Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 3 - Lasaune & Interlaken, Switzerland

We said good- bye to Italy and drove to Switzerland.  After our group got settled in Lasaune, a few of us rented a van and drove to Interlaken.  The landscape in Switzerland is amazing!  Magestic mountains, green, lush fields and swiss chalets.  It felt almost unreal to be in such surroundings.

Day 2 - Milan, Italy

Yes, it has taken me forever to get these pictures up, but here they are.  
Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano) -  
The gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory. There are more statues on this building than any other in the world, 3159 in total. 2245 of these are on the exterior together with 96 gargoyles and 135 spires. It is said that if the statues were placed on top of each other, they would reach a height of about 3.3 miles. 

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world's oldest shopping malls. 

Inside the Galleria.

Piazza del Duomo ("Cathedral Square")

Inside the Cathedral.

The stone work and stained glass windows were incredibly ornate.  We spent almost our entire day in Milan taking in the beauty of the Duomo.  We were able to browse some of the amazing shops in the square and explore an gigantic department store too.  After checking into our hotel, we rode the Metro back to the square.  Milan is gorgeous at night with all the buildings lit up.  After browsing a bit, our group selected an outdoor cafe for our dinner.  The food was very different than the dinner we had in Florence the night before.  I had the Lasagna, which was delicious, but much richer than our American recipe. I also tried the Spaghetti Carbonara and it was so good that I've had cravings for it since we've been back home.  I guess I need to make some myself.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 1 Continued - Pisa, Italy

While on our way from Florence to Pisa we saw some gorgeous scenery.  Apparently it had been raining for months before we arrived and the day we flew in was the first sunny day they had seen.  We were very fortunate to have gorgeous weather our whole stay.  The day we left it began to pour again.  Everything was so lush, green and blossoming.  Several areas we passed looked just like scenes from a movie.  Villas, vineyards, orchards and old fortresses dotted the landscape. 

The field of miracles, where the leaning tower of Pisa is located, was very beautiful and much more spacious than I expected.  The tower is situated behind the Baptistry and Cathedral.  Again, I was very impressed with the beauty and architecture of these buildings. The tower's tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure's weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized.  We had the chance to climb the 296 stairs to the top of the tower.  The marble stairs have been so worn down from years of use that they each have a big dip in them. The view from the top was spectacular! I'm not fond of heights so I did a great impression of spiderman while trying to stay away from the guard rail, but it was definitely worth the climb.


The Cathedral

The Tower

The View From the Top

Some of our Group

The Stairs

By dinner-time we were pretty much exhausted so we stopped by a pizza place near our hotel.  The tuscan pizza was very different from ours.  The dough was made without salt and the sauce was tomato sauce without any spice added.  We noticed that they use very little cheese and toppings.  It was good, but I liked the pizza in Milan much better.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Day 1 Continued - Florence, Italy

On the evening we arrived in Florence, we had an authentic tuscan dinner.  The meal started with farfalle pasta and a bolognese sauce.  It was delicious and not realizing that this was only the first course we accepted a second helping.  Then the waiter brought the main course of roasted chicken and potatoes.  It was very simple and cooked to perfection.  Following that we had salad and bread.  The bread was interesting and not what I expected.  We later found out that the Florentines had been with war with another province that imported salt to other areas.  During this time the people of Florence went without salt for so long that they became accustomed to it and still don't add salt to any of their breads.  Our meal concluded with gelato for dessert.  

We had the opportunity to tour the Gallerie dell' Accademia that is the home to Michelangelo's David.  No photography was allowed in the gallery, but it is a place that I will never forget.  I have seen pictures of all of these famous sculptures, but there is nothing like seeing them in person.  I was amazed skill involved to create these works of art and by the amount of detail there was.

That first day in Florence we also visited the Galileo Museum.  It consisted of many scientific instruments that Galileo invented and even housed one of Galileo's fingers that his students removed that the time of his death and put on display.

Right down the way from the museum is the Palazzo Vecchio that serves as Florence's town hall.

Some more pictures of the Arno River.

We enjoyed so many different kinds of delicious food on our trip, but by far the pistachio gelato in Florence was my favorite.  I openly admit to being an ice cream addict, but this was so much better than ice cream! I've even read up on how I can attempt to make my own, but it is a lengthy process.

Here's a recipe if anyone wants to try it for yourself (and bring me some).

Italian Pistachio Gelato Recipe

4 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Pistachio Cream (see recipe below)


In a small bowl combine 1 cup milk, cornstarch, and sugar. Using a wire whisk, combine the ingredients to form a flurry so that all the cornstarch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 3 cups milk and the vanilla extract. Stirring occasionally, heat the mixture to almost a boil; stir in the cornstarch mixture and let simmer from 5 to 12 minutes to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
Prior to using the custard mixture, pour the chilled custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl to clear out any clumps that may have formed. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Prepare the Pistachio Cream (see below).
Whisk the prepared chilled Pistachio Cream into the strained and chilled custard. The gelato mixture is now ready for the freezing process.
Transfer the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Either churn your ice cream by hand or by motor.

When the gelato is done, either serve and enjoy (best if eaten and enjoyed immediately as gelato has a shorter storage life than ice cream) or transfer to freezer containers and freeze until firmer.
Makes approximately 1 quart of pistachio gelato.

Pistachio Cream:
1 cup hot water
7 to 8 ounces raw unsalted shelled and hulled pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons cup superfine sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
In a medium-size saucepan, bring water to a boil.
Place the pistachio nuts, sugar, and olive oil in a food processor. Blend/process, adding the hot water (1 tablespoon at a time to control the consistency of the cream) until pistachios are a smooth, creamy consistency that blends freely in the blender (I actually used 9 tablespoons of hot water).
NOTE: Stop the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during this process.

When done, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in making the gelato.
Makes approximately 1 cup.