Category Archives: Europe

Reading for Rome

What to Read Before You Travel to the Eternal City

There’s such a massive amount of history to take in when you visit Rome, Italy, its helpful to do a little reading—fiction and non-fiction before your trip to get a sense of the place.  

One of my favorite non-fiction books about life in modern Rome is Anthony Doerr’s Four137852._UY500_SS500_ Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Doerr wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.  But, before that he enjoyed a a year-long fellowship at the American Academy in Rome which he chronicles in this book and his descriptions of life there are wonderful.  You’ll wish he  (and you) could stay longer.

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The Colosseum in Rome

Quite different from Doerr’s book, Rome inspired several  authors to write  about women who go astray in the city.  They offer a sense of history along with little tours of Rome’s sites and winding streets.  For example, Daisy Miller by Henry James follows Daisy’s exploits as she scandalizes American society living in Rome in the late 1800s.  You may visit the real-world places she goes with a “dangerous” Italian gentleman ending, fatefully, with their trip to the Colosseum. 

In Tennessee Williams’s novella The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the story centers on an thaging actress who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband, the loss of her good looks and a life that is rudderless.  Perhaps a gigolo will make her feel better. Williams spend a great deal of time in Rome and his descriptions of the city shine. 

The Woman of RomeAlberto Moravia’s 1949 novel, is a classic tale of a young woman who becomes a prostitute in the time of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Further back in time, Colleen McCullough, author of the Thorn Birds offers a seven-volume fictional account of early Rome called the Masters of Rome series. It starts with The First Man in Rome.

Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy isn’t necessarily historically accurate but it offers a view of  Michelangelo’s struggle to paint the Sistine Chapel.  Also popular, Dan 64aa55532c468d5597a56545651444341587343Brown’s Angels & Demons,  is a wildly fictional page-turner about a secret society and a time bomb in the Vatican. You can even take an Angels & Demons tour to see the sites mentioned in the book.

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A Place to Relax in Tuscany

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Italian cities are fascinating places to visit but they’re often crowded and hectic. So, I look for places to relax in the Italian countryside. A great example is Frances’ Lodge Relais, a rustic yet elegant old farm, just outside Sienna.  Hosts Franca and Franco provide great touring tips, luxurious breakfasts in the garden and, sometimes, a picnic dinner of homemade pasta under the olive trees.  Best of all, relaxing “under the Tuscan sun” with wine and a book by their beautiful pool with a view of the Sienna skyline.

This is my entry for this week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge with the topic of Relax.

 

 

 

Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation—The 500th Anniversary

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I’ve had a couple of opportunities to see the new exhibit, “Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation,” at the  Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), once with the exhibit’s curator, Tom Rassieur. Now I feel enlightened.

If you’re like me and haven’t been keeping track, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” also known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.”  On October 31, 1517 he nailed the documents (as legend has it) to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Indulgences in Luther’s day were payments made to the Catholic church, something like Get Out of Jail Free cards in Monopoly, as a way to reduce the amount of punishment one had to undergo for sins. Luther criticized the practice as a corruption of faith and questioned the limits of the Pope’s authority. Though he intended them as a point of debate, the theses set off a revolution in thinking about man’s relationship to God —the Protestant Reformation—and a new chapter in religious and world history. As Rassieur says, “The theses hit the fan.”

The followers of Luther became known as Lutherans and Minnesota has more Lutherans than you can shake your protestant hymnal at. That’s one reason this impressive exhibit landed in Minneapolis–along with the fact that Mia is a terrific museum. Martin Luther has already sold more tickets than any other Mia exhibit.

unknownI have to “confess” my knowledge of this era in history is a bit shaky, so as usual, I sought out a few books on Luther and the Reformation. Hefty and dense tomes abound, but I recommend Martin Luther by the aptly named author Martin Marty. (With a name like that, who else could he write about?) It’s short and well done.

Also, I couldn’t resist picking up Garrison Keillor’s Life Among the Lutherans, a collection of monologues from his radio show, Prairie Home Companion. This is, of course, a more modern look at Lutheran life in rural Minnesota and includes a new set of Theses by a Lake Wobegon resident including thesis #2,9780806670614_p0_v1_s192x300

Every Advent, we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if the survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, “Just have a little.” Eating “a little” was, like vomiting “a little,” as bad as “a lot.”

But I digress…The exhibition offers more than art; it’s an astounding collection of Luther “memorabilia.” It includes paintings, sculpture, golden relics, textiles, and works on paper—as well as Luther’s personal possessions and recent archaeological finds, particularly from the house he grew up in, that shed new light on the man and his era. You’ll even see original manuscripts with Luther’s notes in the margins and the pulpit from which he gave his last sermon. Luther’s words spread far and wide because of a recent technological invention, the printing press, the social media of the time. Most of these artworks and historical objects are traveling outside Germany for the first time and the exhibit will only be here in the U.S. until January 15, 2017. Then the art and objects return to their places in Germany as the country celebrates the Reformation anniversary.

The people in the Saxony-Anhalt region of central Germany would like you to come see Luther on his home turf , the “Luther Trail,” and hope that the exhibit and the anniversary of the Reformation will inspire travel to their region. While religious history makes a great jumping off point for a trip, Luther Country offers an array of travel ideas to appeal to lovers of food, music, art, nature and biking and hiking adventures that will nurture your soul in every way. For books on planning your trip to Germany, see Longitude Books reading list. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Enveloped….By Dogs

Don't fall into this melee of hunting hounds at the Chateau de Cheverny in France--you'll be enveloped.
Don’t fall into this melee of hunting hounds at the Chateau de Cheverny in France–you’ll be enveloped.

The Chateau of Cheverny in France’s Loire Valley is positively awash is hunting dogs.  Don’t walk in this giant pen, you’ll be “enveloped,” by anywhere from 70 to 100 hounds.  They’re half English foxhound and half French Poitou and, though there are riotous number of dogs in one place, they all appear to be well groomed and happy, like most Frenchmen.

The stately hunting palace was built between 1604 to 1634 and is

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one of the gems of chateau country.  It’s been in the same family for six centuries and the current viscount and his family still live on the third floor of the chateau.  They share their the chateau’s gardens, fabulous decor and amazing architecture with visitors.  Still, if you’re a dog lover, you’ll pass all that by and head for the hounds.

Weekly Photo Challenge Split-Second Story: The Loneliness of the Rock ‘N Roll Tuba

Rock Box Tuba Player, France
Rock Box Tuba Player, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France

Serendipity is one of the best parts of travel.  We ran into a performance by the street band  Rock Box one night in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France.  You can’t beat their school-boy costumes and the use of a tuba in place of a base guitar isn’t something one sees too often, either.

They appeared on the France Has Talent TV show with great praise from the judges.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this band perform AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” with the bellowing tuba, so here’s your chance:

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Eating and Wearing Stinky Cheese in France

At the outdoor market in Honfleur, where I purchased the Livarot cheese. Its scent perfumed me and my car for the rest of the day.

Livarot is one of the oldest types of cheese in France and it smells like it—like its been hanging around gaining strength since the 1600s. A specialty of the Normandy region, Livarot is a soft “washed rind” cheese which means it is typically bathed in a wash of salted water which helps break down the curd from the outside, influencing the texture, aroma and flavor of the entire cheese. The “bath” does absolutely nothing to cure the smell.

It may be an urban legend, but I’ve since read that Livarot is banned on public transportation in France. Its earthy aroma  has been described by some as reminiscent of feces or “barnyard.”  I would never have ordered something with that description, but it first came to me on a cheese plate in a restaurant in Honfleur, in Normandy, a small slice, apparently exposed to the air long enough to diminish its signature odor. And it was great.

Good enough to make me want to purchase some at the market the next morning, in the process of packing up a few goodies for our lunch that day— a little french bread, sausage and a bit of the cider for which the region is also famous, and which smells much better than the cheese.

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Melons at the market
Melons at the market

I packed our picnic into my backpack, which stayed locked in our small closed car until lunch time, imparting a zesty Livarot odor to our car, a smell somewhere between stinky feet and a gym bag full of recently used hockey gear.

We were able to eat our picnic in the open air and again the taste of the Livarot seemed wonderfully unrelated to the smell. We couldn’t eat all the cheese, so frugal as I am, I wrapped up the leftover cheese and returned it to my backpack for later consumption.

 

In his wonderful book French Lessons: Adventures in Knife, Fork and Unknown-3Corkscrew, Peter Mayle devotes a whole chapter to the Livarot cheese fair in the town of Livarot, and in particular, the cheese eating competition. The rules: a time limit of 15 minutes during which contestants must eat their way through two whole cheeses, each weighing about two pounds. “Livarot,” he says, “is not a modest cheese. It announces itself to the nose long before it is anywhere near you mouth, with a piercing, almost astringent aroma.”

That may have been the reason why that evening when we checked into our hotel, I noticed that the hotel clerk and other people in the lobby appeared to move away from me or avert their faces. “Madam!”  I realized that I was wearing the Livarot-filled backpack and exuding that aroma wherever I went. Formidable!

Have you ever had a food-related travel incident?  Please tell us.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monuments — The Eiffel Tower Transformed

The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.
The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous monuments in the world, which means it has

The original photo
The original photo

been photographed at every possible angle and every time of day since construction began in 1887. But I’m not so interested in telling you about the Eiffel Tower as I am in letting you know about an an app that that I’ve had great fun playing with, Waterlogue, which turns photos into some pretty cool watercolor painting-like images. It works on any Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch that is running iOS version 7 or great. You download a photo, and apply one of Waterlogue’s filters. And, Voila!

As a result, my photo, which is just like those that millions of other tourists have taken, now looks a little different. Give it a try.  There are some serious crafty possibilities.