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Zurers in Italy 2024

You persuaded us to visit Ascoli when we were last in Italy (in 2018?) and we loved it! I'm still enjoying the bottle of anisette we brought back from there.

Zurers in Italy 2024: Friday, May 24
Day 26: Ascoli Piceno-Ravenna​

It's time to leave Ascoli...we have enjoyed staying here; it's a pleasant, walkable town and our hotel worked out fine....very central and with convenient parking.

The drive to Ravenna takes about three hours and is almost all on the autostrada, It is a quietly scenic route....mostly green, rolling hills to the left and often views of the Adriatic to the right. The GPS gets us easily to our hotel, Santa Maria Foris, which is right on the edge of the limited traffic zone. We have to go around the block because we missed the loading zone on the narrow street in front, and can't back up because there is another car on our tail.

Check-in is slow because there is a group of Americans in front of us, who are taking a cruise out of the port of Ravenna tomorrow, and getting help in making various arrangements. While Diana waits, I take the car to the public parking lot five minutes away and make my way back to the hotel. The hotel is quite elegant with a quirky sense of style. Our room is very large but, in keeping with the quirky sense of style, there's a set of antlers set into the large mirror above the fireplace, very odd black lampshades, and logs set in the television console.


The bathroom is large and modern with a big walk in shower. (We subsequently realize the floor is so slippery we need to put a bidet towel down - no bath mats.)

After getting settled, we go to lunch. I find a place that advertises gnocco fritto, one of my favorite dishes. It is fried dough served hot with cured meats and soft cheese.


The restaurant is just outside the walls and we walk there taking the main pedestrian street. We sit outside and enjoy our lunch, eating too much in the process.

After lunch, I do some exploring in town. I walk through one of the city gates


find another Piazza del Popolo


and a statue of Garibaldi.


The old Mercato Coperto (covered market) has been transformed into an upscale attraction with restaurants, bars, a meat market, a bakery, a cheese and salumi stand, and a supermarket.





On the way back to the hotel, I see one of the old defensive towers


Dante's tomb (he died in Ravenna after moving from city to city while in exile)


and the Duomo.


Later in the afternoon, we start our mosaic sightseeing in Ravenna with visits to the Mausoleum of Galla Placida and the Basilica of San Vitale, both decorated with vibrant mosaics dating from the 6th century, when Ravenna was an important capital of the Roman Empire. Here is a representative sample of the mosaics but it is hard to stop taking photographs; everywhere you look there is something of interest.

From the small Mausoleum....





From the much grander Basilica....







Diana is quite taken with the mosaic floors in the Basilica.



These mosaics are almost 1500 years old and continue to amaze...the artistry and the work that went into completing them is mind-boggling.

Due to the overindulging on the gnocco fritto at lunch, we opt to walk to the center and have a gelato for dinner. (I have always considered gelato one of the major food groups.) Ravenna is jumping on this pleasant Friday evening and the twilight confirms why I like to come to Italy in May; the days are longer and it is light well past 9 pm.

Tomorrow, we will meet our Tuscan friends Jane and Carlo in Forli (45 minutes away) at a big art show devoted to the Pre-Raphaelites.

Jim and Diana

Zurers in Italy 2024: Saturday, May 25
Day 27: Ravenna​

The breakfast room at the hotel is filled with Americans who are all taking an Adriatic cruise that leaves from Porto Corsini, a few kilometers away on the coast. The Italian authorities are trying to take the pressure off Venice as the center of cruise operations.

Needless to say, the weather is beautiful again. Diana takes her quilting onto the sunny outdoor breakfast area while I finish a report.

We are to meet our friends Jane and Carlo in Forli at 11 am at the local art museum. Jane had been an art history major and was interested in the special exhibition: Pre-Raphaelites: A Modern Renaissance. The drive to Forli takes about 40 minutes...the land is mostly agricultural (cherries, grapes, etc.) and is very flat. The approach to the museum is quite circuitous because the traffic patterns have to respect the boundaries of the limited traffic zones. We miss the museum twice (if you go too far, you can't make a u-turn; you just have to take a long route around to get back) and then luck out finding a parking space in the underground lot next to the museum.

There is a small market in front of the museum and Diana buys some local cherries for us to snack on. We sit on a wall in the empty parking lot and wait. We had gotten a text that they were running late and expected to arrive at 11:30. However, they don't arrive until almost 12:30--traffic and parking challenges--so we all decide to have lunch before going into the museum.

There are a few restaurants on the same street as the museum but the first two are booked and we are sent away. We do get into the third, the Osteria Ferrovecchio, and are seated on a pleasant roof terrace.


Lunch is very good...for us, an interesting grilled artichoke dish on a bed of celeriac puree to start and a really delicious local pasta (strozzapreti) with sausage and squacquerone cheese. We are happy to be outside on a nice day, catching up with our friends.

Now fortified, we are ready for the museum.


We had no familiarity with the Pre-Raphaelites other than having heard of Dante Gabriele Rossetti. We did read about the movement while waiting for our friends so we found out that they were a group of English painters who were rebelling against the art establishment in the last half of the 19th century. They felt that painting had taken a bad turn with Raphael and wanted to return to the purer style of the pre-Renaissance school--Giotto, Gozzoli, etc. But we really had no idea what to expect....

Entering the first room of the show, we are surprised by the immense size of the exhibition space. The museum is housed in a former monastery and the first floor room seems to go on forever.




I'm not going to try to describe the show other than to say that in addition to the many works of the English artists, many examples of early Italian art are also displayed - to show how the Pre-Raphaelites were indebted to them and trying to make a direct link to them with their work. Here is a link to the museum website that tells you a little about the exhibition.


However, it doesn't give any idea about the immense size and the extent of the holdings. It covers two large floors and we barely scratched the surface before we were ready to leave. (Our friends stayed on for several hours and really loved the show.)

There was some drama when we tried to leave. There had been a heavy thunderstorm with hail while we were walking around the museum and the entrance to the museum experienced a lot of flooding. The elevator no longer worked, etc. The staff were preventing people from leaving or entering while they struggled to mop the floors. When we do get out and go to the car in the underground garage, I find that our car is in about four inches of water. Rather than waiting for the water to drain, I roll up my jeans, take off my shoes and socks, and wade to the car. I am able to drive through even deeper water on the way out with no problem. I drive back to Ravenna in bare feet. A very exciting end to our trip to Forli....

We have dinner at an informal place a few blocks from the hotel that was recommended by our friend Maureen--Cucina del Condominio. It is a bustling, friendly place with few if any non-Italians except for us. We enjoy our dinner...we share a dish of fried meatballs for a starter. Diana has a bowl of tortellini in brodo, a local speciality and I have a plate of butterfly-shaped pasta called strichetti with a sauce of sausage and peas. The panna cotta is a very good finish to the meal. Diana gets to flirt with the one year old at the next table.

Tomorrow is our last day in Ravenna...we plan to visit some more mosaic sites.

Jim and Diana

Zurers in Italy 2024: Status Report​

May 28​

Just a quick note to say that we are home. We flew in from Milan on Tuesday...a long but uneventful trip.

I have had internet challenges for the past two days and I wasn't able to finish the reports but I hope to get the two remaining journal entries done very soon.

Thanks for following along...it was a great trip.

Jim and Diana
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Zurers in Italy 2024: Sunday, May 26
Day 28: Ravenna (part 1)​

After breakfast on the hotel terrace--sunny and warm again (this has been just about our best trip weather-wise)--we continue on our visits to Ravenna's artistic and historic sites. We first walk to the 6th century Neonian Baptistery, sitting in a lovely garden next to the Duomo.


The center of the building is taken up with a large baptismal font and the walls and the dome are covered with yet more vibrant mosaics.







I am continually amazed at the intricacy of the mosaics...both the designs and the portraits.

When we enter the Duomo next door, we are greeted with the sounds of an organ and a choir...there is a rehearsal taking place on the altar. It sounds amazing in this large space.



I am taken with the number of Old Testament subjects in the paintings on the walls...Esther, Mordecai, and Moses receiving the manna in the desert, are all represented.




There is an impressive carved stone pulpit and two Roman sarcophagi among the treasures.




The Archbishop's Palace is also in the Duomo complex and it has been turned into an exquisite museum...beautiful displays and the best English translations of the explanations we have seen.

There are two rooms containing stone blocks with Roman inscriptions on the walls



as well as delicately carved stone screens and a headless statue thought to be a 5th century BC emperor.



Upstairs, the Throne of Maximianus sits in a glass case in the middle of the room with carved panels on the back and sides with Biblical scenes including four illustrating the story of Joseph.



A lovely small chapel--the Capella Sant'Andrea--is decorated with more mosaics--walls, ceiling, and floor.





Finally, a stone calendar from the 6th century which shows the calculations that establish the dates of Easter for 100 years.


A note in the explanation of the calendar mentions that the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. wanted to decouple the observance of Easter and Passover so they decreed that, in the future, they would never fall on the same day. Easter would always fall on a Sunday since the Rabbinical Jewish calendar had been adjusted to align with the solar calendar so that the 15th of Nisan always falls on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday--never on Sunday.

End of part one

Zurers in Italy 2024: Sunday, May 26
Day 28: Ravenna (part 2)​

We get in the car and take a ride to the seashore...there is a big beach area around Marina di Ravenna, about 10 miles to the east on the Adriatic coast. It turns out we aren't the only people with that idea on this beautiful Sunday. The whole area is packed with cars parked everywhere and, as in many Italian beach towns, it is hard to get a glimpse of the sea because there are pine forests between the road and the beach. We end up in town and have a sandwich along the port channel because all the restaurants are booked for Sunday lunch.

Back in town, I take my last walk of the trip in the center of Ravenna and add a few more wrought iron gates to my collection




and a couple of street scenes.



Later in the afternoon, we go to a fairly new museum--the Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra (House of the Stone Carpets). It is located in the basement of a church and features recently discovered Roman floor mosaics. They were found when excavations were started for a parking garage. The mosaics are quite large and impressive but, after seeing so many of the vivid Byzantine mosaics, the colors seem a bit subdued.





For our last dinner, I want to return to the place we had lunch on our first day in Ravenna, Fricando. I really loved the gnocco fritto, so we return and have a quiet dinner there. I am very happy with my gnocco fritto with salumi and soft cheese and Diana really likes her dish of tagliolini with prosciutto. We stop at a nearby gelateria for what are probably the last gelatos of the trip.

Tomorrow we will drive to Milan and stay at the airport hotel for our flight early on Tuesday.

Jim and Diana

Zurers in Italy 2024: Monday, May 27
Day 29: Ravenna-Milan Malpensa​

Time to come home. We have our last breakfast in Ravenna sitting outside on the terrace of the hotel, pack up, and get in the car for the 3 hour drive to Milan. We will be staying overnight at the airport hotel before our mid-morning flight back to the US. We decide to make a short detour in order to have lunch at Nuovo Nando, just outside Brescia. We had eaten there early in the trip and we couldn't stop thinking about the local version of ravioli--casoncelli--that I had enjoyed.

We are not disappointed...the meal is as good as we remembered. We share the steak tartare to start and we both have the casoncelli. The pasta dough is so delicate that it melts in your mouth--the best we have ever had. We look forward to returning.

Arriving at Malpensa, we check in to the very large Sheraton Hotel that is in the main terminal. The space is huge and it is a very long walk from the front desk to the rooms. Though the room resembles an American hotel room, it is not very comfortable--very small, no desk, and only one chair. We hang out in the hotel for rest of the day...Diana quilts in the large sitting area and we have a mediocre meal in the cavernous hotel dining room.

Tomorrow we return to the US.

The trip has really worked out very well...the weather, the itinerary, the hotels, the meetings with friends. The month flew by and we are ambivalent about whether we are ready to go home. It occurs to me that our last three trips have had complicating factors. In 2019, both of us had medical issues that were somewhat challenging. Then we missed two years because of the pandemic. In 2022, we got COVID and last year, when we went in late June, it was very hot. In any case, I think we are ready to think about our next Italian adventure for 2025.

NOTE: I want to correct a typo and a possible lack of clarity about the Passover/Easter calendar issue from the previous report.

A note in the explanation of the calendar mentions that the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. wanted to decouple the observance of Easter and Passover so they decreed that, in the future, they would never fall on the same day. Easter would always fall on a Sunday since the Rabbinical Jewish calendar had been adjusted to align with the solar calendar so that the 15th of Nisan always falls on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday--never on Sunday.

1. The last part should read: ....the first Seder (the 14th of Nisan) always falls on a Saturday, Monday, Thursday, or Friday---never on Sunday.

2. The Jewish Rabbinical calendar establishing the days of the Seder was developed in the 6th century BCE during the Babylonian Captivity. The Council of Nicea (325 CE) was aware of the Jewish calendar when they decreed that Easter would always be celebrated on a Sunday and never on the same day of the week as the first Passover Seder.

P.S. Some random questions from Diana, at the end of a wonderful trip.

1. How is the experience of visiting churches different for a believer?

2. After seeing hundreds of graceful, beautiful deer-crossing signs, will we ever see a deer?

3. Will Rome still be Jim's favorite place in Italy as it becomes more inundated with tourists - and dirt?

4. Jim routinely walks 7-9 miles a day. At home, my walking mostly consists of walking to the elevator and walking in the garage to get into the car. In Italy I walked 1-3 miles a day. Yay! Will I now walk at home?

5. What ever happened to those trash containers on tables in Italian restaurants, where you disposed of your tea bag wrapper, etc. ?

6. What happened to the prostitutes you always saw standing on the road, on the outskirts of towns? We only saw 2 this trip.

7. Where is the anthropological study comparing Thai and Italian cultures? Two places where we feel so at home and so connected, must have some common values and attributes. I have speculated about this.

8. Will this be my first ever trip to Italy where I haven't gained any weight?

9. And a question whose answer I know. Is there a more beautiful, fascinating place on earth for us than Italy? Nope.

Btw, I only read 4 books this trip but can recommend all of them. All are novels that brilliantly grapple with difficult historical events.

James by Percival Everett: A reimagining of Huckleberry Finn from the point of view of the enslaved Jim

The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese - Translated by Tim Parks: An Italian returns to his rural village in Piedmont after WWII and after spending 25 years in America.

More Than I Love My Life by David Grossman - Translated by Jessica Cohen: Four members of an Israeli family travel to the site of a former labor camp of Tito's where the grandmother had been interred - uncovering personal and political history. Based on a true story.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan: The main character discovers the horrors of the Magdalen Laundries in his local convent, where he delivers coal.
I've read other books by David Grossman but not that one. I'll put it on my list.

Those trash containers on the tables have disappeared in Switzerland too. They were always there for breakfast.

Good luck on your walking! I'm slowly getting back into walking shape.
Answers to a couple of questions!
Question 2. Hopefully not! Here in the mountains when a deer crosses the road in front of a car (usually night time or very early morning) the car is often badly damaged and the resulting tussle as to who should pay between Regione, Comune and Insurance takes ages! Same for wild boar. Fortunately as you've seen, it doesn't happen often.
Question 5. Still around in some places

Thanks to you both for another great trip report. I live in Italy but I always learn something new from your trips!
We used to take our own pot to Italy - too many prior to that had been poorly treated with black mould caked into the water reservoir. A bit of a 'coals to Newcastle' action, but it gave us peace of mind and coffee is important, even when making a humble cup in the apartment.
at home we make individual pour over coffees every morning, and when we spend a few weeks in the Caribbean or Cape Cod every year, we bring our pour over cups and filters, but we never think about doing the same in Europe......we really should, because I have yet to perfect my method for using a moka pot and I agree about the yucky scale spots inside them
Thanks for the responses....I will pass the answers on to my wife.

Glad you enjoyed the reports...where in Italy do you live?
We live in the Vallecamonica, to the north of Lake Iseo in the province of Brescia. An area totally neglected by foreign tourists but with a lot to offer for those who like off the beaten track places, small villages, nature and mountains

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