Above you see a little map overlay with the country of Italy placed under a map of the Continental US state boundaries.
Italy’s total area is 116,350 square miles or 301,340 square kilometers, the 72nd largest country in the world. Almost 40 per cent of that is mountainous territory.
The area of the US is 9,826,675 square kilometers by comparison. Thus the US is about 32.5 times the size of Italy.
By population, Italy is the 23rd largest country in the world with 61,680,122 people living within its borders.
If Italy were a US state, it would lie between New Mexico and Arizona to be the 5th largest state by area.
So if you’re planning a vacation to take in mainland Italy, it would be like taking a New Mexico vacation except that to drive from north to south would be like driving from far northern California to San Diego, a long drive of at least 13 hours if you don’t dawdle.
Are you not tired of hearing about the curative powers of “yummy!” Italian food arranged on a plate by a saintly person of unsullied culinary credentials who sources the food from other saintly people who treat their lambs like the lambs of God?
Well then, why not visit an outlet mall and eat in the food court? Certainly there will be a disgusting gruel of dubious provenience served there!
Contrast is everything. So off we go.
This is the food corral (er, “Pavilion of Taste”) of the Shoppin Outlet Brugnato Cinque Terre.
Just so you know, we’re located just outside of the town of Brugnato, known for its Infiorata
The “Cinque Terre” has been added to the title by a clever advertising person because the tourists know the five little overtouristed villages and will drool over the prospect of emptying their wallets on any object with the words “Cinque Terre” printed on it, especially refrigerator magnets.
They will sell more crap, in other words.
So let’s have a peek inside, eh? People are eating; don’t bother them with your mouse cursor.
So we make the circle. People in cute uniforms tell us what they can do for us. The burger joint is closed, but we eventually decide on some pasta from this compact little kitchen:
All the pasta is fresh. You can buy it raw and cook it at home. But most people are hungry after their morning shopping, so they pick a sauce and one of the young women will cook the pasta right before your eyes. I ordered Ravioli al Ragu. It’s easy enough.
Five minutes or so later the plate of pasta comes to me on a tray with real silverware along with a very nice glass of red wine which I have purchased for the modest amount of 2.50 euro. Not vino sfuso, the cheap bulk stuff, but local wine poured from a bottle with a label from a serious winery. Try that in the US without making yet another trip to the ATM.
I might as well show the dish to you:
It’s good. Quite good in fact. In any case it tastes way better than the warmed over chef Boyardee slurry you might get served in an American food court, despite looking oddly similar.
It filled me up. I barely had room for the very nicely done torta di verdura. We liked the flaky crust wrapped around a copious filling of greens and onions. Despite the fact that Martha and I shared the dish, there was enough left over for a little breakfast joy the next day.
So what about the final touch, the coffee? Ah, yes we could get an Italian coffee from a big machine and it would undoubtedly be good, but let’s go to the Shopinn’s mall bar instead. It’s just a few steps away.
Some of you neophytes may think all you can get in Italy is a tiny cup with a little strong coffee in it. You like to have lots of stuff in your coffee, so you don’t dare come to Italy, where you will be deprived of the chance to add things like sprinkles and chocolate and spiced pumpkins and all manner of cloyingly sweet things to the astringent brew you find at places like Starbucks. Well, close your eyes! Now open them and look down there:
Welcome to the alternative universe! It’s Golosino time! They’ve lined the glass with zabaione sauce (my choice), made the coffee in it, plopped a scoop of gelato on top, then speared the works with that cookie thing! Pig out baby!
And this isn’t the only “fancy” coffee they serve. Not by a long shot. There’s a list a kilometer long.
Who comes to Italy for the beer? Sure, Italy was once a beer backwater. Vines grew well; who needed beer? Oh a hot day, hard working Sardinians mixed the local Industrial suds with lemon soda so they could slug it down to re-hydrate without fear of drunkenness.
Today there is an explosion of craft beer in Italy. You can’t swing a cat without hitting someone heading for a pub.
A couple of years ago Katie Parla wrote:
“While most would agree that the Italian craft beer industry was born in 1996 when Teo Musso founded the prolific and influential Baladin brewing company, things have really got moving nationwide in the past 4-5 years.” ~ Why the Italian craft beer scene is so exciting
Our merry band of “travel bloggers” had a meeting with Simone, the brewmaster at Birrificio Mazapégul. It was to be held at the Barbeer in the Romagna town of Forli. We had to walk. Past this:
Italy is a wondrous place. Castles everywhere. And now good beer with odd names can be found in pubs and restaurants.
Ever lust after the taste of a beer named 1000 flies? Have no fear, Mazapégul Millemosche is a tasty golden ale. The name is based on a book written for children, Millemosche e la fine del mondo (A Thousand Flies and the End of the World) by a trio of authors: Tonino Guerra, Luigi Malerba, and Adriano Zannino.
It’s good, sound beer, light in alcohol. Perhaps hard working Sardinians would go bonkers with such a brew on a hot day. But I liked:
Balè Burdeli is a little higher in alcohol and was inspired by American craft ales. It’s named after a traditional Romagna orchestra piece. You can hear it on YouTube
So who’s behind all these beers? The brewmaster was kind enough to provide us with Barbeer fried tidbits perfect for munching with his beer. He’s Simone, not only clever beer evangelist but a delight to yack with over a brew.
Simone has a degree in food science and liked to play around with making beer in his garage before being called to duty at Birrificio Mazapégul. It’s obvious he likes his job, and is very passionate about beer and seeing people enjoy the brews he produces.
How hard is it to make and sell beer in Italy? Lots of people complain about the cost of Italian craft beers, but you may fix the blame squarely on the Italian sin tax that has stifled some of the growth already. Craft brewers evidently pay the same excise duty as larger industrial producers. This amounts to about 2,500 euros in peak months, according to figures I’ve seen, and that’s a huge burden per bottle if you don’t crank the stuff out in bulk.
Despite the cost, Italian beer creators have succeeded in delivering distinctively Italian style beers to their customers. Birrificio Mazapégul does a very nice job in its niche.
So look for the distinctive bottles when you are in Italy, or, if you happen to be in the town of Forli, check out Barbeer. The food is great; Italians have a way with fried things that go wonderfully with beer. Yes, there are even burgers.
Why would you go to Forli? Well, you could use it as a base to visit Mussolini’s birthplace in Predappio, or visit the world’s largest ceramics museum, the International Ceramics Museum in Faenza.
There is lots to see and do in Padua, a city in the Veneto region often overlooked by tourists. Padua, or Padova, is on the Milan to Venice train Line between Venice and Vicenza.
But what’s more, there are many things to discover about this center for arts and education. The symbiotic tension between the church and University students prepared the city for the Renaissance, and Padua was at the forefront in modernizing education and medicine.
Let’s look at the trail.
Every visitor to Padua should visit Giotto’s fresco cycle inside the Scrovegni Chapel, consecrated in 1305. Like the better known Sistine chapel, the interior space is covered in frescoes, from a fantastic view of hell to slabs of faux marble. The space is temperature and humidity controlled and each tourist group is given 15 minutes inside. Tickets are required, and you can’t purchase one on the date you want to visit, so buy them in advance. No pictures are permitted and, unlike the Sistine chapel, we witnessed no scofflaws taking cell phone pics while we visited. You can purchase tickets via Select Italy, which is where we got ours.
Enrico Scrovegni was a banker like his father, a known usurer. But at the time, being a rich tightwad was evidently the larger sin. Camel, meet eye of needle. The chapel Enrico built was conceived to get him a first-class place in heaven, despite the basic sins of the family. So he spent lavishly and thus presented the modern tourist with a rather bombastic attraction.
Padua’s University was established in 1222 after a group of students and teachers decided to come to Padua from Bologna where the church had a great deal of control over what could be taught.
Galileo lectured here. During the 16th and 17th centuries Padua was the leading university of the world, first and foremost for its school of medicine. This, in fact, was where modern medicine began.
You can take a 45 minute tour that shows you the innovation in medicine that took place in Padova. You start your tour in the Aula Magna, the Great Hall, where the students orally present their thesis before a panel of professors for graduation from the University.
During the inquisition in the 16th century, human bodies for dissection were hard to come by, but you could will one to be used in research. Thus the sculls in the Great Hall are those of (quite long) past professors who willed their used bodies to their students.
Then you are ready to see the very famous anatomical theater. Fabrizio D’Acquapendente built it in 1594. 300 students could stand and watch a body being taken apart. The theater was built over a canal, so that bodies could be delivered via barge—and returned quickly if the Papal Police were on their way. It also prompted a new form of music as a lute was played to calm the students watching a dissection.
Then it’s on to the Room of Forty, where frescoes depict 40 of the most famous foreign students who went on to spread the new medicine to their homelands. You’ll also see the “desk”, a podium which students cobbled together to allow the great numbers of students to hear the lectures he gave here between 1592-1610.
Your tour ends before a statue of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684), the first woman to graduate from a University.
Across from the entrance to the Palazzo Bo, where you entered for the University tour, is a very famous coffee house. What would a revolutionary city be without a coffee house? Caffè Pedrocchi, which dates from 1831, has always attracted intellectuals, academics and students, and played a major role in the 1848 riots against the Habsburg monarchy.
The Museo del Risorgimento e Contemporanea dell’Età occupies the upper floor, and is now a museum you can visit. You can see pictures on the web site.
And the coffee is very, very good, although expensive if you sit at a table in the “big” room. Follow the locals. Brunch is served on Sunday.
The pious couple Baldo and Sibilla dei Bonafaris’ bequests funded San Francesco Grande, one of the first hospitals whose specific purpose was to cure diseases. Today you can visit MUSME, the museum of medicine and health inside the old hospital building. It’s interactive. Knock on the “door” and a historical figure floats into view and explains how medicine evolved during the period, and how hospitals changed to include bedside visits from doctors, when once they were merely hospitality for pilgrims and the poor. Your kids will love it—and you’ll discover the background to what you saw at the University.
Thus the dei Bonafaris’ pious contributions contributed to the modern idea that disease was caused by something physical or organic in nature and not caused by sin or by bad humors.
Between the market squares of piazza delle Erbe and the piazza dei Frutti, the Palazzo della Ragione is the symbol of Padova. It was begun in 1172 and finished in 1219. The walls are covered in frescors and a walk around the Loggia offers good views of Padova and the markets below.
On the lower floors of the Palazzo della Ragione you’ll find the covered market, with stalls for food and meat. The butcher shops (Macellerie) are only open in the morning, but the general food stores (cheese, wine, bread, etc.) are open again in the afternoon. If you’ve never seen an Italian covered market, you will be amazed.
The Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua is an amazing complex. Construction started around 1232, a year or so after Saint Antonio’s death. There are four cloisters, which you can see on a map of the complex. You can find information, pictures and video on its web site
The Prato delle Valle is the largest public square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. It looks like a stadium on the map. 78 statues ring the elliptical canal. It’s close to the Basilica of Saint Anthony and the Basilica of Santa Giustina.
On the outside there are restaurants, shops and bars…and a very interesting museum: The Museum of Pre-Cinema. Yes, everything people did to make moving pictures before film as we know it. They have an interesting You Tube page if you want to take a virtual tour.
Map of Padua Attractions
Where to Stay
Research for this article was done at a very fine apartment neat the University. Garden Apartment had reliable wi-fi, a good kitchen and was very spacious. It is located in a quiet neighborhood near the canter and there were great, non-touristy restaurants within walking distance. Staying in an apartment allows you to actually try all that good food you can purchase as you stroll through the market.