My New Fleeting Impressions

7 Oct

Yes, I’m fortunate to have a job that has me jet setting across the world. Alas, business travel is a long way away from my day traveling as a woman of leisure. Although it sounds very glamorous, my weekends are spent on planes, my weekdays spent running around often unknown cities finding and attending meetings (Oh really? The city of Istanbul is situated on 2 continents??), and evenings are spent catching up on email floods.

Nonetheless, I get to spend time in some pretty amazing places. I remember once taking a call from a friend, and when she asked “where exactly are you?” it was so immensely satisfying to say “well, if you must know, I’m sitting at a café in Paris.”

While I don’t get a chance to really immerse myself in any locale, I do get to see and experience a few things along the way. So these brief travels will be the theme of my “Fleeting Impressions” series. Please don’t rely on my writing to plan your next trip. Just sharing random thoughts (and instagram photos).

Advertisements

Organic, Solar-Powered Wines & Prosecco from Northern Italy – with Savian Wines

5 Sep

It’s always inspiring to meet someone who is doing good while they are doing well.  Such is the case of William Savian in the Veneto region of northern Italy – and his organic, solar powered – and delicious – wines!

Traditional “azienda vinicola” – except for the solar panels on the roof!

The Savian vineyard dates back to 1925, when William’s grandfather’s small plot of land produced wine for friends & Family.  Flash forward to 1990 when William’s father Arnaldo decided to expand and commercialize the vineyard.  Using conventional farming techniques he did indeed expand the production but over time became disturbed.  After 3 years he realized that he could no longer hear the hum of crickets and the chirps of frogs at night – the pesticides and herbicides had killed them all off.  Whatever they were doing to the land, was destroying the local wildlife.  And how could an agricultural business survive the destruction of its environment?

So in 1993 Arnaldo became a pioneer in transforming his wine production to be completely organic (certified by ICEA, Delinat and NOP).  And instead of the business suffering as a result, today it thrives – in Italy and around the world.

William, his mother Madame Savian, his father Arnaldo & Alessandro from Dialuce Wines

Actually, in Italy most consumers really only care that his wines (including standards like Merlot & Chardonnay,  sulfite-free wines, as well as wonderful regional specialties like Lison Classico and Refosco da Peduncolo Rosso) are of the highest quality.  But in other countries, starting from Germany, buyers took a second look at Savian’s wines in a saturated market because they are organic.

One of Savian’s outstanding organic proseccos made in the Charmat method.

And over time, William and his father decided to go a step further than organic and make the vineyard solar-powered.  With the amount of sun shining in Italy, this was a great choice for Savian wines, and the savings in their consumption of ever more expensive power makes this also a savvy business  move too.

This central console shows the solar power production and usage of the vineyard.

Today’s Savian’s wines are sold all around the world, including Germany, Canada and Brazil and have won awards and fans in a multitude of categories. But one of the greatest indicators of success was for William seeing his kids be able to play around the vineyard, and to not worry about the health hazards of pesticides and chemicals.  We even saw a snake in a ditch on the property while we were there.

In Ontario, Savian’s extraordinary wines can be ordered through Le Caviste or you can contact Alessando Dialuce for worldwide availability.

Camping: Canada vs Europe

29 Aug

I know camping. I’ve camped all my life.

So when I went shopping in Rome with Alessandro for our upcoming camping trip, I personally thought our 3-room tent, 2 queen size air mattresses with chargeable inflator, and collapsable table and chairs were overkill.

After returning from 2.5 weeks of camping in the Austrian Alps I now see we are clearly Euro Camping Amateurs. 

How is camping in Europe vs Canada so different?

In Canada, I recall that we went camping to surround ourselves with nature, to rough it a bit.  Campsites might be rudimentary but each ideal ultimate camping pitch isolated you from your closest neighbors and made you feel like you were in the midst of the wilderness.  You walked to fetch water, to find an outhouse, you cooked over an open fire (a hearty breakfast of eggs fried in bacon grease every morning) and sat at a splintery but familiar picnic table, provided at every site. A campfire is an essential part of the experience, as well as being ridiculously far from anything resembling a city.

Our 5-star Euro camping site (Natterer See, 20 minutes outside of Innsbruck Austria) was a new experience for me.  Tucked in a verdant valley within the majestic Alps, the campsite was decked out with every possible consideration.  The sites were packed side by side – think high density Euro-urban city rather than spacious Canadian countryside – and horrors!  not a camp fire to be found.

Packed in like comfy sardines in paradise

Actually, campsites allowing camp fires seems to be a rarity in Europe and this site lists 11 of them in total in Europe on its site. So adjust your pyro expectations.  And campsites don’t come with picnic tables either – so bring your own.

And bring your own lounge chairs, dining sets, potted plants, curtains…..note precision alignment of tent without wrinkles

Speaking of which, most campers brought trailers or caravans with them packed with an impressive pile of gear.  While I thought our little foldable table and chairs were overkill, everyone else had portable dining sets, hammocks, gravity chairs, BBQs and the works.  Our neighbors from Holland actually took pity on us and our little foldable stools, and told us we could sit in their lounge chairs whenever they went out for the day. And we did! Speaking of neighbors they came from Austria, Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Italy, Poland and the UK for the most part.

One of the things we noticed was that our Italian-Canadian tent looked positively droopy compared with it’s German/Austrian/Dutch neighbors.

Our massive, slightly droopy tent with pathetic little folding table and stools

Natterer See, while not rustic, was certainly in the midst of a stunning environment.  And they thought of everything.  For kids, they had an amazing lake with water slide, surf boards (alas no surf), water trampoline and climbing iceberg.  I loved the lake but 2 of the more fastidious members of our party thought it was murky and therefore dirty.

Aaliyah & David hit the….flatness

In addition to this they had a great range of free activities for guests including archery, sumo wrestling and pony rides. One of the best things was the main bathhouse – which was separated into individual showers, family showers, kids showers, and even a dog shower.  The main shower facilities were like those of a spa.  The shared facilities were literally never dirty or out of order, which is actually better than the average state of my home.

The spa-like bathroom. Hot water and hair dryers. No boys allowed. Nice.

One of the other things that is a pure joy about camping in Europe is that 30 minutes drive away from your pristine valley or hiking path or glacier or whatever are innumerable historic towns and cultural events. So one day a glacier, the next day a castle.  And every day a shady cafe with great food.  Nice – best of all worlds!

Charming, be-costumed child making something at a traditional street festival in nearby Mittenwald Germany.

If you get bored with stunning nature, why not hop on the road and visit a castle? I forget where, it was east of Innsbruck.

Not to mention that if you are traveling with kids, the Alps are cow country.  And that means cow pies.  And to David and Aaliyah these provided an endless supply of entertainment even surpassing my iPad.  Go figure.

One of the many, many cow photo shoots

We left our lovely home in Austria to camp near Venice for a couple days – wanting to avoid the scorching heat of Rome as well as the incoming days of rain in the alps.  We stayed at Jolly Camping, which I would avoid if I were you.  Unless, like you are like a 23-year old student who totally wants to get wasted and use the word party as a verb.  The kids liked the pool, but I thought it was vile.

So – camping in Europe. If you are prepared and well situated it can be a great way to explore!  Just don’t expect to “get away from it all!”  Because yes, the camp grounds even have wifi.

Experiencing Rome through the eyes of an Artist (me!) on a Sketching Tour

7 Jun

You know when you visit a place that is so vivid – so wonderful – that merely being there isn’t enough?  You want to drink it up, breathe it in, become a part of its fabric, internalize it somehow into the core of your DNA…Rome is certainly one of those places.  And no matter how much time you spend here, it’s hard not to feel constantly amazed at the sheer fabulousness of the city.

One sunny morning I found a wonderful new way to immerse myself deeper into the Rome experience; joining painter Kelly Medford on an intimate sketching tour of Rome.  Right from the beginning it was more than I expected.

Now, when I heard the term “sketching tour,” and she told me that she would provide all materials, I though – cool, she’ll bring a paper an pencil for me.   And then Kelly hands me this amazing little kit that literally fits in my purse.   Now, just the other day I was thinking…”when I get a bigger place, I’d really like to get an easel and paint, but our place right now is too small, so I can’t do it now, blah blah blah.”  No more excuses to not create!

It had a water color palette!  A watercolour pen/brush! A sketchbook with different textures of paper for various effect! The woman even MADE the sketchbook herself.  In Kelly’s words, “you need to feel inspired by your materials,” and I was.  Just in case you weren’t sufficiently inspired by the environment.

Over the course of the tour we made our way from Parco Pincio in Villa Borghese, to the top of the Spanish Steps.  The process of sketching makes you pay attention to details that you never would have noticed before.

It could have been easy to feel intimidated on a sketching tour of Rome. First, you are walking in the footsteps some of the greatest masters – and every where you look you are surrounded by stunning design – architecture, gardens, sculpture – even Italian clothes and shoes. Additionally there were some people on the tour who were actual artists.  But for a novice like me it was perfect. Kelly showed me how to work with various techniques, pushing my beyond my “art”  borders in a very gentle and supportive way – using different mediums and styles to different effect, like these:

Little tiny ink sketches

Ink and watercolor

This was a fabulous way to experience Rome through new eyes – and the best thing about it was that with everything I learned from Kelly and my new art studio in a purse, I can keep drawing wherever I am.  Grazie Kelly!  I would definitely recommend her tours to anyone who wants to experience Rome in a new way, get off the beaten track, or nurture a budding creative spark. You can join one of her “Rome Sketch Tours” here: http://kellymedford.com/workshops.

Kelly in action

Enrico and Michel want to know why you aren’t drinking wines from Orvieto

5 Jun

Enrico is a man with a mission. Years ago he purchased 22 acres of prime vineyard, just outside the ancient city of Orvieto, Umbria; overlooking Lake Corbara (about an hour north of Rome). With Freddano‘s elevation, softly sloping incline, fertile earth and sunny exposure, it was the ideal place for producing not just wine, but magnificent wine.

But he had a problem.

In the somewhat limited perspective of wine drinkers around the world, Orvieto doesn’t signify magnificent wines. Sure, everyone knows Tuscany = great wines, a mere 30 kilometers away. The fame of the Tuscan region means even that its less stellar wines command the highest demand and good wines can draw impressive prices. However, if a wine drinker in America or Canada or The UK deigns to try an Orvietan wine, they usually expect it to just be cheap.

So Enrico and and his oeneologist Michel had an important decision to make. They could take their lovely vineyard, cut corners, crowd the grapes, spray the land with chemicals and create cheap, non descript plonk; or, truly honor the potential of the land and create a magnificent wine to convince the world that Orvieto wines are contenders.

Fortunately for us, and for the earth; these winemakers chose not only to make gorgeous wines, but  upped the ante and committed to make them organic too (certified by Accredia)

Starting our visit standing in the vineyard, Enrico explained that it’s simply not possible for all vineyards to be organic. If the terrain lacks wind, is situated at a low altitude, or otherwise has damp conditions, it’s difficult to avoid mold and rot with anything but chemicals. But here at Freddano, the conditions are perfect for sustaining organic growth.

Freddano

What can possibly taste better than wine sipped while standing in the soil of origin poured by its creators?

We sipped glasses of VIgna del Sole (“vine of the sun”) standing between rows of grapes; admiring the wildflowers growing at the base of the vines. All maintenance of the vineyard is done by hand, from the pruning of the vines to the cutting of the grass. We could imagine the wildflowers imparting a delicate hint to this delightful white.

And of course the ubiquitous rose bushes placed at the end of each row, the “canary in the mine.” roses are even more susceptible to diseases that affect the grapes. So by monitoring the health of the roses, a wine makers can monitor the health of their vines before a problem takes hold.

Image

Enrico, with fans.

We moved onto the bottling facility where Enrico explained how not only the their agricultural production is organic, but also their fermentation process. This means there are no additives, and most importantly no flavorings added to the wines at any point. Again, more spectacular wine was poured, this time right from the casks, as we tried a grand, unnamed white which will be released in only limited quantities in magnum bottles – this was a true celebration wine! We bandied about inspired names, our enthusiasm whetted by our liquid creativity.

Freddano’s wines blend familiar with new – blending grapes you know, with ones you’ve never heard of – like Trebbiano & Grechetto with Chardonnay & Sangiovese – and modernizing ancient growing and processing techniques to achieve organic status. And constantly there is strong appreciation for the sense of place.  We are proud to make and drink Orvietan wines!  Right down to the bottles – which designs feature tiles from the stunning duomo (cathedral) in nearby Orvieto.

Image

We wrapped up our “wine tasting and vineyard tour” with a 5-hour lunch in the stone farmhouse with 3 generations of family and friends. A perfect time to enjoy a “celebration wine” from Orvieto!  And we were convinced – Orvieto wines are magnificent (psssst…pass it on!)

Image

Freddano is represented by Dialuce Wines in Canada and internationally.  Please contact Alex Dialuce to order.

A farmer’s market, and more! discovered in Northern Rome

20 May

One of the most pleasurable ways to develop an intimate relationship with a place is to explore a farmer’s market and meet the people who grow our nourishment with their own hands. So imagine my joy when I stumbled across this hidden & unique gem in the northern outskirts of Rome as I was cycling in Parco Regionale Urbano di Aguzzano.

Actually in Rome

It had all the features of the most innovative farmer’s markets.  Indigenous wildflower garden, check.  Solar panels, check. Wonderful local produce and products. Dogs and bikes. Check, check and check. And something you don’t get to see at farmer’s markets in Canada – local, organic wine!

Wildflower garden

Organic wines

But there’s even more to this bucolic oasis on the outskirts of Rome, which to my surprise was mainly populated by students.

I stopped to talk with Lucia, a friendly vendor selling wonderful local honey and whimsical beeswax candles scented with, of course, 100% organic essential oils.

Lucia & her Mom

Originally from Romania, she now shares her talents and passion for natural health and wellness with the lucky residents of Rome. Lucia graciously told me the history of this unique place.

It used to be a farm over a hundred years ago, and the building that dominates the site still features the feeding troughs for cattle.  Over time, the farm was abandoned and became the haunt of rebellious teenagers and outcasts.  Bad things happened here, Lucia remarked darkly.

But eventually the mayor of Rome stepped in and injected new life, creating Il Centro di Cultura Ecologica (the Centre of Ecological Culture).  The mission?  To “achieve a high level cultural center dedicated to issues relevant to environment and ecological culture,” engaging the local community, educators, farmers, artists and environmentalists. The barn was transformed into a library filled with donated books.  Its restored, bright interior was full of students on this Saturday, dedicating their energy to the study of sustainability & ecology.

All these Italian students learning how to create a sustainable future. Cool.

It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes pondering the local attitude toward the environment in Rome.  That a place like this exists in Rome makes me happy and gives me hope; especially as I contemplate my little bounty of beeswax candles.

Lucia’s beeswax candles

The organic farmer’s market (il MercatoBIO di Aguzzano) runs every 3rd Saturday of the month. It’s probably a little out of your way, but bring your bike or picnic blanket and make a day of enjoy this gorgeous environment. Just follow this path between the pines! Or, bring your bike on the Metro B to the Rebibbia station and find Via Fermo Corni.

How to get to MercatoBIO di Aguzzano (the best way): turn left a the lotus pond, head up the hill and turn right at the umbrella pine.

Un Giornata di Neve a Roma (a SNOW day in Rome)

6 Feb

In 25 years, the city has not seen a snowfall like the one we witnessed this weekend. As someone who has grown up with long winters (and frankly thought that I had escaped from them in moving to Rome), it was a delight to see the city under a blanket of snow. There are some unbelievable photos here: http://www.roninrome.com/living-in-italy/snow-in-rome-february-2012

It all started when, faced with a possible sprinkling of a couple centimeters of snow on Friday, Rome announced school cancellations Thursday night. Pleeeez. But sure enough, all day Friday there was a constant barrage of flakes, growing fatter and fluffier as the day progressed. By evening, flakes were starting to accumulate on the ground, and traffic ground to a complete halt.

Expecting this to be a passing weather phenomena, I was somewhat shocked to wake up Saturday AM to a world completely covered with white. It was not just a transformed landscape – with covered palm trees and Vespas looking uncomfortably out of place – the notorious drivers of Rome were also transformed. Normally reckless to the point of daredevils, Romans stayed off the roads almost entirely, and many the brave that ventured out Saturday morning wore chains on their tires – including the city buses!

But the lack of vehicles surprisingly did not confine Italians to their homes – somewhat to my surprise all over the city Romans were walking in droves, (and hopefully giving a thought to how painfully inadequate and poorly maintained/non-existent sidewalks are in the city).

(Even today, 2 days later, driving to the airport we passed 50-100 cars that had been abandoned by the side of the road…and I’ve just learned that Monday will be a day off for everyone with all public services shut down!)

Back to Saturday AM. The beautiful silence in the streets created by a lack of traffic was balanced by the liveliness of every available green space. One of the things I love about Italians is their playfulness. And the snow brought everyone out – I’ve never in my life seen so many snowball fights and snowmen, snowwomen, and snow priests. We even saw 2 snow cazzi complete with due coglone (no picture available).

Saturday afternoon the sun came out and the city was dazzled once again by the combination of blue skies and winter wonderland. Somehow, with no one driving in the streets, everyone magically seemed to have descended on Centro; shopping, strolling and having a grand adventure. Italians of course responded to the unusual weather with their usual flair for appropriate dress:

You can't really see them but we've got a pair of 4 inch stilettos here.

Many, many full-on snow suits

Not sure what's going on here but it looks warm!

It looked like one of the casualties of the day were the trees (I won’t discuss my experience at the airport today when only 20% of staff showed up, although curiously all the passengers managed to be there). Looks like Roman trees are just not used to the weight of snow and many trees lost major branches, I was shocked at how much of the city was littered with these.

Branches everywhere

In the end it was a blast, and it was funny for me to see Italians on every block making snowmen, but not knowing how to do them! They would pile up a mound of snow and then shape it into a snowman shape. I guess it goes to show that the knowledge of how to build a snowman might not be innate, but the desire to do so is universal! Here is a collection of Roman snowman for your viewing pleasure. Note the pile the snow in a big cone technique! And wouldn’t you know that Italians aren’t afraid to accessorize their snowmen?!

Little Caesar

Um...hula dancing snowman?

Flying snowman