Outdoor Shrines in Italy – Italian Culture

Outdoor shrine embedded in a wall in Venice Photo by Margie Miklas

Outdoor shrine embedded in a wall in Venice

I love noticing the differences in the Italian culture, and one that seems pronounced is the existence of outdoor shrines in almost every city and town in Italy. Despite the commonly-held perception that Italy is a Catholic country, the latest poll indicates that “only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic.” Nevertheless, they love to display their favorite saints and the Virgin Mary in outdoor shrines.

Shrine in wall in Caltagirone

My favorites are the ones embedded into walls. Usually someone has undoubtedly left a flower out of reverence.

Outdoor shrine in a wall in Venice photo by Margie Miklas

Outdoor shrine in a wall in Venice

These occurrences that happen so often in Italy are not so often seen in the United States. Such is the captivation and  charm of Italy and one of the things I find so endearing every time I visit.

Shrine in Lenno on Lake Como

They may be on a hillside, or in a yard, on the side of a road or very commonly embedded into a stone wall. I found these very interesting and most oftens  freshly cut flowers are left there anonymously by someone.

Outdoor shrine along the Amalfi Coast

Outdoor shrine to Augustine in Colle d'Anchise Photo by Margie Miklas

Outdoor shrine to Augustine in Colle d’Anchise

Shrine in wall in centro storico – Caltagirone

Have you seen these outdoor shrines in Italy?   I  love  feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

If you haven’t been to my Instagram page, please check it out…Lots of photos from Italy ther

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Burano – A Colorful Gem in the Venice Lagoon

Burano boats Photo by Margie Miklas On your next trip to Venice, don’t miss the opportunity to experience the unique island of Burano. This community has charm of its own with its brightly painted small houses that  artists and photographers dream about.

Burano streets Photo by Margie MiklasLocated in the Venetian lagoon, Burano is just seven kilometers from Venice, or forty minutes by vaporetto, or water taxi.

Fondamente Nove, widebodied vaporetto-style boatsWide-bodied vaporetto-style boats run from the Fondamente Nove stop in Venice to the islands in the Venetian lagoon.

Burano wide vaporetto style boats Photo by Margie MiklasThe tiny island of Burano  consists of four individual islands connected together by bridges. Originally a fishing village, Burano became famous as a lacemaking community in the 16th century. Although there is a school of lacemaking, few women perform this craft today, as it is very tedious and expensive.

Burano photo by Margie MiklasAn estimated 4000 to 7000 people live on this tiny island today, and they live inside their houses as well as outside, sometimes frying their fish and ironing their clothes in the streets. You will not find any overnight accommodations here, and the only restaurants are small trattorias and bars with outdoor seating areas. Burano is definitely a place with lots of ambience, which is why I enjoy it so much.

Burano laundry photo by Margie MiklasAn easy place to explore on foot, Burano’s main attraction for me are the brightly painted houses with clothes hanging out to dry. Around each corner the scene is more interesting than the last. With its narrow streets, there is basically one main street, Calle Galuppi, which  is filled with shops and small cafes such as Bar Caffe Palmisano.

Burano Bar Palmisano photo by Margie MiklasYou know I had to stop in here to  enjoy a cappuccino along with some of the famous Italian S-shaped cookies, my favorite.

Burano cookies photo by Margie MiklasCalle Galuppi is also a favorite with locals for their evening stroll or passeggiata and everyday socializing. The shops here also are painted in bright colors, keeping with the same tradition as the houses.

Gasoline pumps appear at the end of a canal. No cars here but of course the boats need fuel.Burano gas pumps Photo by Margie MiklasThe colorful houses attract a lot of artists, and the famous French designer and artist Philippe Starck actually owns a home here.

Burano boats Photo by Margie MIklasI found it interesting that whenever a resident wishes to change the color of his home, he is required to submit the request to the government. A system is in place to insure that variety continues in the colors, and so different areas of Burano have different color combinations. This tiny island of Burano  truly is one of a kind, separating it from the other Venetian islands.

Burano Photo by Margie MiklasTradition attributes the story behind the colorful houses to the local fishermen. Supposedly, they painted their houses bright colors, different from one another, so that they could see them when returning from the sea in the fog. This seems like it might have origins in truth, but no matter the reason, the houses in Burano make visiting this island an unforgettable memory.

Burano photo by Margie MiklasA stay in Venice is wonderful and usually crowded, but a few hours on one of its Venetian islands made me feel like I was in another place altogether. Don’t miss this gem in the Veneto!

Have you ever been to Burano?  I’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

If you haven’t been to my Instagram page, please check it out…Lots of photos from Italy there.

 

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Summer in the City

Flowers in NYC Park Photo by Margie Miklas
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited NYC in the summertime and I can attest to the fact that July in the city is hot and humid. Of course I’m used to heat and humidity, living in Florida, so I’m not complaining.

What I really enjoyed were the summer flowers blooming in Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park in the Washington Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan.

Fort Tryon Park in NYC Photo by Margie Miklas
Part of the NYC  park system, this was a pleasant respite with its shaded walkways and paths. Every morning I walked the trails in the park for my daily exercise and I was rewarded with the fragrances of so many different varieties of flowers in Heather Garden,  the largest public garden with unrestricted access in New York City.

Here is a sampling of what I saw in the garden. Enjoy.
 Flowers in NYC Park Photo by Margie Miklas
 Flowers in NYC Park Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie MiklasFlowers in NYC PArk Photo by Margie Miklas
 Have you ever been to this park in NYC?  I’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

If you haven’t been to my Instagram page, please check it out…Lots of photos from Italy there.

 

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The Beach at Amalfi

Amalfi Beach Photo by Margie MiklasThe Amalfi Coast in southern Italy is known for its undeniable beauty and mind-blowing views. Every time I visit I feel like I’m in heaven.  Most towns have their own beaches and this section of the beach at Amalfi caught my eye with its colorful green and yellow striped umbrellas.

Farther down the beach are blue umbrellas and read and white striped umbrellas, based on the  vendors who operate these areas where you can rent umbrellas and beach chairs for the day or part of the day.

I shot this photo in May, not yet summer, so the beaches were nowhere near as crowded as they would be during the peak of the season. August is the worst as far as crowds go, and in fact the Amalfi Coast road frequently comes to a standstill, from what I’ve been told by the locals and the taxi drivers.

The sand was warm,  the shimmering water of the Tyrrhenian Sea inviting, and the brilliant sun felt so good against my skin.

I can never stay away long  from this dazzling stretch of coastline in Italy, so it should surprise no one that I am making plans to return this fall. While I will most likely visit Amalfi, my home for those days will be another exquisite beach in Positano, where I hope to find inspiration to write.

Fornillo Beach in Positano - Photo by Margie MiklasVenturing into a different genre, I’ll be working on my first novel, which has been a work in progress for the past two years.

Stay tuned for more exciting details.

Do beaches inspire you to write or draw or paint or write music? I’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Grazie  Ciao

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Limoncello – Drink of the Amalfi Coast

Limoncello Photo by Margie MiklasAlmost synonymous with the Amalfi Coast is limoncello, the refreshing liqueur, aperitif, and digestivo made from the large lemons grown in Campania. While controversy exists regarding the origins of this popular drink, limoncello prevails as the drink of choice anywhere along the Amalfi Coast as well as Naples and Sorrento. Native Italians from Sorrento, Capri, and Amalfi all lay claim to limoncello’s  birthplace, and no clear evidence exists today to dispute the legends.

Recipes abound for those wishing to replicate this tart drink at home. The key ingredient is the peel from either the ovale di Sorrento, or large oval-shaped lemons grown in the Sorrento area, or the sfusato amalfitano lemon from the Amalfi area of Campania. For this reason, attempts to make limoncello at home are never quite the same as the limoncello for purchase in Campania.

Lemons on the Amalfi Coast, Italy Photo by Margie MiklasThe four basic ingredients in the aperitif include:

  •  the zest of 6 or or 7 large lemons
  • 1 quart pure grain alcohol or vodka
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 cups sugar

Flavored by the zest of lemons, limoncello is a favorite among locals as well as tourists.

The words here are from a page in Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, my recently published photo book.

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast by Margie Miklas

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, available either on Amazon.com, or directly through me. I’d be happy to send you an autographed copy for the same price ($24.99) plus shipping ($5.01). International shipping costs are higher. Contact me at margieeee@comcast.net

Have you ever had limoncello? Or tried a recipe yourself at home? I’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

If you haven’t been to my Instagram page, please check it out…Lots of photos from Italy there.

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Around the Corner in Verona

Verona off the beaten path Photo by Margie MiklasVerona is arguably one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in Italy. After all it is the city of Romeo and Juliet. Via Mazzini leading to the stunning Piazza delle Erbe is made of pink marble. The old Roman arch bridge, the Ponte Pietra,  dates back to 100 BC. There are endless monuments and architectural landmarks like the Verona Arena and the Torre dei Lamberti.

While wandering around near the Ponte Pietra, I came across this scene as I turned the corner, and was captivated by it. Many times during my travels I find beauty in the old, the simple, and the images that portray everyday life in Italy.

In this particular image, which to me is so classically Italian, I am drawn to the wrought iron balconies which of course are adorned with flowers and green plants in flower boxes – a sure sign that someone lives here and cares for these plants in a loving way.

The crumbling facade would look like it belongs in a ghetto in some American neighborhoods; here it seems to exude charm. If it were freshly painted, this structure would appear sterile and not belonging to this community.

The lower level seems to be a shop of some type, but I can’t tell what exactly.

What do you see here? I’d love to hear your ideas, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and ciao.

For more images like this one please follow me on Instagram.

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Father’s Day 2016

KitesI realize how very fortunate I am to still have my father. He celebrated his 91st birthday recently and lives an active life.

My DAD Photo by Margie MiklasThe US life expectancy for American males today is 76.3 years, so I guess our Italian family has some good genes.

Dad and MOM photo by Margie MiklasI’m also lucky that he lives with my 90-year-old mother in Naples, Florida, only a three-hour drive away. I want to dedicate this Father’s day blog to my Dad.

First, a little history about Father’s Day in the United States from Andrew Hollandbeck.

“In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recognized Father’s Day as the third Sunday in June of that year and encouraged states to do the same. Congress officially recognized Father’s Day in 1956 with the passage of a joint resolution.

Ten years later, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation calling for the third Sunday in June to be recognized as Father’s Day. In 1972, President Richard Nixon permanently established the observance of the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day in the United States.”

I want to share a story from my childhood about my Dad. Even then I learned important life lessons that although I didn’t realize it, would impact me forever.

Marco Island 2013 Dad fly kite Photo by Margie MiklasMy Dad loves to fly kites. Up until a few years ago, he used to design and make his own kites.  When we were children, my Dad  made box kites for my twin brothers and myself, and taught us how to fly them.  Just a few years ago he shared his kite-flying techniques on the beach in Marco Island with my granddaughters.

Marco Island 2013 Kids Mom and Dad kite Photo by Margie MiklasThe kites he made us  in the 1950s were constructed using a very light wood, balsa, I believe. He used newspaper for the body and rags for the tail. I didn’t remember this detail until I recently talked with my brother Rick, who reminded me that Dad used flour and water to make the glue used to secure the newspaper to the wood and around the string. Very resourceful! We helped put the kites together. No real expense to these kites and yet a lot of fun.

Box Kite Photo by PhotoPhoto33 (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/139223434@N08/

Photo by PhotoPhoto33 (Flickr)

One of those times, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, we had spent much time and effort and worked really hard to get my kite up in the air, Finally my kite was flying high and everything seemed so perfect. All of a sudden, I needed to go to the bathroom. I just let go of the kite, never thinking about the fact that it would continue flying into infinity.

Needless to say, once I saw that kite flying away with the string no longer attached to anything,  I began to cry. I was devastated. That was an early lesson in life about holding onto things you want.  I realized that once you let something go, it may never come back.

I still remember that experience like it was yesterday. My Dad was very comforting and I never forgot how I felt. It’s the little things in life that have so much meaning.

Marco Island 2013 Dad kite Photo by Margie MiklasI love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day, Dad and to all the dads, step-dads, and dads-to-be.

To my friends who no longer have their dads with them I hope your memories will last a lifetime.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and Grazie.

Have you stopped by my Instagram page lately? See what images inspire me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in Italy

Maiori, Amalfi Coast Photo by Margie MiklasDaily life on the Amalfi Coast can be challenging, but this robust Italian smiles as he easily climbs more than three hundred steps to and from work every day. Seventy-three years young, Crescenzo is the caretaker of an abandoned castle high above the town of Maiori.

The ancient steps are uneven, built by hand with rocks of diverse shapes and sizes. In many places they are covered with grass and dirt, and in some instances, the staircase consists of tiers of dirt bolstered by stones. No handrail exists to aid in the uphill hike.

Crescenzo grins as he turns and gazes down to find me twenty stairs behind him while I pause to catch my breath. This lofty landscape is rugged, yet spectacular, and the panoramic view from the top is the ultimate reward.

~Excerpt from Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like my photo/coffee table book featuring images and correlating stories about Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

Each photograph tells its own story, enhanced by the lively and insightful narrative that accompanies it. If you’ve visited this special area of Italy, you will want to return once you’ve turned the pages of her book. lf you’ve never traveled there, you will put a trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast at the top of your bucket list.” – Recent Amazon review

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast by Margie Miklas

Available on Amazon in hardback $24.99

Have you visited Naples or the Amalfi Coast? Did you love it as much as I did?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and ciao

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What Makes San Marzano Tomatoes Special?

San Marzano Tomatoes Photo by Jim Lukach (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/65047661@N00/14783289427/in/faves-138704823@N04/

Photo by Jim Lukach (Flickr)

When chefs throughout the world prepare authentic Italian sauce, San Marzano tomatoes are their preference. These thin, pointy, sweet plum tomatoes  are essential ingredients for an authentic Pizza Napolitana, according to the Verace Pizza Napolitana Association in Naples, Italy.

Photo by Tarantino Vincenzo (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/enzo_tarantino/

Photo by Tarantino Vincenzo (Flickr)

San Marzano tomatoes are grown primarily in the Campania region of Italy, at the base of Mt Vesuvius, in the Agro-Nocerino area. They are cultivated in the soils of the communes of Naples, Salerno and Avellino.

vesuvius Photo by Verena Krämer

Photo by Verena Krämer

These tomatoes require areas with good irrigation, and they will not thrive in hilly topography, or extreme temperatures. The soil in this area near Mt Vesuvius contains volcanic ash, phosphorous and potassium, and the climate is temperate with high humidity much of the year. Harvesting of these tomatoes begins in August and continues until the end of September or later. They are picked only after   they have matured and are very ripe, and the hand picking occurs usually in the evenings when the sun is setting.

San Marzano Tomatoes photo by SatrinaO (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/satrina0/

Photo by SatrinaO (Flickr)

What is so different about San Marzano tomatoes? These tomatoes are plum tomatoes, but they are typically more slender and oblong, having a firm flesh. They have fewer seeds and less water content, as well as a lower amount of sugar and acid. This unique characteristic, along with their intense red color and skin, which peels easily, distinguishes these from other plum style tomatoes. During cooking, the skin practically dissolves, mixing with the pulp, and contributing to the unique flavor. San Marzano sauce is thicker, with a more concentrated tomato flavor, creating a distinctive combination of both sweet and tart flavors.

San Marzano Sauce photo by kitto1975 (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/kitto1975/

Photo by kitto1975 (Flickr)

Italy’s government has granted “denomination of protected origin” (DOP) status to San Marzano tomatoes, and there are strict cultivation guidelines. Requirements include that the tomatoes be grown vertically in rows, with fruit not touching the ground, and harvested by hand. They must be cultivated in the Sarnese-Nocerino area and the yield allowed per acre is also regulated. The plants are allowed to be pruned and clipped, although forcing is not allowed.

There is a consortium of manufacturers in the region which is responsible for the safeguarding of the regulatory requirements. The label must read San Marzano Tomatoes of the Sarnese-Nocerino area D.O.P, and there must be three seals of authenticity on the label. In addition,  a number must be stamped on the side panel. It is illegal in Italy for a product to claim to be San Marzano tomatoes without being in compliance with these requirements.

Like other products made in Italy, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma, San Marzano tomatoes must have a DOP number or label, when canned, or else it is not authentic. Today many products exist with labels saying San Marzano tomatoes, but unless the DOP label is present, these products are not authentic San Marzano tomatoes, and you will notice a distinct difference in the taste. Some of the companies selling authentic DOP San Marzano canned tomato products in the US include Cento, Asti, Coluccio, Riga, Pastene, Rosa, Italbrand, La Fede, La Valle, Gia Russo, and DeLallo.

San Marzano DOP (Photo by Margie Miklas)Most of these brands also sell Italian tomatoes that are not San Marzano. The true test of authenticity is the DOP label with the seals from Italy. Some individuals as well as commercial growers try to replicate the San Marzano tomatoes in other locations, but it is not the same. It is not just the seeds that might come from the San Marzano region, but also the actual cultivation process in the soil from that area, that combines to make the San Marzano tomato so special. This is why it is not possible to reproduce the flavor by buying San Marzano seeds from Italy and planting them at home in the USA or elsewhere. Believe me I’ve tried.

Margherita Pizza Photo by Margie MiklasSo when you got to Italy, and Napoli to be sure, when you order a Margherita pizza you can be assured that it is the real deal. Enjoy and Buon appetito!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and Ciao

Have you stopped by my Facebook page lately? Lots going on there.

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Another Hilltop Town in Italy – Caltagirone in Sicily

Caltagirone, Sicily from a distance Photo by Margie MiklasA view of another hill town in Italy – This one from the Sicilian Baroque town of Caltagirone, a city of about 40,000 people.

Caltagirone, sicily Photo by Margie MiklasNot on the radar for too many travelers to Italy, this is one of my favorite places in Sicily.

Known as the Sicilian city of ceramics, Caltagirone is located in the province of  Catania, and approximately 70 km southwest of the city of Catania, an easy day trip if you are staying in Catania.

Ceramic wall in Caltagirone, Sicily Photo by Margie MiklasWalking through the city, ceramics are everywhere — on railings, embedded into walls, on signs, and, of course, in the shops. There are several hundred ceramics shops here, and you could spend all day browsing the selection. I was in my glory here and could have stayed a week.

Flowers on the staircase in Caltagirone, Sicily Photo by Margie The centro storico, or historic district, is where its famous landmark can be found, this being La Scalinetta, a staircase with 142 steps. What makes this  so unique is that on each riser are hand-painted ceramic majolica tiles, no two the same.

In shades of blues, greens, and yellows, each tile has a different design.

Ceramic riser on La Scalinetta in Caltagirone Photo by Margie MiklasIt is an awesome sight to see and well worth a trip to Sicily.

This Sicilian design  created in ceramic is known as Trinacria and is a classic icon for Sicily.

Sicily Ceramic Trinacria Photo by Margie MiklasLocals sometimes adorn the outside of their homes with one, or in these instances, the outside of a ceramic shop. Which do you like better? I couldn’t decide since they both are so detailed and colorful.

Sicily ceramic Trinacria plaque in Caltagirone Photo by Margie MiklasLike so many other small towns in Italy, Caltagirone does not disappoint with its narrow alleys and stairways.

Narrow stairway in Centro Storico of Caltagirone Photo by Margie MiklasI’ve been luck enough to be able to purchase some beautiful ceramic items here at very reasonable prices.Ceramics in Catagirone Photo by Margie Miklas

 

Photo by Margie MiklasSicily is  one of the most fascinating and beautiful places in Italy. Goethe has said, “If you haven’t seen Sicily you haven’t seen Italy. Sicily is where the soul of Sicily is.”

I hope you have the chance to visit Sicily, and especially this wonderful city of ceramics, Caltagirone. If you’d  like to read more about my experiences in Caltagirone, you may like these older posts.

Sicily Art Studio in Caltagirone
Lunch in Caltagirone with our Savoca Family

Have you visited Caltagirone? I’m interested in your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Grazie and Ciao

And if you haven’t been to my Instagram page, please stop where you will find photos from Italy and whatever inspires me.

 

Posted in Italian lifestyle and culture, Italy Travel, Italy Travel Planning, Made in Italy, Photography, TRAVEL | Tagged , , | 11 Comments