Oct 31, 2008

U Comment I Follow

Curious as what U Comment I Follow means? Give back to those who are giving!

I Follow

Basically, there is a code included in blog platforms that discourages crawling bots from following comment links. Remove the code and everyone commenting also gets to benefit.

The code was placed to help prevent spamming but there are now other ways to moderate spamming. Check your blog settings and click on your options for comment moderation.

I recommend reading the following links for further information and for instructions on how to remove the offending code thus supporting your blogging community. I also like Dawud Miracle's informative article. Check it out.

Oct 29, 2008

Another view of Castle Sfozesco

Many of the walls of Castello Sforzesco have stood the test of time. Since its initial construction it has changed hands several times, been destroyed and rebuilt and has been used for different objectives. But one objective has always remained the same through every change; security.

The walls loomed above me, yet still getting taller as I got closer. Surrounding its feet sat an empty moat, now covered in green.

At the entrance a large round fountain danced in delight as it welcomed visitors coming to the castle to glimpse a life and style of many a bygone era.

Castello Sforzesco fell in French, Spanish and Austrian hands and each contributed somewhat to its design. The Spanish added outer walls in a star shaped form that gave the most security and also provided an area for livestock. Ingenious...another good use for cow crap.

All that is left today is the square inner shape.

No. 1 --Piazza d'Armi. Entrance view from the street.

The Filarete Tower from inside, standing in the Piazza d'Armi, an open space.

During the French domination, "the Castle survived delicate historical events: battles, occupations, sacking and destruction. In those years, the Filarete tower was used (by some idiot) as an ammunition storage area. During a stormy night in 1521 a lightning rod hit the tower and made it explode causing casualties and damage to the whole structure."

I love this story!

No. 2: Rochetta. Although the castle was used mostly for military purposes, it was at one time lavishly decorated with ball rooms and game courts. The Rochetta was transformed into party central.

Entering the Rochetta...

No. 3: The Corte Ducale held the luxury apartments. The U-shaped design allowed the intricately designed windows to look out upon a green garden courtyard.

Corner entrance...

No. 4: The Bona Tower: Another bid for security is buried in the history of the Bona Tower. It is named after the widow of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who was murdered in front of the St. Stephen's Church. In order to be able to see all the goings-on around her, the widow had this tower built.

At the back of the Castle, the towers were square in shape...two round in front, two square at the rear.

On the round tower in front, the Sforza coat of arms was built into the side.

Countries defend themselves in times of war, against invasion and sometimes against themselves. Individuals, especially in this day and age, defend themselves and search for ways to be more secure. Our homes have alarms to keep us safe. We build up our own personal defenses to keep off unwanted company or attention, or even to cope with society and/or life.

I can think of many ways in my life where I've either built walls, or burned bridges, to "protect" myself. I know that many people do the same thing but my security has always been short-lived.

I came to Castle Sforzesco with the idea of seeing another culture, the Celtic Festival, and was pleased to also view the Castle. I thought I'd learn a little about the history and life of the people who walked the courtyards, danced the halls and died un-natural deaths.

Instead, these walls made me think how futile it is to build up material defenses. So many times what was built up bigger and better than before was torn, blown (or struck down).

I have a belief that there is Someone who gives me an assurance that walls like these will never give me. We all need something to believe it, something that makes us strong when times are hard. Do you have an anchor, a foundation that will hold you up?

Psalm 31:3
Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.


Oct 27, 2008

Amazing sunrise and sunset

Sunrise in Calabria

And sunset...in Poland

My favorite times of the day

Celtic New Year Festival Milano Italy

Milan hosted the Capodanno Celtico Festival this past weekend, October 24 - 26. Capodanno means New Year, this being the 9th edition or celebration of the Celtic New Year.

The camp was set up on the premises of the magnificent Castello Sforzesco, a tourist draw all on its own. What an absolutely beautiful backdrop for this festival!

Bagpipes were blaring over the loudspeakers for most of the day creating a lively and "another world" experience as I walked past booths of jewelry, handcrafts and garments. They were mostly designed with a history of Celtic art, history or mysticism in mind. The beautiful Celtic clothing on sale showcased many designs appropriate for wear at the next Celtic festival, or for a dress-up party. Unfortunately, a person wearing one of these articles in this day and age would stand out like a neon light in public.

Workshops were arranged to educate the public in the art of various Celtic handicraft; working with felt and looms. Demonstrations at the campsite were shown of various artists working with copper, iron, making knives/weapons, armor.

A simulation of war was also acted out in the afternoon and, at night spectators were wooed with strains of live Celtic music and dance.

The festival is dedicated to keeping the Celtic tradition and culture alive and to educate others on the origins of their culture.

I have to admit that there were so many young italians, young men and women who wore their hair in the style of the time, that I think they are succeeding in keeping at least the style alive.

This also was an opportunity to wear Celtic garb and actively be a part. My friend wore her tartan skirt and I wore a plaid vest...not exactly in the Celtic style, but that was my contribution to the atmosphere.

Some people looked really good....

And some, well....didn't....

But hey, it's all in the spirit of the festival!!

What I love about these festivals is that there are so many local artists....so many people who either contribute or partake of a lost art or tradition and this is an avenue to exhibit and show-off their talent and wares.

I love copper and bought a copper bracelet to go with my copper ring. I didn't stop there and purchased a pounded silver ring...all hand-made, the artisan many times sitting in plain view, working away at his or her skill.

Coming soon - Castello Sforzesco.

Oct 24, 2008

The towns of Gabiano and Vercelli, Italy -- Motorbike trip

Photo courtesy fuzzy_logik
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It's mid October and in the foothills of the Alps every passing day can be our last day of sunshine and warmth. With that thought and the threat of menacing grey clouds hovering overhead, I take every opportunity to go for a motorbike ride to feel the thrill before it's time to put it to rest for the winter.

This past Sunday we met up with another couple and after a rather slow start to the day, we pointed our noses in the direction of Alba and let the miles fall behind us.

We were following our friend who had the map, so it came as something of a surprise that after a few hours, we were nowhere near Alba. Hmmm.

Thank goodness just about all the roads in Italy take you to somewhere interesting. This time Gabiano was on the menu, by default.

We passed through flat, agricultural lands at first, with an already narrow road reducing it's girth into a one lane road. One would think it was a good thing to be on a bike, but cars, coming from the other direction, tended to still take the entire road as if we didn't even exist. Fortunately, they were few and far between.

The road eventually wound itself up the side of a little hill. I looked up and saw a castle (Castello di Gabiano, above) perched on the top and a wall running its measure midway down the side. I like the feeling of going back in time whenever I see these beautiful buildings and I imagine soldiers and ladies in waiting, dressed in fine garments. We didn't stop to see the castle as I'd hoped (if I were alone, it would have been a sure thing) but instead, a little further up the road, we stopped for lunch at the Locanda del Rubino.

Once seated, another surprise awaited us. No menu was offered: when the waiter came around, we either accepted or rejected the course. I lost count as to how many plates of food were brought before us. It started with cut meats and continued with a specialty meat dish that I could not stomach (ground raw meat). My friends LOVE this dish; I was thinking I'd have to down half the bottle of wine in order to swallow one bite.

More food came... potato salad, risotto, polenta, meat, grilled vegetables ...and like idiots, we accepted just about everything they brought. Near the end, and almost bursting, I realized that we could have accepted just one of each category, it's just...well, we didn't know just what was coming next or not. Had we known, we could have made our choices in advance, but I must admit, there was an adventure and suspense waiting to see what was going to appear next from under the covered plate.

Photo courtesy fuzzy_logik
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It was at this little rest spot that we discovered that we were nowhere near Alba and its surrounding hills but we decided that the map would at least come in handy for the ride back home. Sometimes it is nice to drift to nowhere in particular. Our ride back home took us through Vercelli where we stopped to take part in the evening passeggiata past some very expensive stores.

Detail of a store front; a mix of the ancient and modern

View in Vercelli

Back at home and writing this, I realize that there is more to this day than first thought. Life is very perplex and many times confusing. It would be nice to know what choices to make in advance. However, the pleasure I had waiting to see what food was coming next can also be my experience in everyday living. What will I choose this time? What does the day have in store for me? What adventure, in food, in love, at work will I experience? It's just a little twist in perspective that makes the whole view different.

Along with that idea is that since life, like the weather here, is very uncertain and I don't know when I will really be seeing my last sunshine; I should make the most of this day and every day.

What do you think?

Oct 18, 2008

Truffle love in Alba, Italy

In one of my previous blogs, I wrote that I like to take a drive to a place to relax and de-stress . I chose to visit Alba in Northern Italy last Saturday, where there is currently a frenzy of truffle activity. Alba is known as the Truffle Capital and much of the truffles distributed in and around Europe come mainly from France and Italy.

It starts with a good dog with a nose for truffles. I just learned that although pigs have been used in the past for truffle hunting….this practice ended when owners realized that profits were being devoured by the pigs themselves. Oh how delightful.

So dogs are trained to find these little treasures that stink up a storm. The older they get, the smellier they are. But since they remain underground, they aren’t a breeze to find and as a result, the price goes out the window. Alba is unique in that most of the truffles in this area are white – an even rarer find than the black truffles.

Check out these prices.


A good nose on a dog will make that dog a very valuable partner -- which unfortunately puts them at risk. According to this article in the National Geographic , dogs are sometimes killed or kidnapped. After all, the idea is "If you don't have a chance to find that rare, huge, truffle, then I do". They mention that although a dog can be trained in several weeks, it can take up to four years for the dog to at its best. Hence a disappearing dog can put a person out of business for a long time.

This year in Alba, the festival will continue until November 9 so there is still time to "enjoy" the sights and scents. ha ha. Okay, so it's not for me, but many people love this treat. Restaurant owners from around the world actually attend an auction to purchase these prized fungi. (Hmm, is it really a type of mushroom?) I didn't buy one, but here I saw the booth to purchase the entrance ticket.

In addition to the truffle stuff, there were other distractions and entertainments. There is a museum showing all the different wine bottle openers of all time. Booths with typical food of the region also line the already narrow streets. Various cafes on the edges of the square vie for your attention and invite passers-by to stop and have a bite or an aperitivo. I ordered a Manhattan

because it made me think of the States (as these days I am missing many things American), and it came....nice and pink...light pink. Does this look like a Manhattan to you? Nevertheless, it hit the spot and I was happy.

Alba was once known as the City of a hundred towers...and there are still a few around. I took a few photos of the buildings in and around the square but I am an idiot and didn't note WHAT they were. They are still pleasing to see even if we don't know what they are.

Follow this link Alba Festival for more information on their program...in english.

You know, truffles are supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Would you pay these prices to get lovey dovey? Or maybe that Manhattan just might do the job!

Oct 16, 2008

Take time for you! Relax and de-stress ideas

10+ tips to help you relax and de-stress.

Every one has stressful days and the need arises to RELAX, de-stress, get back to a balance and peace. Different activities soothe different souls. And perhaps it is safe to say different activities work at different times. Here is what works for me, in no particular order with links to what is available to me here in Vercelli.

1. Going for a walk in nature: I like to get away from the rapid pace that I find in the city, which makes me feel even more stressed. I want to slow down a little and let the tension out. A walk in a park or the woods takes the pace down a notch. The green surrounding me is soothing; the gentle rustle of the leaves and birdsong speaks to my ruffled spirit; the general absence of stimulating noise is calming. The sounds of nature are harmonious and encourage the same in us.

2. Relax in the tub:

Warm water, bubbles optional. I like to do this if I have to think something through. It is almost impossible if I am stressed because of a myriad of things to do; there is no way to sit still. Use some scented oil or light a candle to add to the sensory pleasure. Ahem.. this is not for women only. The tub doesn’t mind naked male bodies.

(Photo courtesy sundancedesigns.net)

3. Lakes : More bodies of water. There is really something relaxing about water; maybe it that idea about being in the womb! Lakes have a sense of quiet, a depth that a harried life lacks. The accompanying ambience of nature also alleviates stress.

4. Watch the ocean: Another body of water that speaks to another spirit. The undulating movement makes it seem like a living being and breakers crashing to shore mirror my inner turmoil and sends waves of sympathy that soothe. The “white noise” of each wave blocks out everything else and allows me to think more deeply. Listen to the cries of empathetic seagulls, you’ll feel better.

5. Random act of kindness: Take a moment to think of someone else and not the problem or stress at hand. Smile at a stranger, give a helping hand, donate clothes or food, pay the toll for someone. This takes the attention off of you and allows your mind and body to relax. And you feel better for making someone else feel good. Check out 29gifts.org for inspiration.

6. Listen to music: Sometimes I de-stress when listening to soothing music – classical, or new age. Other times I listen to heavy metal (when my issue has made me nice and angry). There is a strain of music that weaves its way into a release of tension.

7. Rent a movie: Sit back and lose yourself in another world. Live vicariously through the characters in the movie or just use it as an opportunity to veg and have a time out.

8. Relax with a book or magazine: Sometimes fast-paced thrillers or simple romances can help de-stress and tired mind and body. You have to sit still and your mind will be on something else for a while. If you can’t focus on a book, flip the pages of a favorite magazine.

9. Take a drive, sightsee: At a time when gas prices were a lot lower, this was a favorite of mine. For me driving is soothing – there must be a relation between the car eating up the miles and distancing me from the current issues that bother me. Sometimes I drift mindlessly and discover new places. New places can give us fresh ideas, a different perspective, a new approach that could help solve a problem. New experiences give a spark to the humdrum and mundane.

10. Meditate: For me, this is key in grounding myself; remembering that there are fundamental beliefs and principles that guide me – and that I am not alone. Each person has a different belief system, and it is important to keep this at the forefront especially when stressed.

11. Exercise: This is so not popular, maybe because it takes a certain amount of discipline to achieve. But I have to admit it helps relax and de-stress a person. There are so many benefits to exercise that I won’t go into but Nike has it right….”Just Do It”.

12. Friends: They are great sounding boards and many times have good advice.

13. Ranting and Raving: When all else fails, I guess, or a primer to all other methods. Try to not break anything or hurt yourself.

I stopped at lucky 13, but are many more ideas out there. What do you do to relax? Leave a comment and let us know.


Oct 11, 2008

Dinner at Albergo Ristorante Italia

A is back from his hunting trip with stories that made me double in laughter and tears come to my eyes. I think he should write a blog about them.

Last evening, we decided to dine in Varallo at a restaurant called Albergo Ristorante Italia. Doesn't seem very original, does it?! But it is unique in that it is one of the restored old buildings, near the historic center. Their calling card has an old photo, the one you see on their website and it gives it a nice "old feel". The ceilings are high and arched...like many domes put together, the walls treated with one tint and the ceiling with another. It is incredibly inviting and cozy. The ambience is surpassed by the friendly welcome from the head waiter who seats us immediately. I am glad to see that he is as friendly with everyone and not just because I happened to be wearing a dangerously plunging neckline! The depth this one came to is a new experience for me, but is not anything new to a true Italian woman who, in my opinion, grows up knowing what it means to be sensual. It is just a part of their daily lives. Anyway, I digress....

I wanted to choose the typical dishes of the area to learn more about Vercelli through it's food. Since A chose the Moscetta and formaggio, a plate of thinly sliced and dried meat with melted toma cheese on top, our friendly waiter suggested that I take the smoked salmon. Yum. I agreed with him instantly, even if it wasn't a tipical dish, and we moved onto deciding our other course. By now, I've learned that an appetizer and one course is enough for me. I usually skip the Primi Piatti of pasta dishes and go straight to the Secondi of fish or meat. I chose the tipical dish of vitello or thinly sliced veal, topped with cheese and mushrooms. A ordered the "elephants ear", the main reason we wanted to come to this restaurant...a huge slice of veal, that was breaded and baked. It arrived, draped over an already large plate and hanging over the side. He couldn't finish it because it was absolutely enormous. Perhaps if he hadn't had the appetizer he might have made more of a dent. We both ordered a side plate of croquettes, breaded and baked potato.

Although delicious, I have the foods of the south to compare with and I think I am a southern girl at heart. I like the spicy foods and I like the variety there. And I love the wine from Sicily. The wine from the north, from this region does nothing for me. i am not a wine person by any measure, but I know what I like and my vote goes for the Sicilian wines.

Oct 10, 2008

SheRidesABeemer: You've Come a Long Way Baby

I ran across this website while surfing the net. A woman with the same desire to ride. And she takes her daughter along with her. Reading her post where she mentioned how everyone discouraged her from getting a bike, discouraged her from taking long trips, brought back memories of when I wanted to get my bike. People say "don't do it" in our best interest because they are afraid for us, they don't want us to get hurt. But I can't imagine a life that is safe but not fulfilled. Life is all about taking a risk, of pushing our limits and becoming the best we can be. It's enough that we are limited by our own fears and doubts. It gets twice as hard when others add to that and the obstacles grow even bigger. I am glad she didn't listen to her well-meaning friends. I am glad I followed my heart too. After all, we live with ourselves first and when we are happy with what we have inside, others can truly enjoy us.

Oct 6, 2008

Pumping Gas and a Sunday Ride

I am getting used to things being the opposite of what I expect. When I think there will be rain, it is beautiful, so it came as a pleasant surprise to find another sunny morning filled with promise.

My friends had invited me to join them in a bike ride so I pulled on my thermals, a sweater that usually keeps me warmer than I usually like and my bike jacket and pants over those. I arrived at Bar Silmo a little after 10am and opted for a glass of orange juice instead of the normal coffee. There is some mysterious biological reaction that people (I) have sometimes with a nice warm drink in
the morning ... and I didn't want to run that risk on a long ride. Okay, moving on.

We went to the station to feed my baby her morning juice. I needed to have locals with me when I popped money into the machine because each time I've gone to a station that is not attended, like on a Sunday or during the lunch break, I fail to get the gas pump to work. Did you know that the pumps in Italy are not like those in the States where you can pull the pump, place it in your car, then put in your CC or cash, choose pump etc....and have it all work fine. Well, I used that same US mind some time ago and found the machine had eaten my 50 euro. Fortunately, after the alloted time for the transaction had passed, it spat out a credit form so I could come back at a later time for gas. More recently, I ended up on the phone with a friend asking for help because I still hadn't figured it out. So yes, I needed my Italian friends. And this is how it goes....Payment first (leave the pump ALONE), choose type of gas and pump number. Then lift pump, insert, squeeze. Simple enough.

We headed out for Gressoney which is one of the resorts that is linked by ski lifts to Alagna. I wanted to see what it was like. The valley was exceptionally lovely, even with my hands and feet turning numb in their winter gloves and shoes designed for "nail-biting" winter weather.

View of Monte Rosa from Gressoney

The ride back out of the valley was even more enjoyable as the day had become even warmer. There is something truly humbling about being surrounded by the things that make us realize how small we are. The pines in the distance were so large from where I was, I knew that they were enormous. The sharp cliff that rose in a majestic splendor made me feel like an ant at its feet. It helps put things in perspective. I am not as big or important as I'd like to think. There are other things, bigger than me and I am only a small part of it.

Lunch at Gressoney

Our next stop was Lago Viverone where we met up with another couple, sat in the sun and just let people, dogs and time go by. But all things come to an end, and watching the sun lower in the sky prompted us to rev the engines and head back home. It was a full day of beauty, adventure and companionship. A good combination for a Sunday.