Cooking pizza at Florence’s Cooking and Wine Academy

They say there is no better place to eat a pizza than the ones in Italy and I would have to agree except for one thing, there is no better pizza to eat than the pizza’s you have made yourself and that is exactly what we did in Florence.

We were met at the door to the kitchen of Florence’s Wine and Cooking Academy by the chef and owner Giovanni. I was expecting, a fat jovial Italian man to speak in a thick Italian English accent, instead I was greeted by a man with a shaved head,glasses, speaking with a stern Italian/ American accent with my images of Italian chefs now thrown out the window, we were seated quickly at the benches of the kitchen, seated amongst 25 other want to be chefs.

Giovanni poured out the flour on the bench, formed a circle, then placed some liquid in the middle, from the outside he padded the flour before everything was seeped in and the dough was formed, he then started kneading before placing the ball of dough under the towel to allow it to rise. He was quick, meticulous in the way he did everything, he made it look easy. He then clicked his fingers twice, snapped “Go get your apron and wash your hands it’s your turn.”

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“lets start” I said, smiling at my wife and son before spreading the flour out on the table, the dough didn’t form as well as Giovanni’s, it was sticky, we were worried that it would be a failure, we felt pressured as he was spending a long time with other participants up at the far end, finally he came, he smirked looking at our dough, “needs more flour” before spreading some more out, we then rolled the dough in and sure enough the dough became firm. kneading too, wasn’t my forte but Rei had his knuckles, going, his fingers complying to what he was thinking and sure enough the dough was ready all it needed to do was for it to rise.

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While waiting I learnt that Giovanni spends a long time each year in America, training American chefs in the art of Italian cooking. That would explain the slight American accent that he had and probably why he doesn’t come across as one of the friendliest people when he’s used to training highly efficient chefs instead of training a bunch of amateurs.

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With the dough having risen we were ready to spread out the simple margarita sauce that we had made tomatoes, basil leaves and cheese. All that was to do now was wait.

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What we made

Margarita pizza
Calzone with spicy salami filling (Our favourite)
chocolate gelato

Meal fantastic

What we liked

Some schools, you watch the instructor make the food and then eat it. This is definitely the opposite a full hands on cooking experience.

Number of participants

25 I thought there were too many 15 participants would be better.

Instructions

precise, knew what he was doing, helpful

Instructor

Giovanni

His instructions were fine,he just needed to show a little bit more warmth to the participants.

Overall

A fun evening enjoyed by all participants. We haven’t ordered take out pizza since we’ve returned. Making our own pizza using the method that was taught. We were given a recipe book from the Academy to help make other pizzas.

Cost

$59 Adult
$29 Child

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Verona, it’s all about the Roman ruins not Shakespeare

Walking along the stone arched Ponte Pietra with rain streaming down, I paused to take in the surrounding scene, the shallow teal green water of the Adige river swirled over the protruding rocks forming white rapids, to my left at the foot of the hill were the ruins of the roman theatre built in the first century BC. Adjacent to the bridge, stairs wound up, climbing above the theatre , towards the run down San Pietro Castle which is not open to the public.

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Ponte Pietra bridge with the Adige river flowing below

This is not the attraction though. It’s the view of the rolling hills, the flowing river under the Ponte Pietra bridge completed in 100 BC before the arches were blown up by the retreating Germans.The red terracotta roofs, the towering spires of churches and the roman theatre below.

On the same grounds as the Roman Theatre inside the convent of St Jerome is the archeological museum, a collection of statues, bronzes, inscriptions , mosaics and ceramics collected from all over Verona.

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Roman Theatre

The doors opened up to one of the best preserved Roman theatres in Northern Italy rising nearly sixty metres up the hill  on terraced levels. It’s hard to believe that until the late 19th century the ruins had completely been built upon. It wasn’t until a rich merchant bought the entire complex and conducted demolition and excavation projects that they were discovered. Still now the theatre is used for performances.

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The Arena still being used for concerts

Earlier we had been to Verona’s main attraction, The Arena. The unbelievable thing is the pink marble amphitheatre is still being used to host opera in the Summer with seating capacity for 30,000 people.It was built in the 1st century AD and survived a 12th century earthquake. We slowly walked around the circumference of the theatre from the top row of sets, peering down at the ground where my imagination went wild as visions of gladiators fighting for survival swept through my mind.

People come to Verona for the Shakespeare experience to see where the fictional characters of Romeo and Juliet lived . To see a balcony that two people could barely fit, let alone scamper the wall or climb a tree to reach, while there they’ll rub the breast of Juliet’s statue and scribble down some message on the wall. Verona to me though is about what the romans did, they came , they built and after all these centuries they still remain.

Verona, The Shakespeare experience

Verona, a pretty city of 250,000 that clings to the names of Romeo and Juliet, set in the city  during the 14th century. Shakespeare to the best of my knowledge never left England but he wove his story on two families that were feuding at the time in Verona, the Capuleti family and the Montecchi family.

Today tourists flock to the city to be swept through the Shakespeare experience that for me comes across as gimmicky and tacky upon entering the courtyard, the walls were covered in graffiti, notes stuck to the wall written by couples vowing their love for one another. According to popular belief this is done so their love will last forever.

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In the courtyard looking up at the house, one of the world’s famous balconies comes into view. It’s small, barely big enough for one person, let alone two. There are no trees, bushes or walls that the young Romeo could of scampered up to meet his loved one.

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In the courtyard, a bronze statue stands where people line up to rub the right breast of Juliet’s in hope to find true love.  I can see the irony in it now as couples pose while doing this. Is this their discreet way in telling their partner that you really aren’t for me.

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Juliet’s house is sparsely decorated. It has a few paintings, some props from the film and some computers, another gimmick where people can send mail to Juliet.

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The house they credit to be Juliet’s belonged to the Dal Capello family which they purchased in 1905. Due to the similarity in names they declared the house to be the family residence of the Capuleti family.

Shakespeare wove a story that attracted readers and to Verona’s credit they wove a scene to attract visitors, a new tourist sensation was created.

Have you been to Verona? What did you think of Juliet’s house?

Bologna, the Italian leader of food.

The quadrilateral is an area in Bologna where cured meats, salami, mortadella, prosciutto, Bolognan sausages hang in the window along with various sizes of cheese. Round , plump tomatoes and other fresh produce were being sold by the local shops. This is what  Bologna is all about the food, if you asked an Italian where the best food is they would proudly say their own region but if you really pushed them they would confess ‘Bologna’.

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Pasta and cheese from Quadrilateral

What’s not to love about Bologna’s food, a city which goes by the nickname La Grassa or The Fat one. The city has invented , tortellini, lasagna and their most infamous dish al ragu otherwise known as bolognaise sauce but here it is not eaten with spaghetti but with tagliatelle, flat long ribbons similar to fettucine.

Bolognan’s are proud of their cuisine so when checking into your hotel, in our case the Metropolitan,take advantage of their hospitality by telling them that this visit is purely for the pleasure of food, food and more food. However don’t you dare make the mistake that I happened to do by using the words spaghetti Bolognaise. The lady at the front desk playfully scorned me for using such words before telling us about the exquisite restaurants of Da Bertino and Da Nello.

Da Nello has been serving delicious traditional Bolognan food since 1948. You can find it located on Via Montegrappa which is the first little alley off the main street before entering the magnificent Piazza Maggliore which is flanked by the worlds fifth largest Bascilica. Adjacent  to the Basilica is the small square Piazza Del Nettuno which gets its name from the explicit bronze statue sculptured by Giambologna in 1566. Beneath the muscled sea-god, four cherubs represent the winds and four buxom sirens, water sprouting from every nipple, symbolise the four known continents of the pre Oceania world.

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Statue of Neptune

Da Nello’s from the outside looked like a small mom and pops establishment with products hanging in the  front window. It gave the impression that it would be a small restaurant, upon opening the door I was surprised to see two expansive rooms separated by wood panelled arch ways, white table cloths covered the table while pictures of famous celebrities adorned the walls. Da Nello definitely lived up to expectations filling our table with orders of lasagna, tagliatelle al ragu and tortellini. We were all happy to share between us the taste of Bologna cooking.

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Tagliatelle al ragu  and lasagna

This was what the city was about for us food, sure you could always visit the churches, climb the tower of Le Due Torre, the city’s symbols. The taller of the Torre Degli Asinallii is 97.6 metres high and leans 1.3 metres off vertical. Its 498 steps is not for any vertigo sufferers. Once up on top of the tower you can see why the city is also known as La Rossa, the Big Red , the panorama views of sunburnt red and pale orange terracotta tiles on the medieval buildings.

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Le Due Torre

Of course there’s also Bologna’s University, the world’s oldest founded in 1088. Another moniker La Dotta(The Learned One) refers to this. Bologna a mixture of old and new, a city strewn in graffiti, left-wing political posters,news pinned along the streets. A city that few foreigners visit but Italian tourists gather in the streets. A city that Italians believe to be one of the most beautiful in all of Italy only behind Venice.

image imageBologna university, the oldest in the world and Bologna’s portico, covered arcades

It is the food though that has my focus, my full attention. The one meal that we have been wanting to eat since first wandering the streets under some of the cities unique covered arcades (Portici) is Bolliti Misto. Bollito Misto,  a classic Northern Italian stew is gently simmered for 2-3 hours in an aromatic vegetable broth. The receptionist of the hotel had recommended Da Bertino to enjoy this experience. Da Bertino was far from the tourist area, clearly located in an area of town where only locals would be.

The waiter came to us wearing a white long sleeved shirt, grey vest with a fork in one hand and a carving knife in the other, the Bolliti Misto sat on a silver tray. The waiter sliced the meat, juice flowed from the pink tenderised beef. It was served with a dollop of creamy mashed potato and salsa verde, a green sauce of olive oil, vinegar flavoured with parsley, garlic and mustard. My taste buds were on full alert, the meat tasting like silverside was delicious but once dipped into the smooth salsa verde it was fantastic, truly a meal I will remember.

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Bolliti Misto

There are many reasons for people to travel and if your someone who travels for food then Bologna should be high on your list. What is not to like about a city that goes by the moniker ‘the Fat One.’

Milan, it’s all about DaVinci’s city

It wasn’t the most beautiful painting I had ever seen and it definitely wasn’t the biggest I had seen but Da Vinci had me so intrigued  as who the Mona Lisa was. Her flowing jet black hair swept away from her face, her bulging puffy cheeks and those lips, half curled up smile. Who was she? What relations did she have? Was it even Da Vinci dressed in drag?  I left the Louvre that day wanting to see more of his art,know more of his scientific accomplishments, after all  Da Vinci was a genius.

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Over the years I kind of forgot what I felt that day until Dan Brown brought out the brilliant novel The DaVinci Code. Even though the book was purely pulp fiction. My memories came racing back just like I had found the Mona Lisa so intriguing, Dan Brown had captured me with the way he had woven his story together.

Milan doesn’t have the best of reputations in terms of keeping the attention of its visitors for long, strewn in graffiti, a city made up of dark  limestones giving it a grey dull appearance. A city that had been severely damaged in the war and had been rebuilt to become a thriving cosmopolitan, the business centre of Italy, rich in fashion and opera culture. Luckily though the old historical centre area is well kept with the magnificent Doumo as its centrepiece.

DaVinci though was also a big part of Milan, seeking his treasure, following in his footsteps brought the city alive transporting me back to the 15th century like I was some kind of time traveller. While walking up one of the few cobblestone paths that led to Santa Maria Delle Grazie  Church, I felt like I was Robert Langdon as he was about to enter a church not knowing what to expect in his pursuit of the murderer. The church was a  red and white brick building, simple in design not elaborate like many of the churches in Italy. On the right a busy road with cars streaming by, tram rails lined the middle of the street. One could have thought that such a place would never hold such important work.

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A thick glass door preventing the 25 people who anxiously waited for the sliding door to open, people chattering amongst themselves, some tapping their foot “excussi, excussi” a woman politely said as she moved through the crowd. She stopped in front of the crowd and introduced herself, first in Italian then in English. She made her point perfectly clear that there would be no photography before pushing the button, the doors slid open. The guide led us to the room to reveal the mural of the Last Supper.

Jesus sat in the middle of the table dressed in an orange robe draping over his right shoulder. Jesus had just announced that one of his Disciples  at the table would betray him. Some looked on in astonishment, some were angered, some wanted to know the answer and then there was Judas wearing green and blue slouched on the table who is taken back by the sudden revelation of his plan, Jesus hand rests close by.

The painting had been through alot over the years. It survived the war when in August of 1943, the ally forces bombed the church and the convent. The wall stayed intact after being sandbagged to protect the painting, the side walls were destroyed now these two walls are left painted in white. the painting had also been painted on a dry wall rather than on a wet plaster with tempera because of the method used the painting had severely deteriorated and has been restored numerous times. People whispered amongst themselves no one dared to speak in their natural tone so they would not disturb others, 15 minutes went by and my eyes  never left the painting, soaking in the importance of this work before we were led out of the room.

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In the dimly lit sacristy of the same church where DaVinci and Bramante often hang out together I was fortunate enough to view 50 pages of the 12 set volume of DaVinci’s Codex Atlanticus. A collection of 1119 pages of everything from studies of bird flight, sketches of complex machinery to writings about water.This was DaVinci’s notebook like a diary would be to us but this was his studies everything he ever thought about had been jotted down. Looking at his work was hard to define though the audio headset wasn’t worth a grain of salt. It gave a brief history of the book I learned that DaVinci had his own shorthand that he would write from right to left instead of left to right. Some scholars believed that he suffered from some kind of autism while most believe he was left-handed and was forced to write that way so his work would not smudge. Each piece had information about it in Italian that would rotate followed by an English translation however it would stay on Italian for like 10 minutes while staying on the English side for about a minute as much as I wanted to appreciate DaVinci’s work I found it increasingly frustrated so we left dispirited.

My spirits were lifted though at Sforzesco’s castle a rich red brick building,  steep  in history, originally a Visconti fortress, later the home to the mighty Sforza family. It was nice to wander around its green manicured grounds.The castle now houses numerous museums but the reason we were here was to get a closer look at the castle and this time to look at the defense system that DaVinci had designed.

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DaVinci had left his mark on this city through art, design and science and by the end of the two days Milan had left its mark on me. It may not be everyone’s favourite city but if given a chance Milan is a pleasant suprise.

Four churches you should visit in Florence

Churches are supposed to be a place for prayer, a place to devote themselves to God but the churches in Italy, especially Florence are also for the tourists to inspect these famous churches.

The churches of Florence are like a lucky dip some have beautiful frescoes, paintings from famous artists from the Renaissance. Some house the remains of famous rulers in elaborate tombs and then some are very plain and simple that offer very little to tourists.

1 The Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiorre

This will probably be the first place you visit while in Florence, the landmark of the city. If you have ever picked up a brochure of Italy or Florence, you would have seen pictures of this cathedral. Its rich, red cupola liked dome designed and engineered by Fillipo Brunelleschi, the first octagonal dome in history built without support.

The striking facade of pink, green and white marble, contrast to the sparse decoration of the interior is suprising. The cathedral stretches 153 metres and 90 metres in width. You may hurriedly rush up the stairs of the dome to view one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Don’t forget to: Go down to the crypt to see the the austere tomb of Brunelleschi.

Interesting facts about the cathedral: The statue of David was supposed to rest on the roof of the cathedral but after completion there was no way to raise the six ton statue.

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2. Basilica Di Santa Croce

When Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine of E.M Forster’s A Room With a View is lost in Santa Croce , she begins to wonder why this church is such a focal point of the area, after all to her it looks more like a barn but what she doesn’t relise is what lies inside is the treasure of the church. The people come to see the splendor of famous Florentine’s tombs such as Michaelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti, Machiavelli and many others.

Don’t forget to: Also look at the the frescoes by Giotto and his pupils.

Interesting facts about the church: In 1966, the Arno river flooded, water entered the church bringing, mud,pollution, and heating oil. The damage to the buildings were severe, taking several decades to repair.

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Michaelangelo’s tomb

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Galieo’s tomb

3 The Medici Chappel

The Medici family ruled Florence from 1437-1737. They were the only rulers who came into power without war. The Medicees made their money through banking, trade and commerce.They would of remained in power but there were no male heirs.

The Medici’s with the help of Michaelangelo built the most ostentatious mausoleum, granite,marble, precious stones and some of Michaelangelo’s most beautiful sculptures cover the two tombs of minor members of the Medici family.The mausoleum was never completed as michaelangelo moved to Rome.

Don’t Forget to: Check Michaelangelo’s famous sculptures, Dawn and Dusk, Night and Day and Madonna and Child.

Interesting facts about the chappel: Michaelangelo lived with the Medici’s in their palace from the age of 14, attending the same school as the Medici’s children.

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Michaelangelo’s Dusk to Dawn

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Ceiling of the Medici Chapel

4 Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

This is the church closest to Florence’s main train station and probably is the least visited out of the four churches. It is the first great Basilica of Florence, completed in 1360.

Don’t forget to:

Check out Masaccio’s magnificent fresco Trinity, one of the first artworks to use the then newly discovered techniques of perspective and proportion.

Interesting facts about the church:

This church is actually a Dominican church.

When in Florence make sure you open a door to a church, you never know what will be waiting behind the closed doors.

MichaelAngelo’s David verses Goliath

I wasn’t expecting to see David so early. I thought he would be deeper into the Accadamia but there he was at the end of the hall, lights illuminating his white chiseled marbled body. The art passed by in a blur as I approached David. He was bigger, taller than I had expected standing 4 metres high. His wavy, curly hair, smooth face and eyes that stared blankly back at the crowd. If David was this tall then Goliath really must have been a giant.

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MichaelAngelo had taken three years from 1501 to 1504 to carve David, his thick broad shoulders, his taut stomach with a perfectly matching six pack, muscles and veins protruding from his arms and hands. David looked more like an athlete, a Hollywood action hero, a gym rat would be proud of this body.

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MichaelAngelo wasn’t the first person to be commissioned for this piece, first it was Agostino, then ten years later Rossellino however his contract was terminated soon after. The marble was neglected for 25 years being exposed to all the elements in the yard of the workshop. MichaelAngelo at the time was 26 years old when he won the rights to sculpture David.

David’s upper body may be shaped like a body builders. His legs though were long and slender in his left hand David held his sling shot slung over his left shoulder like he was on his way to battle the Goliath. Its depicted differently to famous sculptures by Donatello and Verrocchio’s statues where David is standing victorious over the head of Goliath.

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David, MichaelAngelo’s sculpture was way too heavy to be placed on top of the Duomo, so it stood in Piazza Della Signoria , outside the town hall before being removed in 1873 and displayed in the Accadamia to protect it from damage. The Accadamia holds other great work from other artist as well as the four unfinished slaves by MichaelAngelo.

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It’s fitting that MichaelAngelo had an inferior piece of marble to mould David after all David should have been inferior to Goliath but all it took was one shot from his sling to become one of the most loved biblical stories. For David to become a masterpiece it just needed the hands of a master artist and that artist was MichaelAngelo.

Tips

Buy the skip the line pass for the Accadamia Museum because waits can be over 2 hours to enter the museum. We got our pass 45 minutes before the entrance time shown on the pass and we were allowed to enter even though there was a line of people waiting.

Disclaimer: photos were taken from the Wikipedia David site as photos are not allowed to be taken in the Accadamia