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It’s a short walk from our humble casa to Serricciolo, where we get our coffee most mornings. The Giro d’Italia passed by today, so we came down and took up a place by the road and waited until the time the website predicted riders would round the bend in front of the bar.

They were right on time.

But let’s stop the action for a moment. Let’s talk pink. Pink is not considered in the same light here in Italy as it is in the US. People actually paint their houses pink and think nothing of it. Pink, as you surely know, is the color of the winner’s jersey, the maglia rosa, in the Giro d’Italia. It started with the sponsoring sports paper, which was printed on pink paper and steamrolled until now there is a museum of pink jerseys.

So people dress their kids in pink and buy them pink popsicles and show up on the verge of the road for the manly cyclists who dream of wearing pink some day. Here’s some evidence because I know you think I’m pulling your collective leg:

giro spectator picturePretty in Pink

And it’s not just the human kids, either:

pink dog picturePink is not only for kids...

So let’s star the clock and see the first group of chasers:

Chasers pedal past the bar in Serricciolo

These guys are seriously thinking pink.

But the scenic direction is toward the Apuan Alps, the marble quarries of famous sculptors and kitchen sink producers. The boys pedal off into the sunset…

giro d'italia pictureThe Peloton heads towards the Alpe Apuane

The Giro in Lunigiana: Pretty in Pink originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com May 13, 2015, © James Martin.


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Ok, here’s the question. Would you be attracted to a bar with an entrance like this?

la farmacia bar pictureLa Farmacia Bar

La Farmacia dei Sani, as this wine bar is called, is a clever play on the Italian idea of pharmacy. In fact, their mission translates as something like “born with good idea to interpret everything like a pharmacy, to cure every symptom of appetite.”

The Maratea coast is quite beautiful, especially at sunset. It’s in Basilicata, a little slice of it that peeks into the Tyrrhenian sea. Americans don’t go there much, despite the tag line “the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”. They prefer to cram into the Cinque Terre. Maratea is just another beautiful place in Italy.

maratea sunset pictureMaratea Sunset

This picture above was taken from the grounds of the Santavenere Hotel, right on the Maratea coast with, as you can see, great views. It’s the off season, so rooms are affordable, despite the luxury, and the folks running it are family, rather than a corporate conglomerate.

Just up the hill from the hotel and coastline are villages where everyone makes something good from the earth, the kinds of villages Italians like to visit because they can knock on random doors looking for the best regional salami or cheese—and they know they will find it.

Nearby, just above the little villages, is the small town of Maratea. Main street looks like this, all pretty in pastel:

maratea pictureMain Street, Maratea, Basilicata, Italy

Above that is the tip of the hill with, as anthropologists say frequently, “has religious significance.” And great views by the way.

So you can take this vertical itinerary and have it all. Just set your GPS to “UP”.

In any case, I am extremely attracted to that little bar. You can get all the regional wines and things to eat that involve artisan cured meats (cold cuts to you) and cheeses. Don’t be intimidated. Belly up to the bar and ask the pharmacist what’s good for you—to eat and drink.

A Bar in Maratea originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Apr 20, 2015, © James Martin.


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To tourists trying to make the most of the weak euro by avoiding the cities of Italy and instead driving around aimlessly in the countryside. Don’t do it! Skies turn black, shadows weaken your best attempt at pictures, low lying fog blurs the details of your best landscape snaps. Come to your senses oh yee cheapskate tourist! This is not the time for you!

And now the evidence:

umbrian landscapeRural Landscape: Umbria near Fontanaro

umbria countryside pictureLake and Clouds, Umbria

umbria farmhouse pictureUmbrian Farmhouse

montestigliano pictureUgly Shadows, Montestigliano

san gimignano fog pictureLow Lying Fog: San Gimignano

san gimignano stormRainstorm: San Gimignano

(This message has been presented as a public service by Wandering Italy and Just Go Italy. For more information on San Gimignano, see: San Gimignano: City of Towers.)

Warning: Avoid Rural Italy in the Off Season originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Apr 03, 2015, © James Martin.


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crusty bread picture

When you allow big industry to provide your food, the evolution of that food always follows the same lines. A humungous company will introduce something cheap yet relatively tasty. People buy it. The company that makes the food cranks it out in as cheap a way as possible because the CEO gets paid an unimaginable amount of money and politicians don’t come cheap these day. The company is publicly traded, so it has to make ever more money or risk getting bought out for cheap, even when the product becomes, well, shall we say stale? So the product is redone, not so that it tastes better, but so that it offends fewer and fewer people and thus reaches into the furthest cracks of over-fracked America. That’s why people like the “Italian” food at Olive Garden. It doesn’t offend you with that green color of pesto or the “unexpected” taste of capers. It is Italian in name only.

The same has happened to bread. It no longer offends people with a crust that is actually crust-like. A slice can be used to sop up unsightly kitchen spills. It is light enough that a truckload of loaves uses hardly any fuel. It has a list of ingredients a mile long. You never knew it took so much chemical mining to make bread, so you give up trying because you don’t own a mine—which means you buy more non-offensive bread @ 50 cents a loaf which equates to 59 dollars a pound.

Artisan bread follows a more traditional evolution, the one we used to associate with a free market. It finds its market, it creates a better mousetrap so to speak, and serves that market by changing only when tastes change.

So if you actually like crusty bread with flavor and an interior that isn’t blindingly white and soft as a baby’s bottom you might pay through the nose in the good ol’ US of A because the artisan baker isn’t getting the tax breaks the big boys with their paid political clout are getting—but your nose knows, and your well-being benefits.

Then again, you can make bread at home for very little money. Yes, generous people sick of crap bread are working tirelessly to show you how you don’t need a wood burning oven or a steam-pressurized professional oven to make fantastic bread (but you can, as I do, lust after one). You need a push. You need a mentor. You can do this.

If you travel, you know the rest of the world has great bread and a great many bakeries. (I know, America has decent bread too, but it’s a specialty item, not an everyday thing.) You can go to Germany and be amazed at the bread on your breakfast table. Southern Italy bakes what I think is Italy’s best bread. Thus, what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what country your mentor comes from. It’s all good if the bread is made of yeast, flour, water, a touch of salt and love.

So, here’s the deal. Why not learn bread in Piemonte from a Dutch master? You can. I’m telling you, it’s cheap, you will enjoy being in a place where Italy’s best wine comes from, and you’ll be hosted by people I guarantee you will enjoy.

I’m talking about Marla and Fabrizio over at beautiful Bella Baita and their collaboration with “Dutch Baker Extraordinaire, Ralph Nieboer.”

Artisan Bread Making Workshop May 22 through 24

This hands on 2 day three night hands on workshop will feature Ralph Nieboer sharing his secrets for making and maintaining a wild yeast starter and making various types of lean and enriched breads with wild yeast and poolish varieties of dough. You will also be learning various decoration techniques including his very intriguing mesh covered loaves. We are still working out all the finer details which will follow. Fabrizio and I will be cooking and making dough as well.

The workshop is small and personal, so contact Marla and she’ll set you up.

If you’d like to research further, here are some links I’ve come up with in my research:

Ralph Nieboer’s Facebook page

Bella Baita Facebook

Bella Baita Bed and Breakfast
Italian Alps Retreat
Borgata SerreMarchetto 1
10060 Pinasca (TO) Italia
Bella Baita GPS Coordinates
N° 44.96050 E° 007.24000

The Breadlab

Do You Knead Bread?

Your Basic Bread originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Mar 13, 2015, © James Martin.


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