Dreams of Venice

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice

In looking for photos for the next #DolceVitaBloggers linkup tomorrow, I ended up looking at some of my photos of Venice. That’s when I realized that that visit was 16 years ago today. We had gone to Venice for the day, not really thinking that the day was a holiday (Epiphany/Befana). As a result, many shops and restaurants were closed. One restaurant, in particular, that G had hoped to visit was sadly closed.

It may not have been the most convenient day to visit, but in the end, it may have still been one of the best. A cold day in the first week of January meant fewer tourists. As a result, we were able to wander around, getting lost but not getting lost, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery without jostling with hordes of tourists.

Venice truly is beautiful, especially on a relatively quiet day like the one we experienced. The canals, the architecture, the dreamy nature of the city were all there. And a few shops were still open, so I was able to buy a Murano black cat glass sculpture from a gift shop, even if we didn’t get to head over to the actual glass-making island that day. Something for another trip!

Even though I was using a film camera at the time (I told you it was 16 years ago), I still ended up with some of my favorite photos that day. The gondolas, of course, were ridiculously picturesque, but the real treasure was getting some photos of the Ca’ D’Oro around this time of late afternoon with the setting sun causing parts of the building to glow as if literally covered in gold. I had seen the palazzo earlier in the day and it was already stunning. Seeing it again lit by the sun was a dream come true.

A picture is worth a thousand words and I’m short on words today, so I hope you enjoy some of these photos I took in Venice 16 years ago today.

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
venice gondolas venezia rainbow reflection
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice

Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in VeniceCa D’Oro during the day.


Venice Venezia gondolas gondole things to see in Venice
Ca’ D’Oro in the setting sun.

Specialty Food Shops in the Heart of Bologna

Just off Piazza Maggiore, you’ll find a number of small streets filled with Bologna specialty food shops that are foodie heaven. This is part of the Quadrilatero and these shops are part of the food market tradition in these streets that date back to the medieval period, if not further. Small shops dedicated to top-quality Italian classic ingredients. There are the fruit and vegetable stalls, the butcher, the fishmonger, cheese, bread, chocolate, and many more variations on a foodie theme. These narrow streets are always busy, even more so during the holiday season. And yes, those are eels in the white box on the bottom right. Just one of the many types of seafood you’ll find on offer.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, we went to one of the butchers to get the ingredients for the classic lasagne that G makes. After all, that’s one of the famous dishes that traces some of its origins to this part of Italy. Emilia-Romagna lasagne is made up of ragú bolognese, bechamel, parmigiano, and the pasta sheets, which can be regular or made with spinach for a lasagne verde. Nothing else! There are other versions in the country, but this is the version most common in northern Italy. And that’s all I’ll say on that, before someone from another region complains. 😉 I love to eat Italian food, but talking or writing about it? No, thanks! Too easy to make a mistake and offend someone!

The butcher we go to is the Macelleria Agnoletto & Bignami on Via Pescherie Vecchie. Even if that wasn’t where the family usually goes, I think I would have wanted to go, just for the sign. I noticed it last week and couldn’t resist squeezing in a quick shot, despite having Charlie with me and numerous tourists and locals passing through the narrow street. I find it kind of hilarious and a brilliant design!

macelleria bologna specialty food shops

As well as the fresh meat and poultry available (just take a number to get served), there is also a selection of meats and cheeses, from the obvious parmigiano to bresaola, mortadella, and other charcuterie classics. Plus, wines, olive oils, sauces, and so much more.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

These aren’t necessarily the most affordable shops, but you do get a broader selection than in the local grocery stores. There are also shops where you can buy some lovely pasta, as well. We were considering some tortellini, but that might have to wait for later into the new year.

Whether you’re purchasing for a special occasion, taking advantage of having a kitchen in an AirBnB place, or just want to window shop, there are plenty of Bologna specialty food shops to tempt you in the Quadrilatero. Some day, I may even get some decent photos, instead of really quick snaps between all of the shoppers. A new year’s resolution, perhaps. For now, a few more snaps along Via Pescherie Vecchie.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie
bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie
bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

The French Christmas Market … in Italy.

christmas market
Along with the regular markets taking place throughout the week, a new influx of holiday markets has arrived. Some have come and gone, while others hold out through the new year. Some are purely Italian, while others have a more foreign flavor. Once such market is il villaggio di natale francese, the French Christmas Village. This little Christmas market has packed up and said au revoir for the season, but we managed to stop by for a quick visit on its last night in town.

The market took place in the Piazza Minghetti, which is a charming little square surrounded by some beautiful, classical-style buildings. It’s also just a short walk from some of the fanciest shops in town, as well as some of the most beautifully decorated portico ceilings in the city. While the stalls weren’t excessive in number, they were certainly picturesque. They reminded me of some of the wooden Christmas market stalls that were set up frequently in Utrecht for some of the festivities in recent years. All that was missing was a light dusting of snow and some reindeer for a pure holiday display.

christmas market bologna piazza minghetti

The stalls themselves sold a variety of wares, including a spice stall that had me seriously considering buying some pink pepercorns and some of the various curry spice blends they had on offer. Of course, there was also plenty of cheese, hats, fabric pieces, chocolates, macarons, decorations, and other odds and ends. You could also purchase drinks and food to enjoy right there. I do slightly regret not giving in and trying some of the numerous hot dishes, including the cassoulet. Everything smelled divine and my mouth was watering.

The one stall I ended up not being able to resist was the cookie/biscuit stall. Sure, they had the classic madeleines, but they also had macaroons, which are delicious mounds of lightly sweetened shredded coconut on a biscuity base, with drizzles of chocolate. For my fellow Americans, think of a fancier, bigger version of the beloved Girl Scout Samoa/Caramel deLite cookies. They are perfect and I’m so glad I gave in and got some. In fact, I bought four, just enough to allow me one a day through Christmas. They are my morning treat with my coffee, a perfect combination.
christmas market cookie biscuit stall bologna

christmas market cookies samoa coconut girl scouts bologna

We missed the elves, which a friend told me about, but in all, I’m glad we stopped by this little bit of France in Bologna. It was the perfect size; big enough to be appealing rather than overwhelming.

There are a few more Christmas markets in Bologna that I’d like to visit (or revisit, in one case) before the end of the holiday season. Whether I make it or not, at least I’ve seen a couple that are helping me get into the holiday spirit.
Joyeux Noël!

christmas market bologna french

christmas market bologna italy

Holiday Home Stretch

Only two more days left on the advent calendar before it’s officially Christmas. (Our advent calendar is given over to cat and dog treats and Lola rushes over to it every morning when I get up.) We’re basically ready for the holidays; just a little more wine to purchase and make sure we have enough pet food stocked up.

I took a lot of photos last night and today, but I’m honestly too tired to go through them all and figure out themes and do any research. So for now, here are two holiday-themed photos from last night. One cute little holiday light display, and one odd little hut made of Christmas greenery with Charlie looking away distracted. Hopefully I’ll get around to some of the other holiday light photos tomorrow. For now, happy Friday and good luck if you’re going to be facing any last-minute crowds this weekend!

holiday lights bologna italy natale

holiday lights bologna italy natale

Homemade Eggnog and Holiday Spirits

Is it December already? In an attempt to get into the holiday spirit, it’s time to break out the spirits — and the homemade eggnog recipe that is a good excuse for the spirits. I’ve certainly adapted to some of the Italian Christmas traditions, such as panettone and pandoro, and I’m looking forward to the Christmas feast, but I still have my own traditions I like to indulge in to make it feel like home, no matter where I’m living.

homemade eggnog recipe

Years ago, in the Netherlands, after suffering through two whole Christmases without eggnog, I finally broke down and worked up my own recipe after combining bits and pieces of other recipes I found online. I made my own eggnog once before, but that was when I was little and trying out my first cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. Eventually I found a couple of recipes that didn’t call for crazy amounts of sugar or fancy techniques and I created my own mashup with a few tweaks. I’ve been using it now for the past seven years and while I occasionally let it cook a little too long — it just gets a bit custardy — it’s always drinkable and copious amounts of rum (or bourbon or brandy or your tipple of choice) makes it all go down easy and will thin it out if you make it too thick.

Even in the US, I only drank eggnog on the day I decorated the Christmas tree and that tradition remains. I put some Christmas tunes on, break out all the old decorations that have travelled with me from state to state and country to country, get a bit tipsy on eggnog, and by the end I’m feeling the holiday spirit. Well, that might be the alcoholic spirits, too, but a tree full of lights and decorations that are full of memories and meaning for me does make me start to feel a bit more like the winter holidays are upon us. Oh, and my favorite bit is somewhere in the middle of the decorating when Elvis’ Blue Christmas comes on. For some reason, it has become a tradition that when that song comes on, I grab Lola and we start to dance. I love it. Her opinion is still out.
Merry Freakin' Christmas

So, whether you’re in the US and just want to try your hand at making your own eggnog or you’re overseas and don’t have easy access, here’s my one-pot, easy, homemade eggnog recipe. Oh, and if you want to avoid a film forming over the top while it cools, just rest some plastic wrap on the surface. Enjoy!

flamingo homemade eggnog recipe expat life



I found okra in Bologna!

Seriously, y’all, today was not the best of days, but we finally stopped in at a new world supermarket that has opened on Via del Borgo di San Pietro. It’s a new shop and there’s space on the shelves still to fill, but there’s definitely some interesting stuff to be had there. But when I saw the refrigerated vegetable section, small as it may be, I couldn’t help but start dancing and boogy-ing. They had okra! And not just small bags of it. Big boxes of the stuff! After I had my moment of celebration, I was soon throwing handfuls into a bag G had found for me.

Okra Bologna Mondo Nuovo Supermarket via del borgo di san pietro

Growing up, I was not a fan of okra. Too slimy. Or at least, that’s what I’d heard, so I never really even tried it. But as I got older, I became much more food adventurous — for the record, I’ve tried durian and didn’t gag — and soon came to love okra in any form. Even just pan cooked, which is when it can get the texture that puts people off.

I was lucky enough to find one store and a Saturday market stall in Utrecht that sold it, but I wasn’t sure I’d have much luck here. Thus my excited reaction when I saw it today. Best of all, we had already picked up some polenta the other day to make cornbread (it’s close enough), so I figure I’ll add a light touch of cornmeal/polenta and have fried okra tonight. Always a classic! After I talk to my dad to find out how he made it for me last time I was home, though.

The reason I made cornbread this week is because today is Thanksgiving in the US. Gotta have cornbread dressing! However, for various reasons — the main one being that I thought Thanksgiving was next week — we’ll be celebrating tomorrow. But that’s ok, the giblet gravy is simmering away right now and we’ve got enough turkey to feed the whole building. I’ll be having turkey sandwiches for weeks, which is fine, because that’s one of the best parts of Thanksgiving. And until tomorrow, I’ve got some fried okra for dinner tonight to tide me over. Oh, and the stews and gumbo that I’ll be able to make this winter! Happy days!

So to anyone in Bologna looking for okra and some other less common world-food items, check out the Mondo Nuovo Supermarket on Via del Borgo, not too far down from Via Irnerio. Please keep them busy and in business, no matter what you purchase. I don’t want to lose my okra source!

Okra Bologna Mondo Nuovo Supermarket via del borgo di san pietro

Okra Bologna Mondo Nuovo Supermarket via del borgo di san pietro

Celebrating Bologna’s Saint’s Day

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

Each saint in the Catholic Church has his or her own special day dedicated to them. If you happen to be named after a saint — and lots of people are — then you sometimes get to celebrate your saint’s day. If you’re a city, you have your own patron saint. Bologna’s patron saint is San Petronio and his day of celebration is today, 4 October. San Petronio was the 8th bishop of the city, from 431 to 450 AD. And no, I’m not missing any “1s” from those dates.

San Petronio festa statue bologna patron saint

For some, today is a holiday, though it seems that most of the regular shops are open. There are some special festivities to celebrate the day, though. There is a rally of some sort at the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana by the two towers, and later there is a religious procession from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Nettuno. To be honest, that’s not exactly a long trek, as the two squares really just make up one big area in front of the basilica, particularly as the Neptune (Nettuno) statue is under renovation and the covering takes up a lot of the square.

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

The basilica is dedicated to San Petronio and is a pretty spectacular bit of architecture that was first started in 1390. It may seem a bit odd at first glance, as the upper half of the facade remains unfinished. However, inside it’s pretty impressive and not lacking in decoration or beautifully colored warm marble. There’s some interesting history and stories to go along with it, but that will have to wait for another post.

So, to all Bolognese, wherever you are, buona festa di San Petronio!

Celebrating the Festa della Repubblica

Today is a national holiday in Italy. It’s the Festa della Repubblica, the day in which Italians celebrate becoming a republic. On this day in 1946, Italians went to the polls to vote whether to remain a monarchy or become a republic. They chose republic, which isn’t that much of a surprise considering the behavior of the last king of Italy, from the Savoy family, who appointed Mussolini and then ran away during WWII. That said, the numbers were fairly close. Still, over the years, I’ve heard many an Italian speak negatively of monarchies, particularly the Savoy family that last reigned over Italy.

So, a republic it is! This is one of the few days when you’re likely to see Italian flags hung about and there are parades and special presentations and events to celebrate, at least in Rome. I’m not really sure what’s going on in Bologna today. It’s too hot and I’m too busy working — not a holiday for me; mine was Monday — so I’m afraid you get the abbreviated story today. You also get a random photo that happens to include the Italian flag and the flag of Bologna.

Festa della Repubblica

Good Friday in Bologna

Today certainly started off as a Good Friday, in the sense that I got to go out with Charlie for a three-hour walk around town. Admittedly, I hadn’t planned on it being a three-hour walk, but the weather was nice and we were having fun, so we just kept walking. Well, we did stop for a coffee in Piazza Maggiore and enjoyed a bit of people and dog watching, too.

Good Friday basilica di san petronio bologna Good Friday Piazza Maggiore Bologna

Along the way, we found ourselves strolling down Via Indipendenza, one of the major shopping streets. It’s also home to the city’s cathedral. Despite what you may think, the Basilica di San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore is not the cathedral. It’s certainly a big church, but it’s not the cathedral. I’ll save the semantics for another day. I took so many photos today that until G just reminded me, I had forgotten I had one of the cathedral (the building on the right) juxtaposed against some curvy Art Deco architecture.
Good Friday st peter cathedral bologna

Anyway, as we were walking along Via Indipendenza, we passed under the portico of the Palazzo del Monte di Pietà. This building, which dates back to the 1470s, was originally the residence of the cannons of the cathedral and was connected to the cathedral. However, I think since the 1500s, it has frequently had some sort of banking/loan history and is still the seat of a banking institution.

The pietà element of the name of the palazzo can be seen in the sculpture over the doorway. I suppose it’s appropriate for today, seeing as it’s Good Friday, the day Jesus is supposed to have died on the cross. This depicts more of a deposition with Nicodemus having taken Christ down from the cross, with Mary and two angels looking on.

Good Friday Charlie palazzo del monte di pieta bologna Good Friday deposition of christ palazzo del monte di pieta

(For what it’s worth, I’m not Catholic; I’m not even religious. But you can pick up a surprising amount of information when you focus on the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance at university. I’m drawn to this kind of stuff for that reason.)

So, whether you’re celebrating Easter, Passover, or hopefully at least a long weekend, enjoy yourselves! I hope you’re having a good Friday, too.

Mardi Gras(sa)

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! Today I find myself thinking a bit about New Orleans and Italy, as well as the nicknames of Bologna: la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa. La dotta, meaning learned one, stems from Bologna being the home of the oldest Western university. La grassa, or the fat one, is thanks to the city’s famously delicious cuisine. La rossa, the red, typically refers to the red roof tiles that cover so much of the city, though the city’s sometimes communist tendencies have occasionally tied in to la rossa, as well.

Lessons Learned

It may have been decades *ahem* years since I last lived in New Orleans, but I will never not love that city. After all, it is often referred to as the most European of all the American cities. I lived there while I was a student at Tulane University, getting my degree in the history of art and trying to become a bit more dotta. It was there that I particularly fell in love with the Italian Renaissance and its architecture.

Italy and New Orleans are all tied up together in my mind in some ways. Such as running under the live oaks on the way to my Renaissance Architecture course to turn in my big paper on rustication that my professor ended up liking so much he asked for a copy. Squeeeeeee! That same professor lived and worked here in Bologna off and on over the years.

Fat Tuesday

I may not be Catholic, or even religious, but between studying so much Italian Renaissance art, as well as living in New Orleans and having a lot of Catholic friends over the years, I’ve learned some of the Catholic traditions, and such. One of which, is Carnevale. It’s not a big deal here in Bologna, the way it is in Venice or New Orleans, but there are still some traditions. In New Orleans, you’ve got King Cake to turn you grassa, because it’s everywhere and absolutely delicious. Here in Bologna, there’s another sweet treat during the season: sfrappole. Sfrappole are thin bits of fried dough coated in powdered sugar and they’re pretty addictive. It’s a common treat during the period leading up to Lent. You’ll find piles of it everywhere from local cafés to the grocery store. Not that it’s purely Italian or even from this region. There are variations found in multiple countries and numerous names even within each country.

mardi gras bologna

Seeing Red

When I get to la rossa, that’s when the comparisons fall apart. The colors I associate with New Orleans, particularly during this time of year, are yellow/gold, green, and purple. Though I suppose there are quite a few red eyes the next morning during the season from staying up late and partying. But for what it’s worth, while writing all of this nostalgic meandering, I have been looking out onto some of the red roofs of Bologna. They’re a nice pop of color on what it turning out to be a grey day.

But returning to la grassa for a moment … I thought about making some gumbo today, but I really like okra in my gumbo and I haven’t found any yet. Does anyone know if there are any shops that sell it here in Bologna? I found it in Utrecht, so I hold out some hope of finding it here. A girl can dream …

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