In my Kitchen in Puglia, 2019


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August is always a busy month.  I am usually in Orsara di Puglia for at least half of it, and there is a lot of activity in my kitchen.  Here are just a few of the things my family and I were up to in our tiny but functional summer kitchen in Puglia.

Starting with the space itself, the whole casa is 40m² (about 450 square feet) including a bedroom and bathroom.  The room with the cucina is also the living room, guest room (aka my room) and art studio. The highlight of the room is the barrel vaulted stone ceiling. It is hard to get a photo of the whole thing, but this one gives you an idea what it looks like. Amazing, isn’t it?

August 5th is a feast day in Orsara.  It is la festa della Madonna della Neve which you can read about here.  My parents and I invited 7 family members over for pranzo, the 1pm meal.  Luckily we have a total of 10 chairs!

I had recently bought a spianatoia, although I only knew what is was called in dialetto.  It is a pasta rolling board with a lip on one end so it stays put on the table.  This one also has a handy carrying handle.  Cavatelli www.unpodipepe.caMamma and I decided to make orecchiette and cavatelli, even though both of us were out of practice. These are the most typical pasta shapes found in Puglia.Orecchiette  Sugo con braciole They was served with sugo made with braciole which are thin cuts of meat rolled with prosciutto, parmigiano, parsley and garlic. Orecchiette con sugo

There are no fancy appliances in this kitchen.  I was given a bouquet of basilico and garlic from a friend’s garden and we made pesto ‘old school’ with her ancient and very heavy stone mortaio-mortar.Pesto made with old stone mortar/mortaio

Vino is plentiful in Puglia.  Nero di Troia is a nice, full-bodied local wine.  Read more about it in Vini di Puglia, the first of a 3 part blog series.  It is available at the grocery store in a 3L plastic container for less than €6!  It is very good!  We bring it home and Papà transfers it to 4 750ml glass bottles.  Sure, you can spend more money, but even the inexpensive vino is good.  I love to drink pesche in vino -peaches in wine with pranzo.  Yum! In summer red wine is often served chilled.

The cheese products in Puglia and Campania are drool-worthy!  Orsara has its own DOP cheese called cacioricotta, a goat cheese, but it never stays around long enough to be photographed!  Here is a lovely white on white trio of burrata, ricotta and mozzarella di bufala.Burrata, ricotta e mozzarella di bufala

Fiori di zucca are one of my favourite summer foods.  Luckily they are readily available here.  These ones were grown by a friend.  They are stuffed with caciocavallo and basilico, ready to be baked or grilled.  More recipe and harvesting tips can be found in the post Fiori di zucca.  I grow them in my garden in Vancouver as well, but they are not that plentiful. Fiori di zucca

Cucina povera, literally ‘food of the poor’, is what you will find in Puglia.  Simple foods made with fresh local ingredients.  My favourite comfort food, very typical of Orsara di Puglia is pancotto e patate.  It is made with stale bread, boiled potatoes, oil and garlic.  Beans and rucola or other greens can also be added.  I will have to write a post on how to make it!Pancotto, patate e rucolaI took the train down to Lecce and Nardò for a few days and found this cute ceramic gratta aglio, a garlic grater.  Of course the peperoncini attracted me! Gratta aglioI hope this post has made you either hungry and drooling or wishing you could visit Puglia yourself.  Maybe it has done both? Buon appetito e buon viaggio, CristinaThanks Sherry from Australia for hosting the monthly food blogging event, In My Kitchen (IMK). Read about other world kitchens by clicking the link to Sherry’s Pickings . Buon appetito, Cristina

Blub a Napoli


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Blub Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro fresco MANNA few weeks ago I took a daytrip to Napoli for sfogliatelle-but also to see the Blub exhibit at MANN (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli).  If you do not know about the street artist from Firenze, make sure to read my Blub post L’Arte sa Nuotare.  Blub (Bloob) takes famous works of art and gives them a new look, immersing them underwater, complete with blue background, snorkel masks and bollicine-bubbles.  Prints are organically glued to the metallic doors of gas and electrical panels, which provide ready-made frames.

To prepare for the exhibit, Napoli’s Centro Storico was ‘Blubified’ with 40 works plastered on sportelli-the doors of gas and electrical panels. A few are specific to Napoli, for example Totò and Re Carlo III Borbone (King Charles III).Blub, Re Carlo III Borbone a Napoli

In the exhibit, which only includes 5 new works, the project ‘L’Arte sa Nuotare’ (Art knows how to swim) is extended to Pompeii.  4 paintings on metal are inspired by affreschi (frescoes) from the ruins of Pompeii.  There is also the portrait of Carlo III and some sculptures have been adorned with masks and fins, as well as the tomb in the photo below.Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli Blub

The nymph is a detail from the fresco ‘Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro’(the flight of Dedalus and the fall of Icarus) from Villa Imperiale, Pompeii.  It is an acrylic painting on a metal door and I love how the rust has been incorporated. Detail from Il Volo di Dedalo e la caduta di Icaro Blub pompeii

Terentius Neo e la moglie (Terentius Neo and his wife) is a fresco from 55-79 AD found in 1868 in the house of baker Terentius Neo, which was also the bakery. The middle class couple is well-dressed, and he holds a scroll with seal, his wife a stylus and wax tablet to demonstrate that they are literate and cultured.  His wife is portrayed as an equal, in fact she seems to be standing in front of her husband.Blub Terentius Neo e la moglie

Here is the original fresco in MANN:Terentius Neo e la moglie Pompeii

Donna con tavolette cerate e stilo (Woman with wax tablets and pen) is a tondo, a round painting found in 1760 in the Insula Occidentalis house in Pompeii.  It depicts a wealthy woman with gold earrings and a gold hair net. She is holding a stylus and 4 wax tablets, to demonstrate learning and culture.  This  fresco is known as Sappho, although it is not a portrait of the poetess, in fact the stylus and wax tablets were more likely used for accounting than poetry. Blub again incorporates the rust on the metal door to add ‘age’ to the work.'Sappho' by Blub Napoli

The original fresco in MANN:Sappho MANN

My favourite Blub here is Maschera Teatrale di Donna (Woman’s theater mask) inspired by a fresco in Casa del braciale d’oro (House of the golden bracelet) in Pompeii. The work is under glass, so my photo has glare issues.  The tag says that this Blub work is an acrylic on metal door and is in a private collection in Hingham, Massachusetts, so I think that means Blub made a sale!

Maschera Teatrale subacqua, from L’Arte sa Nuotare Facebook page

Blub quote Napoli MANN exhibit

‘….water is my element.  Life is born from water, it is the hidden side of matter.  When you are immersed, time stops and becomes weightless, while thoughts flow freely in a suspended dimension…for this I propose personalities that have transmitted an example of greatness that survives still today, as if underwater, without time.’  Blub

Seeing all the affreschi from Pompeii in MANN really inspired me to get out my bucket of plaster and pigments.  Fresco painting is not a very ‘modern’ art form, but I have dabbled in it a bit and really love it.  Below is my detail of La Cappella Sistina. My next fresco painting might be one of Giotto’s angels. I’ll be looking for rusty metal doors to paint on! Let me know if you have any.Cappella Sistina Cristina Pepe

Blub hunting in the Centro Storico was not very productive.  We found a peek-a boo Blub….a Renaissance woman mostly covered by the propped open door of a store! Blub NapoliGiuseppe Verdi looks very distinguished among the graffiti.  I was disappointed to not find a Totò, but did find a Banksy and lots of other interesting street art-which I will leave for another post!Blub Verdi, Napoli

The exhibit in MANN ends in a few days.  I hope you enjoyed this virtual Blub tour and that all of you can some day view real life ‘Blubi’! Ciao, Cristina

*Photo credit-Both photos of Terentius Neo e la moglie and Blub’s Sappho taken by my cugino and Napoli travel partner Mark ‘Peperotti‘ Pepe



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Ferragosto refers to August 15th and up to a week before and after. August 15th is a national holiday, celebrating l’Assunzione di Maria-the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to Heaven at the end of her life on earth. If you know anyone named Maria Assunta, she was probably born on August 15th!

Most Italiani take their holidays at this time, heading to the mountains or seaside for cooler weather. At the very least, most are away for ‘il ponte di Ferragosto’ the long weekend around August 15th.

Ferragosto goes way back….the name comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti or holidays of the Emperor Octavius Augustus, started in 31 BC. There were already several other Roman festivals the same month, such as Consualia, celebrating the harvest. They were combined into a longer rest and feasting period after months of heavy labour in the fields. The celebration originally included horse races. Il Palio dell’Assunta in Siena every August 16th still keeps this tradition going. Taking a trip mid-August became popular in the 1920’s. The fascist government set up discounted trains for Ferragosto Aug 13-15 to give the less well off an opportunity to see other Italian cities. In the 1960’s it became common for factories and large businesses in the bigger cities such as Torino and Milano to shut down for 2 weeks in August, or sometimes even the entire month.

This gave workers from the south or small villages the opportunity to return home and spend time with family, and also to get away from the summer heat in the city. This tradition continues, although not as much as in previous years. It is common to see Chiuso per ferie signs for 2 weeks in August, but many small businesses now close in June or September instead.


I am often asked why small, independent businesses shut down for 2 weeks instead of having more staff and staying open. The main reason is that in Italia it is very expensive to have dipendenti-employees.  It often makes more financial sense for a local, family run place to simply close for a few weeks. Spending time with family is also valued more than in some cultures, so shutting down to be with family is an accepted, even encouraged practice.

2 weeks ago I was in Napoli and tried to go to the popular Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo. The lineup was ridiculously long, so I went somewhere else and had a delicious pizza Margherita. Last year on August 17th, the sign pictured above was on the door of the same place. They were closed for 3 weeks and their other location near the harbour was open.

Should you avoid going to Italia in August? Absolutely not! If that is when you are able to go-then do it! Just do not attempt to travel on August 15th, as public transportation will be greatly reduced and nearly everything will be closed. Museums and cultural sites will be open though. Roma, for example, will be empty of Romans for the week, so it will be less crowded with fewer cars on the road. It is a great time to visit air-conditioned museums and cool stone churches. There will be more than enough restaurants open that nobody will starve.

I usually go to Italia in August as this is the best time of year to go to my small mountain village. There are feste and concerts all month, my friends and relatives have time off and those who have moved away for work come back to visit.

What are you doing for Ferragosto?

Buon Ferragosto, Cristina

This post is written as part of the monthly blogging linkup Dolce Vita Bloggers  hosted by Kelly , Jasmine and Kristy.

Exploring le Cinque Terre


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Le Cinque Terre are 5 stunning clifftop villages on the Coast of Liguria, between La Spezia and Levanto.  In my last post I described the area, the villages, how to get there and around.  In this post, I write specifically about the experiences I had visiting the area 6 weeks ago with my nipotina* Isabella. Hiking between the 5 villages was our plan. They are connected by rail and also by a series of ancient donkey trails.  Along the sea is the ‘Sentiero Azzurro (blue trail) which is flat between Riomaggiore and Manarola, but otherwise gains quite a bit of elevation. The other series of trails is the Sentiero Rosso (red trail), higher up into and over the mountains and terraced vineyards.  These are longer and much more challenging, and include trails going to 5 Sanctuaries-one above each village.Manarola da Volastra

Rain and mudslides periodically damage the trails. It is important to check the conditions on the Cinque Terre website. 2 of the 4 sections of Sentiero Azzurro have been closed for a while and are apparently not scheduled to reopen until 2021!  We knew this before arriving, but did not know that the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza was also recently closed!Monterosso a mare, Sentiero Azzurro

At the Cinque Terre Info Point in La Spezia buying Cinque Terre cards, we were informed of the extra closure. This left us with only 1 accessible section, the Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare section-the most strenuous, of course. To make things worse, they would not sell us a 2 day Cinque Terre card. Perché? Because the next day was going to be one of those dreaded ‘sciopero dei treni’– train strike. Mannaggia!  These unexpected things happen when travelling, and no amount of planning ahead will prevent them-so we just adjusted our plans and made the best of it.

Vernazza Piazza Marconi, Cinque Terre LiguriaOur accomodation was in Vernazza, so we headed there first. Getting off the train at noon, my first thought was ‘mannaggia a te Rick Steeves!’ Via Roma, the main street of this beautiful but tiny village was so packed with people we barely had elbow room!  It was loud, crowded, and probably the worst time of day to be there.  I could hear the waiters approach everyone in english-a pet peeve of mine. This was mid-May-I can only imagine summer!

Vernazza, Cinque TerreAfter pushing our way down Via Roma to Piazza Marconi at the harbour, we checked in at the restaurant renting our room. The room was waaaaay up a series of 6 narrow staircases winding through tiny streets and alleys, just below Castello Doria.  I was glad I did not have a lot of luggage!  The view from the top was worth the climb!  The roof had a terrazza with chairs and a view of the sea. I could have sat there with a book, but since there were no trains the next day, it was time to do some exploring.

Corniglia la Lardarina, Cinque TerreTo get to Corniglia, we took the train and climbed the almost 400 steps up from the stazione.  Cute and quieter, Corniglia is the only village not on the sea. Corniglia, Cinque TerreI looked around for a Corzetti stamp with no luck, then we set off on the much longer and steeper Sentiero Rosso to Manarola via an inland town called Volastra. Manarola vista dal Sentiero RossoThere were viste mozzafiate-breathtaking views in every direction and the trail not crowded at all.  It took us right through ‘vertical farmland’ high above the sea..  They are called terrazzamenti a fasce -strip terraced vineyards and olive groves. I thought these long metal poles and brackets were to give support against rock and mudslides, but the next day I found out what they were for.Terrazzamenti a fasce, terraced strips of farmland Volastra Cinque Terre

It took almost 3 hours to reach Manarola, a lovely town with a cute harbour and several viewpoints to walk to and watch the sunset. ManarolaWe decided not to go to Riomaggiore, as trains are less frequent in the evening and our visits to both towns would have been too rushed. . Arriving by train back to Vernazza, the daytrippers were long gone and it was a beautiful evening for walking along the tiny harbour, taking photos and watching people try to fish.Vernazza di notte

The next morning, after colazione-breakfast on another terrazza overlooking the sea, we climbed up to Castello Doria, a few flights of stairs above our room. We had 360° views over Vernazza, the mountains and the sea.  Vernazza dal Castello DoriaThen we headed out of town on the Sentiero Azzurro to Monterosso a Mare before the onslaught of daytrippers stepped off the train. The trail started just above Vernazza. Vernazza, Cinque Terre, LiguriaIt was a steep uphill climb for awhile and then we were rewarded with birds’ eye views directly over Vernazza. Vernazza, Sentiero Azzurro, Cinque TerreThere were many more hikers on this trail than on the one yesterday, but it was not overly crowded. I did say ‘Buongiorno’ a lot!  The scenery was amazing and included walks through more terraced vineyards, olive and lemon groves.  Vernazza machinery for transporting grapesI even had a closer look at some of the mysterious looking machinery and contraptions for transporting grapes down the mountain that I had seen the day before.

Monterosso a Mare dal Sentiero AzzurroMonterosso was visible long before we reached it. The beach was long and sandy with a lungomare, a seaside walkway.  We spotted fritto misto da asporto-takeout mixed fried seafood and veggies sold in paper cones.  Despite the sciopero, a few local trains went by.  We thought about taking the train to Riomaggiore, but were concerned about getting stuck there without a train back. We returned to Vernazza and bought pesto foccacia and a paper cone of fritto misto to have on the terrazza.Vernazza, Cinque Terre

I was excited to finally find my stampo per Corzetti! Corzetti (Croxetti in Genovese) are traditional Ligurian pasta shaped like large coins with a design stamped on both sides.  The design holds the sauce better!  It was hand carved by a local fisherman and I can’t wait to try it.  One design is an ear of wheat and the other a ‘swirly thing’. I looked for one in every town, and ended up finding it right in Vernazza.  The shop owner and Isabella could not believe how excited I was to find it! Stay tuned for a corzetti pasta post in the future.

Later we walked part of the Vernazza to Corniglia trail, turning back at the point where it was closed. The views of Vernazza from the other side were amazing, but the weather was starting to change.   VernazzaThe Sentiero Rosso can get to Corniglia, via the Sanctuary of San Bernardino, but it takes 3.5 hours! In the evening I attended a Cinque Terre wine tasting  event hosted by Alessandro, a local sommelier on the terrazza.  I tasted 3 Cinque Terre whites while looking out at the sea.  Hiking with a 19 year old is exhausting, so this was a perfect way to end the day! Salute!Cinque Terre Wine Experience Vernazza

We loved our 2 days/nights in le Cinque Terre and could have used another day to go to Riomaggiore, and possibly take a boat.  In our case, it is better we did not stay an extra day though-as we left for Milano in a torrential downpour. In bad weather, there are no indoor activities in the Cinque Terre villages-except reading a book on a terrazza.  Travel to the area is best between April and September.  October and November are rainy, then it gets cold.

Vernazza porto, Cinque TerreIn case you think that in my photos it does not look crowded, this is because I could not move my elbows wide enough to take a photo during the peak times! Le Cinque Terre are no longer an undiscovered gem but are definitely still worth visiting.  If planning a visit, I would definitely recommend staying in one of the villages, for a calmer experience and to enjoy the mornings and evenings when the crowds of daytrippers have left for the day.  During the busy hours, go hiking and exploring.  The best way to see the area is on the trails! Many visitors stay in Portovenere or La Spezia for cheaper accomodation, but I do not think the experience is the same at all.  Day tours also arrive from Firenze and Milano, 2.5-3 hours away, leaving little time to see the area.  Be a daytripper only if you have no other option to ever visit the area.  Staying in one of the villages may not be advisable for those with mobility issues or a lot of luggage.Vernazza Stazione

Individual train tickets between La Spezia and Levanto are €4 and valid for 75 minutes. If you plan to hike and take the train, buy a Cinque Terre Card.  The combo card (trekking and treno) includes unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto, use of all the trails, and wifi that actually works! It costs €16 per day. For trekking only, it is €7.50 per day.  The card is available for 2 and 3 days- except in the case of un sciopero! There are also family and low season prices.  For more information, check here. Open toed shoes and smooth soles are not allowed on trails.Fritto misto, Vernazza Cinque Terre

Eat as much seafood as possible, and pesto, not necessarily together-although Fooderia Manarola (@fooderia_manarola on instagram) does have panino con polpo (octopus) e pesto!  My pesto is very good (recipe here) but the besto pesto is in Liguria! You can choose traditional trofie con pesto, lasagne con pesto and pesto foccacia.  Pesto heaven!  The paper cones of fritto misto -assorted seafood and veggies are delicious takeout food.Fritto misto, Monterosso a mare

Have you visited le Cinque Terre? What did you think?  Buon viaggio, Cristina

*Nipote or nipotina means both niece and granddaughter.  In this case, it means niece!Manarola, Cinque Terre

Le Cinque Terre


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Manarola, Cinque TerreLe Cinque Terre are 5 villages precariously perched on the Coast of Liguria, between La Spezia and Levanto.  Cinque Terre literally means ‘5 lands’, but in this case terre refers to villages.  Inhabited since at least the 11th Century, they likely date back to Roman times.  The 5 villages are connected by rail, bus, boat and ancient trails that follow the coastline and go up into the mountains. The area was almost inaccessible except by sea, until the Genoa to La Spezia railway was built in 1870.Vernazza porto, cinque Terre liguria

In 1997, the Cinque Terre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of a cultural, evolved organic landscape transformed by man over centuries. The inhabitants have adapted and shaped the steep, rugged, uneven coastal landscape so they could use the land vertically. Terrazzamenti a fasce (terraced strips of land) extend along the steep slopes, up to 400 m above sea level for growing grape vines, olive trees and lemon trees.   They are held in place by 100’s of km of muretti a secco (dry stone walls). These are thought to have been built in the 12th century, when Saracen raids from the sea decreased.  In 1999 il Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre was established, becoming Italia’s smallest yet most densely populated (~4,000 people) national park.Terrazzamenti a fasce Cinque Terre Volastra, Manarola

Aside from clifftop villages of colourful houses, viste mozzafiato (breathtaking views), hiking trails and terrazzamenti, the Cinque Terre area is known for fresh seafood, pesto Genovese made with local basilico and olio, lemons, and white grapes.  The grapes are made into white wines, including Sciacchetrà, a sweet wine which is a blend of Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes.Limoni, Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The 5 villages are less than 10 minutes apart by train. Going from South to North, they are:

#1 Riomaggiore is the most Southern village with a population of 1500- including Manarola, Volastra and Groppo.  Brightly coloured buildings are stacked on either side of a steep ravine down to the tiny harbour.  The main Cinque Terre park office is in Riomaggiore and the start of the Sentiero Azzurro (blue trail) the 12 km old donkey trail along the sea, connecting all the villages.  The section from Riomaggiore to Manarola, less than 1 km away, is the fairly flat Via del Amore, which is presently closed until 2021. Sadly, I did not make it to Riomaggiore-find out why in my next post!Manarola, Cinque Terre

#2 Manarola is surrounded by vineyards and famous for wine.  The brightly coloured houses seem to follow the natural form of the coastline and lead down to the small harbour, boat ramp and several viewpoints.  Carrugi-steep, narrow alleys all lead to the sea. Manarola is a perfect place to watch the sunset. From December 8th into January the hills behind Manarola are illuminated with more than 200 figures and 12.000 lights for the biggest lighted Presepio (Nativity scene) in the world.Corniglia, Cinque Terre, dal Sentiero Rosso

#3 Corniglia population ~150 is considered part of Vernazza.  It is the quietest village and the only one not on the coast.  It is on a 100m high promontory, going steeply down to the sea.  Surrounded by terrazzamenti on three sides Corniglia has views of the other villages. Ferries and boats do not stop here, since there is no harbour.  Corniglia Stazione, Cinque TerreCorniglia’s stazione is down near the sea, and the village, is accessed by climbing a wide staircase with 400 steps, called Lardarina.  This probably explains why Corniglia is the quietest! There are buses too, although I did not see any.  Corniglia was named for the Roman family who owned the land, and it was acquired in 1276 by the Repulic of Genoa. Corniglia’s vino is mentioned in Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th Century literary masterpiece Decameron:

 e allora in una tovagliuola bianchissima gli portò due fette di pane arrostito e un gran bicchiere di vernaccia da Corniglia. Translation by Cristinaand then, in an immaculately white napkin, I brought him 2 slices of toasted bread and a large glass of Vernaccia from Corniglia

Vernazza dal Sentiero Azzurro#4 Vernazza is the most beautiful of the towns, with its tiny beach, picturesque natural harbour and breakwater, surrounded by terraced olive groves.  The population is ~825 including Corniglia.  Vernazza is first mentioned in 1080 as the fortified naval base of the Obertenghi family to protect the area from pirates. Verna refers to native or indigenous.  The local vino is called Vernaccia, which is probably where Vernazza gets its name.  Vernazza dal Castello DoriaA climb to the 15th Century  Castello Doria (admission €1.50) will reward you with stunning views over the harbour.  The harbour church, Santa Margherita di Antiochia was built in 1251, and the octagonal tower added in the 16th C.  The Sanctuary Nostra Signora di Reggio is a 1 hour steep walk away.Vernazza Cinque Terre

In 2011 rainstorms caused massive flooding and mudslides.  Vernazza and its stazione were buried under 4m of mud and debris and 7 people were killed.  Along the main street is a large black and white photo display of the flooding.

Monterosso a mare dal Sentiero Azzurro#5 Monterosso al Mare pop 1425 is the largest and most northern village.  It is the most accessible by car and has more hotels and amenities and a large beach, the only sand beach in the area. There is an old and new town, separated by a tunnel and the stazione.  Monterosso is famous for lemons and anchovies.

How to get there and around– Taking a car to Cinque Terre is a bit of a pain. It is possible to drive there, but the villages are car free, so the car has to be parked somewhere. Parking is more available in and around Monterosso, Levanto and La Spezia.

Boats and ferries leave from La Spezia, Portovenere, Lerici and Genova. Note that many of them do not operate from October to March.Vernazza Stazione

Train is the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way to travel. There are frequent local trains between La Spezia and Levanto.  Many people go on daytours from other cities, but note that Firenze is 2.5 hours away and Milano is 3 hours away, which does not leave much time for enjoying the area.  It is possible to stay in La Spezia, Pisa Portovenere, Genova, Levanto, Lerici or even Santa Margherita Ligure and commute by train, but you can read more about that in the next post!

Individual train tickets between La Spezia and Levanto are €4 and valid for 75 minutes. If you plan to hike and take the train, buy a Cinque Terre Card.  The combo card (trekking and treno) includes unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto, use of all the trails, and wifi that actually works! It costs €16 per day. For trekking only, it is €7.50 per day.  The card is available for 2 and 3 days, except in my case! There are also family and low season prices.  For more information, check here.

**Note that proper footwear is required on all the trails. Open toed shoes and smooth soles are not allowed and there are fines.

In the next post, I will tell you the details of my own Cinque Terre experience last month, including why I did not go to Riomaggiore!Vernazza di notte

Buon viaggio, Cristina

L’arte sa nuotare


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Putto Raffaello Firenze street art BlubL’arte sa Nuotare -art knows how to swim- is a project by Italian street artist Blub (Bloob).  Anyone who has been to Firenze in the last few years has likely seen Blub’s work plastered onto the city’s sportelli di gas e di luce- the metallic doors of gas and electrical panels. Blub street art FirenzeI was recently in Firenze with my nipotina Isabella. We were constantly on the lookout for ‘Blubi’ (BLOO•bee).  It was like a scavenger hunt! We even spotted a few in Lucca, but none in Siena.  Blub street art Firenze Dante l'arte sa nuotareNo one has met mysterious street artist Blub.  All we know about Blub is that he…..or she….. is from Firenze and is a talented artist with a fun, quirky sense of humour.Blub street artist Firenze, the Creation of AdamBlub’s series “L’arte sa Nuotare’ takes famous works of art and gives them a new look, immersing them underwater, complete with blue background, snorkel masks and bollicine-bubbles! Blub street art La Dolce Vita Shannon Milar L'arte sa nuotare

More recent works receiving the Blub treatment are contemporary icons such as the kiss from La Dolce Vita, Freddie Mercury and Amy Winehouse.  Blubi have a magnetic attraction to anyone passing by. Blub Modigliani street art Lucca l'arte sa nuotareThe works are not graffiti painted directly onto the precious, crumbling renaissance walls. Blub paints 1 original acrylic on canvas or metal, then makes posters in sizes to fit the sportelli and pastes them up with 100% plant based glue. Sportelli also provide ready made frames.Ragazza con l'orecchina di perla Blub street artist Firenze, Girl with a pearl earring

How did this series start?  According to a February 2019 interview (in Italiano) with Firenze Urban Lifestyle Magazine, Blub claims that for fun, the first ‘masked’ triad were Da Vinci works-La Gioconda (aka Mona Lisa), Dama con l’ermellino, and a self portrait of Leonardo.  One night, with the help and encouragement of friends, they were pasted up on sportelli in the San Niccolò area. Blub Leonardo Da Vinci Donna con l'ermellino Firenze street art

It was originally a way of remembering the flood of the Arno in 1966 and the saving of Firenze’s priceless artwork from the muddy water that ravaged the city.  That night ‘l’arte non affoga’ (art does not drown) became ‘l’arte sa nuotare’.

Firenze Duomo Blub street artAside from the reference to the 1966 flood, the series brings together the past and contemporary world, pays tribute to the personality of Firenze and is dedicated to those who find solutions in a sea of difficulty. The expression ‘sink or swim’ comes to mind.Van Gogh Blub street art l'arte sa nuotare

Water generates life and is a symbol of rebirth and purification.  Time stands still underwater, placing the immersed works that have left their mark and survive today in another dimension.  With this series of work, Blub is trying to incite curiosity rather than controversy.

Blub street art firenze L'arte sa nuotareBlub hunting will now also be possible in Napoli!  Blub has 6 new works on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli until August 31!  Frescoes from Pompeii underwater!  I will definitely try to see this exhibit! I hope you enjoyed this Blub photo exhibit! Have you had the pleasure of finding Blubi? If you like to view artwork al fresco and un po’ bagnato, happy Blub hunting!  More Blub images are available on instagram #lartesanuotare.

Ciao, Cristina

*La Dolce Vita photo taken by Shannon Milar in Lucca.  All other photos taken by me in Firenze, except the Amedeo Modigliani which was taken in Lucca.Putto Raffaello Blub street artist Firenze


Puglia~Mia Regione Preferita


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Italia has 20 regioni /regions. So far, I have been to 14 of them.  I love them all, but my absolute favourite is Puglia.  Why?  Well, aside from the obvious reason that it is home, there are countless others.  I have narrowed this post down to my top 10 reasons to love Puglia-in no particular order.  There are a lot of links to previous posts included here.  Please check them out!  Many of my Puglia posts were written when this blog only had about 27 readers, 80% of them related to me.  These posts need some new love!1) 840 km of coastline-That is a lot of beach!  The transparent turquoise colour of the water is real.Earlier this month, 13 Pugliese beaches received the environmental designation Bandiera Blu, including Polignano a Mare, Margherita di Savoia and Peschici.

2)Cucina Pugliese is rustic cucina povera or peasant food, focusing on the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients that are in season.   Orecchiette con sugo

Pugliese specialties include orecchiette con sugo, orecchiette con cime di rape, grano arso, fave e cicorie, burrata, pancotto e patate, polpo, pesce, focaccia Pugliese, taralli, cartellate, pasticciotto, and pizza con la ricotta.  Everything is made with Pugliese ‘liquid gold’, extra virgin olive oil.Cucina Pugliese 1

Cucina PuglieseI hope I have made you hungry.  Buon appetito!

3)Vino- Oenotria ‘Land of Wine’ is the name the ancient Greeks gave Puglia. 425 km long, Puglia has a diverse agricultural landscape with mountains, plains, the Mediterranean sun, coastal sea breezes and fertile soil.  The climate is hot and dry, especially during the summer.  The name Puglia comes from the Latin ‘a pluvia’ meaning without rain. These environmental features, plus the presence of vitigni autoctoni (Native or Indigenous species of grapes) create an ideal environment for growing grapes and producing vino.

Vino is my favourite topic of research.  A few years ago, I published a Vini di Puglia trilogy-a series of 3 blog posts on the wines of Puglia!  Vini di Puglia is about the ‘big 3’ Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Primitivo.  Part 2 Aglianico to Zibibbo is about all the other grapes of Puglia plus a glossary of viniculture terms in Italiano.  Il Tuccanese a grape native to Orsara di Puglia is the last post in the trilogy. Salute!

4)Architettura Puglia has it’s own architectural style-Romanica Pugliese (Pugliese Romanesque).  Puglia was at the crossroads between Europe and the Crusades in the 11th-13th Century.  Many cattedrale were built in this style,  including those in Troia, Trani, Bari, Otranto, Molfetta, Bitonto, Siponto and Ruvo di Puglia.  Romanica Pugliese is a unique architectural style distinguished by elements of both Eastern and Western elements. These include vaulted ceilings, Byzantine semicircular cupolas, porticoes held up by marble lions, and intricate decorations with classical Byzantine and Arab features. The Romanesque Cathedrals in Puglia are on the UNESCO heritage sites tentative list, which is the step before heritage designation.  Troia cattedrale Romanica Pugliese

The 11 sectioned rosone pictured here of the Cattedrale di Troia built in 1145 AD looks like it is woven in stone.  Other architectural styles specific to Puglia are the Barrocco Leccese in Lecce and the mysterious Castel del Monte in Andria built by Federico II, which is its own unique entity.

5) Promontorio del Gargano One of the most beautiful areas on earth, Il Promontorio del Gargano (gar·GAH·noh) is the promontory sticking out above ‘il tacco’, the heel of Italia.  You can also think of it as la caviglia-the ankle spur of Italia.  Surrounded by the Adriatico on 3 sides, the area is more like an island; biodiverse with unique flora and fauna. Most of the promontorio is a protected area and marine reserve, Il Parco Nazionale del Gargano, which includes le Isole Tremiti and the ancient Foresta Umbra. Fortunately, this has prevented overdevelopment by large multinational hotels and resorts.San Domino Isole Tremiti, Puglia

Il Gargano is famous for picchi (woodpeckers) and other birds, 300 varieties of orchids, almonds and olives.  There are endless ancient hillside olive groves, pine forests, sea grotte, limestone cliffs, rocky shores, crystalline water and fresh seafood.

Baia delle Zagare, Puglia

Baia delle Zagare

The winding road around the Gargano, SS 89 from Foggia, has sharp turns and viste mozzafiato (VIS·teh moz·zah·FYAH·toh)-breathtaking views. One of my favourite viewpoints is La Baia delle Zagare, where the battle scene between the Amazons and Germans in the movie Wonder Woman were filmed!

6)Trabucchi  Trabucchi (tra∙BOO∙kkee) are old fishing contraptions found on the Adriatic coast of Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia. The design probably dates back to the ancient Phoenicians.  Trabucchi have fascinated me since I was a child, taking l’Adriatico, the night train from Bologna to Foggia on a stormy night.  They looked like giant alien octopi coming out of the sea!  There are 13 functioning trabucchi on the coast of the Promontorio del Gargano between Peschici and Vieste, the oldest dating back to the 18th century.  They are protected as National cultural heritage sites within the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. Read more in I Trabucchi del Gargano.

7)Trulli-These traditional limestone houses are unique to the Val d’Itria in Southern Puglia.  They were built ‘a secco’, which means dry-without mortar.  Trulli have domed cone-shaped roofs built up of overlapping grey limestone slabs called chiancharelle (kyan•ka•REL•leh). 

‘La Zona dei Trulli’ includes the areas around Locorotondo, Fasano, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Ceglie Massapica and the largest concentration of 1,620 trulli in Alberobello.  Alberobello and its trulli are a UNESCO World Heritage Site Read more about trulli in this post- I Trulli di Alberobello Trulli Alberobello8)History/Connection to the Iliad  Can any other region say it was founded by a Trojan War hero?  According to legend, after the fall of Troy the mythical hero Diomede (Diomedes) found out his wife had been unfaithful.  Instead of returning home to Argos, he sailed about the Adriatic, created the Isole Tremiti, and then was invited by Daunus, King of the Daunia (modern Provincia di Foggia) to settle there.  Diomede allegedly planted the first grape vines in Puglia, brought with him from Greece. He also founded many other towns in Puglia.  Diomede was allegedly shipwrecked and died near the Isole Tremiti.

tomba di Diomede Isole Tremiti

La tomba di Diomede on San Nicola.

An unmarked Hellenic period tomb on San Nicola is known as ‘la tomba di Diomede’. According to legend, his crew was so upset that the Goddess Venus took pity on the grieving men and turned them into birds that continue to cry for their loss. The scientific name for the Great Albatross common in the area is ‘Diomedea’.  These birds look like seagulls and sounds like a crying newborn.  There is a scene in Fellini’s fim ‘Otto e mezzo’ (8½), where a cardinal tells this story to Guido (Marcello Mastroianni).

A Diomedea, San Domino

Orsara di Puglia landscape9)Paesaggi- The landscape of Puglia is varied and beautiful, made up of wheat fields, olive groves, vineyards and rocky coastline.  The region has 60 million olive trees,  including ulivi secolari-centuries old trees with knotted, gnarled trunks that have been twisted by time and wind.  Puglia’s trees produce 40% of the olive oil in Italia.

10)Slower pace Most of Puglia is still very much ‘real italia’, less commercialized and touristy, with great places to visit.  I am often told my photos look like they are from old movie sets.  Even though Puglia is often on the ‘places to see this year’ lists, it is uncrowded.  This is partly because the region is poorly served by public transportation, and also because most foreigners visiting Puglia only go to the Salento and Alberobello!  Italians from other regions travel to Puglia a lot, so it is a great place to go if you need to practice speaking italiano! Check out the posts A Perfect day in Italia and Il Sole di Metà Pomeriggio for more paese scenes.Fiat 500K Giardiniera AutobianchiHave you been to Puglia, mia regione preferita?  Let me know in the comments.

This post is written as part of the #dolcevitabloggers monthly blogging linkup, hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie the 3rd Sunday of the month.  Click the link to check out what the rest of the Dolce Vita bloggers have written on this month’s topic ‘favourite region of Italy’.Porto, San Domino, Isole Tremiti, Puglia

Ciao, Cristina



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The winners of the 2019 Accenti Writing and Photo contests were announced at the Accenti Magazine Awards, during the 2nd edition of the Librissimi Italian Book Fair held at the Columbus Centre in Toronto. The awards were presented by publisher Domenic Cusmano and editor-in-chief Licia Canton. My photo Cruciverba was selected as the winner of the ‘Capture an Italian Moment’ photo contest!

Cruciverba (croo•chee•VER•bah)=Crossword. ‘On hot summer afternoons, I love to wander the winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleys of the medieval hilltop village of my birth, searching for interesting scenes of everyday life. This image of an octogenarian casually sitting in the shade doing a crossword with his cane resting at his feet immediately captured my attention.  It gave me hope that I will still be able to do my weekly cruciverba at his age.’

The winner of the 2019 Accenti writing contest is Eufemia Fantetti of Toronto for her short story ‘Tree of Life’.  Eufemia’s words dance off the page (or screen) and tug at the heart. I am looking forward to reading her upcoming book, My Father, Fortune-tellers & Me: A Memoir. The winning photos and stories will be featured in upcoming issues of Accenti online. Read about all of the finalists hereAccenti online photo contest finalists 2019Founded in 2002, the mission of Accenti Magazine ‘the magazine with an Italian accent’, is to document the evolution of the Italian-Canadian experience and disseminate its expression through the publication of literary and creative works. Accenti also aims to act as a conduit for dialogue among its readers and contributors. The 2020 photo and writing competition will be open and accepting submissions later in the year. To find out more, go to or

Ciao, Cristina

Bloghiversario #5!

Caspita, il tempo volo!  Oggi Un po’ di pepe compie 5 anni/Today Un po’ di pepe turns 5! It is hard to believe it has already been 5 years since starting this blog.  Where did the time go?  If feels like just yesterday I had trouble coming up with a blog name. This has been an amazing, rewarding experience and I have ‘met’ so many virtual friends and even reconnected with old ones.

There have been some big life changes recently.  The biggest one is that I left my permanent job and switched to working freelance.  Now I can say I am una libera professionista.  That has a nice ring to it.  I will be working less and my schedule will be much more flexible. No longer will I have to request time off one year in advance!  In theory, this means more time for writing and making art.  So far, all I have done is housecleaning, gardenwork and powerwashing, but those need to be done too!

Posts have increased from an average of 2 per month to 3 lately.  Hopefully this will continue!  A change in layout and a gallery page will be coming soon. Hopefully you are Caravaggio fans, because I wrote 4 posts recently and there will be more! A few blog collaborations are in the works too.

In other news… I will be going on a short trip to Firenze with my nipotina soon.  We will do a lot of research for future posts. My first non work related publication came out recently.  Read about it here.  There are 2 more publications coming out soon; a contribution to the Canadian Wine Anthology and a short story in the AICW Padula 2016 Conference Anthology.

La Terrazza degli Uffizi

In the last year, I have participated in 2 blogging linkup groups. ‘In my kitchen’ (IMK) hosted by Sherry posted in September and April.  My next one will be from my Pugliese kitchen this summer.  7 post were linked to the monthly ‘Dolce Vita Bloggers’  (DVB) group hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie .  These have been some of my most viewed posts, especially Aria Pericolosa.  In May, the DVB theme is ‘Favourite region of Italy’. Although I have been to 14 out of the 20 regions it should not be too difficult to guess which one I will write about!

This month’s DVB theme is ‘Favourite season in Italy’ but the timing was too close to Easter and this bloghiversary post for me to participate.  I definitely have a favourite season, and will write about it in the future.  A question I am often asked is ‘When is the best time to visit Italia?’.  Well, the answer is …anytime you are able to go!  There is no time that is not good to visit, you just need to know that each season will give a very different travel experience and even a different selection of food.  It’s all good!

Today is also La Festa della Liberazione d’Italia, the anniversary of the liberation of Italia from Fascist occupation in 1945.  It has been a national holiday since 1946.  Viva la libertà!

Grazie to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, send messages and especially for giving me an excuse to research and write about things that interest me!  If you have any suggestions for posts or just want to say ‘ciao‘, leave me a comment.

Grazie mille a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’ per leggere e darmi una scusa per scrivere di cose che mi piacciono.  Lasciami un messaggio se hai un idea per un post o semplicemente per dire ‘ciao’.  Un abbraccio, Cristina


Halifax and the Titanic


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Titanic: the unsinkable ship exhibit Maritime Museum of the Atlantic HalifaxApril 15th 1912, 2:20am. 107 years ago today, the doomed luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.  In October, I had the opportunity to visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The museum has a permanent exhibit called Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship. The exhibit takes you back in time and tries to recreate what life was like for everyone on board.  It is interactive, educational and really well done, focusing on the creation and tragedy of the ship, and also Halifax’s connection to Titanic.

The collection includes photos, reproductions, and many items that floated to the surface when Titanic sank. These were donated or loaned by descendants of the recovery ship crews.  Following maritime custom, fragments of shipwrecks were kept as reminders. This ‘wreckwood’ was not sold commercially, but kept by the families. Some very large pieces of elaborately carved wood and a deck chair were also recovered.  The deck chair was given to Reverend H Cunningham for his work on the recovery ships.  It was donated to the museum by his family.  Titanic deck chair Maritime Museum of the AtlanticThere is also a reproduction deck chair where visitors to the museum can sit and imagine what it would have been like to hang out aboard deck-before jumping into a lifeboat, of course!

Halifax was the closest port to the disaster and when the news broke, there was much confusion. The survivors and damaged ship were expected in Halifax.  Trainloads of relatives were on their way.  Immigration officers, sleeping arrangements and medical care were prepared in anticipation of an onslaught of 2200 cold, wet, hungry, displaced people.  As it turned out, the 706 survivors were all taken to New York by the rescue ship Carpathia because the captain thought it was safer to head south than risk meeting another iceberg on the way to Halifax. 325 bodies were recovered from the frigid water, mostly by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett.  116 had to be respectfully buried at sea because they ran out of supplies, ice and embalming fluid.  Regulations permitted only embalmed bodies be brought ashore.  The 209 bodies were taken to the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax.  Undertakers came from all over Nova Scotia to help.  59 of the bodies were picked up by relatives or shipped home, and 150 are buried in 3 Halifax cemeteries,  one third in unmarked graves.  One belongs to a 23 year old J Dawson, the name of Leonardo Di Caprio’s fictional character in the 1997 movie. Titanic’s band bass player and violinist are also buried here.

The crew of the Mackay Bennett were profoundly affected by the recovery of an unidentified 2 year old boy. They paid for his gravestone and accompanied him to the cemetery.  He was wearing a pair of brown leather shoes.  Unclaimed personal effects were burned to prevent souvenir hunting, but the Halifax Police Sargeant in charge could not bear to destroy the shoes.  He kept them in his desk drawer until he retired and his grandson donated them to the museum in 2002.  In 2010, scientists were able to use the shoes to identify the child as 19 month old Sidney Goodwin the youngest in a family of 8 on their way to Niagara Falls.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Shoes

Visiting the exhibit again made me think about the world’s ongoing fascination with Titanic. Everyone knows how it ends and there have been other marine tragedies with worse devastation. In fact 5 years later the Halifax Explosion killed 2,000 and injured 9,000. Yet it is Titanic and its stories that go on and continue to fascinate and intrigue after over 100 yrs. Why?  Read on:

1) Man vs Nature. Titanic was the biggest, fastest moving thing on the planet. According to the builders ‘even God could not sink this ship’. She was considered invincible and unsinkable, yet ironically was gone 4 days into her first voyage. Titanic was propelled with arrogance at full speed at night in an area known as ‘iceberg alley’, steering straight into an iceberg- and no one saw it coming! It turns out the impact of the iceberg should have damaged the ship, but not caused it to sink.  As I learned in the exhibit, Canadian scientists discovered that the steel used to build Titanic contained high levels of sulfur, making it brittle at cold temperatures.  This helps to explain the devastating results.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Titanic

2) Maritime safety- In the early 20th Century, everything was becoming ‘super-sized’, but regulations did not keep up with progress.  The White Star Line knew more lifeboats were needed, but did not want to make the deck look cluttered or make 1st class passengers nervous. There was room for 64 lifeboats but regulations only required 16!  With approximately 2224 passengers and crew on board, there were only 20 lifeboats with room for 1178 people.  The crew had no lifeboat training, so when panic and fear set in, they were massively disorganized and rowed out with 470 empty seats!  It was fortunate Titanic sailed at only ⅔ capacity, as there was room for almost 1,000 more passengers.

Commercial Wireless traffic had taken priority over ice warnings. The ship Californian had sent Titanic an earlier iceberg warning, and was close enough to rescue everyone, but her wireless operators were tired and asleep so did not respond to Titanic’s distress call. The captain even saw thought he saw flares, but did not respond. Safety regulations and procedures at sea improved immediately, ensuring lifeboat space for everyone on board, regular lifeboat drills, and continuous wireless watch for distress calls became mandatory.

3) Social inequality at the turn of the century -There was an extreme contrast of passengers on board-the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor IV, returning from his honeymoon, passengers returning from the Grand Tour, and the lower deck filled with impoverished immigrants heading to a new life in America. The classes were tightly segregated by locked barriers.  The survival rate for 1st class women was 97% and for 3rd class men 13%.Titanic exhibit. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax

4) Media-Titanic went down at the beginning of the communication age and was the first real disaster heard around the world. The first reports were from wireless operators on Carpathia. When she arrived in New York on April 18th, Carpathia was surrounded by hundreds of small boats chartered by news agencies.  The captain threatened to shoot any newsman who tried to board his ship.

5) Personal stories-It took 2 hours and 40 minutes for Titanic to sink. This provided time for survivors to witness the drama taking place-suffering, sacrifice, bravery, selfishness, cowardice, heartbreak.  We all know that the band kept playing to keep the passengers calm, and about the older couple who died in their bed together as she would not get into a lifeboat without him, and the richest man in the world putting his pregnant wife on a lifeboat then bravely going down with the ship. The stories were about real people and the public could not get enough.

6) Constant presence in popular culture-The silent film ‘Saved from the Titanic’ was released one month later, starring Dorothy Gibson, a real survivor, wearing the same outfit she was wearing that fateful night. 2 more movies and many books were soon released. The hype continued until 1918, then WW1, the Great Depression and WWII overshadowed Titanic.  In 1953 a new ‘Titanic’ movie was released, then the 1957 book ‘A Night to Remember’ sparked renewed interest.  Walter Lord interviewed >60 survivors, some of them speaking for the first time. The wreck of the Titanic was discovered SE of Newfoundland in 1985.  The ghostly images from the ship’s graveyard at the bottom of the Atlantic brought it back to life.  Then of course the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster renewed interest again.  There have been at least 15 movies/documentaries, 13 TV movies/miniseries and almost 200 books about Titanic.

I hope you have enjoyed my thought provoking visit to the Titanic exhibit. Despite the tragedy, we have the Titanic disaster to thank for improving maritime safety, and bringing to light the injustices and social inequality that were present at the time. If you happen to visit Halifax, do not miss the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Buon viaggio, Cristina