28-30: Palau Sardinia (D)
4/30-5/5: Cagliari Sardinia (E)
5/5-7: Oliena Sardinia (F)
5/7-10: Oristano Sardinia (G)
5/10-13: Alghero Sardinia (H)
5/13: Olbia Sardinia (I)
5/14-17: Pisa (J)
5/17-19: Cannara (Umbria) (K)
5/19-22: Modena (L)
5/22-24: Ranco (Lake Maggiore) (M)
5/24: Fly back to the US from Malpensa (N)

This is our first trip to Sardinia...which is the only Italian region that we haven't visited. We are also spending two nights in Cannara to check out the villa where we are staying next year with our children and grandchildren.

We had to revise the original itinerary substituting Pisa for Rome because our day ferry to Rome from Sardinia was we are returning to Livorno from Sardinia.