Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hiking the volcano's rim

Vesuvius is the long-surviving representative of a Neapolitan family.  Dormant but still viable, it belonged to a daisy chain of volcanoes that arced around the Bay of Naples (long before Naples existed).  I live close to several craters here in Pozzuoli, including one that dependably belches sulfurous steam for the tourist trade.  The Solfatara infuses our mornings with its potent breath . . . but I've grown accustomed, if not fond, of its redolant a.m. greeting.

Another large crater was transformed by the Americans into a recreation facility for those stationed here after World War II. It is named for Admiral Robert Carney.  Still operating, and now also open to Italian membership, the private park offers an impressive array of recreational facilities.  Carney Park crater is large enough to accommodate a complex of sports fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, rustic cabins, a pool, and a golf course all nestled in its bowl.  

The wooded interior sides of the crater are crisscrossed with paths that lead up to the rim.  It's a steep ascent, steeper if you try to go straight up a rain gully (as we did last year when we didn't know about the trails).  But the effort is rewarded with a breathtaking panorama at the summit.  Spring weather inspired us to make a second ascent yesterday. Though we took the more sedate trail route this time, it was still almost one and a half hours to the summit.
  Once you reach the crest, you can't help but draw a breath of awe.  The vista encompasses the islands of Ischia and Procida (on a clear day, Capri, too); Lago d'Averno (on the bottom of which Virgil believed was the mouth of Hades);  the bay surrounded by the towns of Pozzuoli, Bacoli, and Baia; Baia Castle; and blue, blue Mediterranean to the horizon line.

We were lucky enough to surface at the site of a ruin.  Quinn and Lily spent quite a while exploring it.  A monastery, a hermit's retreat, a nobleman's scenic keep . . . we couldn't discern.  But the kids' imaginations were definitely in overdrive.

There were many chestnut shells along the path, wild cyclamen and ferns unfurling.   I thought I spotted wild fennel, but a nibble proved me wrong.  Oh well.  

But we rewarded ourselves amply after our descent with a big pizza lunch at one of our favorite places here in Pozzuoli: Zona A Pizzeria.  Jon swears the special "Zona A" pizza, featuring prosciutto, large shavings of Asiago cheese, and a healthy, post-bake sprinkling of the green rugola, is his favorite in  Italy.  
Needless to say, the potent combination of volcano hike and pizza feast led to lovely afternoon snoozes when we returned home.  A perfect way to spend a sunny primavera Saturday!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What followed me home today.

This morning I coaxed Jon into accompanying me to the flea market.  My usual companion was off flitting around Paris for her 10th wedding anniversary.  That hussy was probably at the Paris flea market without me! So I wasn't being unfaithful.*

We got there about 9:30 which many of you will know is mid afternoon in flea market time.  It was a beautiful day so the place was packed with vendors and customers.  We went down our favorite aisle which has little garage-like interiors that established vendors have staked out.  I bought a very few trinkets at my favorite trinket booth -- pickings were slim today, and I didn't feel like digging through his big boxes of leavings.  These were all in one little box.  I love the cherry charm, and I've already embellished the oak leaf broach with a faceted yellow jade briolette (though not permanently as I might want to replace it with a green stone).  The ornamented coin item has a bezel for a dangle.  How could I resist?

Then we happened upon a very brusque character selling a stack of matted etchings for 1 euro each.  We chose three of them, including a Venetian canal scene, a street scene, and what looks like the Plaza Populare in Naples -- but I wouldn't swear to it.

My purchase of the day was this English footed bowl. It's marked J.H.W. & Sons Royal Falcon Ware.  I believe it's Staffordshire china.  I had almost bought it a few weeks back, but had already gone over my (very small) limit.  But there it was, sitting cheerfully in front as if it had been waiting for me these many weeks.  I almost kissed it -- but had to pretend that we had never met before so as not to ruin my bartering stance.  I sweet talked the chatty gentleman down to one third the first asking price.  Huzzah!  It's very 1920s . . . maybe out of a scene from Carrington.

The last item to climb aboard was a faux bois pitcher.  I don't have any other faux bois, but the colors sang out to me . . . I love a green earthy palette.  And I knew it would match these Bulgarian pottery plates that Jon brought back from Sofia several months ago.  I think I did pretty well on the color recall, don't you?

* Please come home, M! You never ask me what I spent or hurry me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Impromptu Cornell Box

This Italian ex-voto or milagro came home with me a couple of weeks ago . . . barefoot.  I think she is a nurse.  When I saw these paper wings in the gift shop at Hohenzollern Castle, I thought of her, angel of mercy that she is.  The knight with the winged helmet also dwells at Hohenzollern Castle.  Just a few things added -- a Highlights search for the Cornell set.  Feel free to I.D. some of the other things in the comments! I challenge you to guess what lies below her feet.

Cooking up a snow storm!

In returning to Naples, we went from this:

To this:

But I was still in an Alsatian/Schwabian mood . . . and needed to make do with what was already in the freezer/fridge.  So here's what I came up with for dinner on Monday night without nipping out to the corner shop (though Jon did bring home some milk). And I know not everyone has heavy cream sitting in the fridge (unopened) all week . . . but that stuff really lasts with all that butterfat in it!

Pork and Potato Gratin
1 lb boneless pork loin chops, cut into cubes
3 slices of bacon
2 tbsns oil
2 medium onions diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tspn salt
Ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream 
5 large potatoes sliced into 1/4 in. thick rounds
Munster cheese, slices or grated

Fry the bacon with oil in large frying pan.  Remove and cut or crumble into small pieces return to pan with onions, garlic and pork.  Sauté until until onion is transparent and pork is beginning to brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Turn off heat.  Put a little of the meat mixture into one end of a buttered casserole dish, layer potatoes on a diagonal over it.  Continue adding layers across the casserole, gauging amounts so that you cover the entire bottom of the casserole.  

Put the pan over heat again and deglaze it with the white wine.  Turn off the heat and add the cream, stirring. Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes and pork.  Layer Munster slices or sprinkle grated cheese over the casserole.  Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 45 minutes until potatoes are tender and cheese is bubbly and browned.

Red Cabbage with secret ingredient
1 medium head red cabbage, chopped
1 diced onion
2 stalks celery chopped
1 granny smith apple peeled and chopped
3 tbspn butter
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tspn salt
2 tbspn brown sugar
2 large lebkuchen cookies crumbled (or 5 gingersnap cookies)

Melt butter in large frying pan. Sauté red cabbage, onion, celery, and granny smith apple in butter until softened (about 5 minutes).  Add cider vinegar, water, brown sugar, cookie crumbs, and salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes to an hour.  

I was happy to debut my new Soufflenheim bowl with an appropriate dish.  Please let me know if you give these a try.  There weren't leftovers of the gratin in my house . . . but Jon happily took some red cabbage  with him for lunch the next day.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday's Magnetic Poetry

This has been hanging around for a while on the fridge, but felt apropos of my language disorientation returning to Italy . . . Spanish, sí, hablo más que un poco (pero doce años lo han erosionado). German, Ja, Ich spreche und Ich verstehe aber ich bernötige Praxis.  But Italian stumps me: this old brain just resists doing this new trick.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Tübingen's town center teems with great shops, but this seemingly endless toy store with room after room of toys epitomized how Germans KNOW HOW TO DO TOYS.
Seasonal tchotchkes in a felicitous presentation!

Smurfs and more smurfs . . .

Super soft stuffed toys in whimsical clothes . . . what's not to like?

Emily hams it up with a giraffe . . .

Quinn's chagrin that the Lego lollapalooza behind him cannot yield Xmas or birthday presents today.
The wonderful dolly hutch

Devilish fun!

I'm a complete sucker for wooden toys.

Ballerinas to the left of me, Pippi Longstocking to the right . . .

And this magnificent children's section in one of the local bookstores . . . and that was only the half of it!
Auf wiedersehen von Deutschland!

Ich liebe Tübingen

Every time we come to Stuttgart, we fit in a visit to this wonderful university town.  Somehow Tübingen is charming, bustling, cool, and romantic all at once.  We had benefited from warm(ish) weather all week, especially an almost balmy day at the zoo on Thursday. Friday, though, presented a precipitous drop on the thermometer and steady wind gusts so stiff that my Neapolitan children were weeping from the freeze.  Our first stop was to duck into H&M to procure some highly reduced hats and mitts (cold-weather gear that we had forgotten to bring along and almost got away without needing).  

Newly outfitted against the cold, we entered the Marktplatz serving its time-honored purpose: picturesque setting for the weekly market.  At turns, we savored the smell of cheese and bread and then fragrant spring flowers from various stalls we passed.  I loved seeing the big bushels of pussywillows and branches ready for forcing.  The kids crowded together for warmth for this shot before the impressive Rathaus or town hall.  

All those delicious smells inspired plaintive cries of hunger from my brood.  So we found a little stube close by with an extremely friendly waitress (one in an uninterrupted series here).  Quinn decided on soup: lebenspåtzlesuppe, to be exact.  We both thought that would mean a soup with spatzle dumplings in it.  When the soup arrived, I remembered that leben means liver. The dumplings were little meat, um, liver dumplings. Motherly discretion meant I said nothing, and Quinn thoroughly enjoyed it, exclaiming over how delicious it was.  

Lily and Emily ordered käsespatzle (miniature dumplings in a cheese sauce) and salad, and I chose maultaschen (large raviolis) in broth.  Everyone savored the warm environment and the hearty food.  I could have sat there for hours and had a beer or two more.  But somehow I pushed against my contented inertia and got us chugging up hill to the castle. Fortunately, the waitress fortified my children with Chupa Chupas for the steep climb up the wooded trail to the back entrance of the castle.

Tübingen's castle belongs to the university's archeology and classics departments.  It houses their extensive collection of antiquities, both genuine and reproduction.  They had a few rooms of local prehistoric remnants but the majority of the collection contains Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts.  There are small statues, urns and amphora, coins, jewelry, and then a cavernous room crowded with plasters and even bronze reproductions of classic statuary from the great museums of the world.  

You can see the Louvres's Nike, one of the Parthenon horse heads from the British Museum, a fantastic Hermes from the Naples Archeological Museum . . . it is an impressive treasure trove even if most of it is cast from plaster.  
Emily plopped right down and started sketching, so I tried my best to keep Lily and Quinn interested for longer than I should have.  My scheme of taking Quinn's picture with his finger in the nose of every bust . . . well, it got us into trouble.  Though the guard was holding back a smile when she reprimanded us.  

We found the "Ausgang" and stopped to enjoy the panorama of cheerful red roofs filling the valley.

Then we headed back to the town center through the main gate . . . and what a main gate it is!

The kids were at their usual chatter and hopping from stone to stone, so I oggled the delightful half-timbered houses and surreptitiously glanced into uncurtained windows to see the interiors (statuary nosepicking, spying in windows -- what kind of mother am I?).  Then we happened upon the first of two toy shops.  Those visits and the bookstore that capped off our trip deserve a separate post.  Read on!

Friday, March 5, 2010

If it's Thursday, this must be . . .

We had a grave photography mishap today, so this is about all I have to show from about 250 shots.

So for now, "brevity is the soul of wit" beats "a picture is worth a thousand words" . . . or as my previous posts might indicate "a picture deserves a thousand words"!

Yesterday, we went here and spent the evening here.  Other than camera calamities, it was a great day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

We stole away to France!

As many of you know, I spent two years living in Stuttgart in the 1990s.  Thus, revisiting my old favorites always factors into a trip here.  That's why I had to truck the kids the 90 miles to Strasbourg, France yesterday.  After the 13 hours in the car on Sunday, I had the decency to wait until Wednesday to attempt it!
We got a late start and relied on our TomTom to get there.  It, in the guise of our favorite guide, Bulldog John, took us on an inconvenient route with felicitous results. But more on that later!

We arrived famished and navigated the ponderous minivan to an underground parking space in a garage. Three kids with roaring appetites didn't allow for much meandering to choose a restaurant . . . but the brasserie we happened into had a great menu and a debonair African waiter who spoke terrific English and was very solicitous of Lily and her doll Felicity (bringing her a separate plate, even).  Quinn and Lily went for steak and pommes frittes from the Enfant Menu while Emily had her favorite Alsatian dish: onion soup.  I chose the mussels (with a side of pommes frites to share with Em) which came in a very generous portion as you can see. 

Then we set off through the pedestrian center of Strasbourg where I cast only a few longing looks into the windows of Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Buffeted by some sharp March winds, we marched toward the cathedral spires. 

 Strasbourg Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece that overwhelms with both size and ornamentation.  Indeed, it was the world's tallest building for a few centuries and can be spotted from quite a distance as you approach the city. But it's the sculpture and spires that make it such an engrossing  sight, as this photo of just two of the many holy figures (perched on who knows what lesser entities) reveals. Because the cathedral is so tightly pocketed into the buildings of Strasbourg, it's hard to convey its mammoth dimensions.

Once inside, the stained glass windows or illuminations transfix.  The apse holds an illumination of the Virgin Mary that is the largest depiction of a single figure I've ever seen in stained glass.  Unfortunately, all my photos were too dark to provide an image here. But here is one shot of the nave's two tiers of illuminations -- the best I got with my less-than-wonderful photographic skills. Apparently, all the  windows were removed and stored in a salt mine in Germany during WWII. 

After viewing the cathedral, we chose to explore the streets, happening upon a little antique street market with high priced tidbits, spending a little time in the Petite Bateaux shop to purchase some iconic stripy shirts, and wandering along the Ill river. We enjoyed comparing the many half-timbered buildings, some listing, some bulging, all picturesque, especially those ornamented with carved figures and decorative painting.  

A look at my watch meant there was time for an unplanned Alsatian treat: a visit to Soufflenheim! The circuitous route our Tomtom had set on the way to Strasbourg took us right past the Soufflenheim exit and all my fond memories (and ceramic greed) were flamed by that serendipity!  For those who love ceramics, pottery, crockery . . . I encourage you to make a pilgrimage
A last shot with the sun in their eyes in Strasbourg.

After we parked, we found ourselves before this delightful driveway mosaic.  Unfortunately, the chow hound within the gate was not so happy to see us and nipped Quinn.  Fortunately, no blood was drawn.  Despite the less than auspicious welcome, the kids were willing to follow me into shop after repetitive shop to look at pottery -- up to a point.  You may have noticed the storks in the mosaic.  They return to Alsace every year to build their nests, often on chimney stacks.  They are a local symbol of happiness and faithfulness.  I felt like a stork returning!
I came away with a couple of samples to join the ones I have from the 1990s (that look amazingly similar).  I bought a little loaf-shaped crock for making pate and a couple of bowls to replace the casualties of our unforgiving Neapolitan tile floors.  I also picked up the recipe for kougelhopf to make in the fluted pottery molds that are a regional specialty.  Let's just say it's the original bundt cake.  My 12-year-old mold hasn't had its kougelhopf moment yet.  I'll be correcting that upon our return to Naples.

We tried to find a cafe for a treat before returning to Germany, but looking at the time decided to skidaddle for our digs in Stuttgart.  Tired, hungry kids inspired us to pick up a doner kebab feast to eat in our rooms before the TV.  Nothing satiates like a good doner kebab sandwich! Off to Stuttgart's Wilhelmina zoo and Esslingen today!