Monday, April 14, 2014

Cinque Terre: Five Irresistible Italian Riviera Villages

It's funny to think I'm about to compare a location in Italy to the Sirens of Greek methodology, but it is the perfect simile. Just like the Sirens lured in passengers of the sea through their beauty and music, Cinque Terre seduces the traveler through pastel colored villages resting on Mediterranean Sea bluffs. 

Located along the Italian Riviera between Levanto and La Spezia is Cinque Terre - a series of five villages in close proximity from each other - where life is relaxed and traffic is absent. Between the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are hillsides tamed with vineyards and olive groves.

Map of Cinque Terre
When compared to the other Italian cities I had the pleasure of visiting (thanks to WhereMilan), Cinque Terra is a completely different animal. Where Manuta, Bologna, Bergamo, etc. were rich in history and museums, Cinque Terra thrives from its scenic views and outdoor activities. 

Each town is laced together by a system of hiking trails. If you were to ask me, the views we saw from the trails were the best part of our journey. However, don't worry if you are unable to hike the trails because there is regional train operating between each village. At a cost of 12 Euros, you can buy a pass which gives you unlimited access to the rail, hiking paths, and several attractions in the region.

Of the five villages, Vernazza stole my heart. Maybe it was the ruins of the Doria castle and pirate lookout tower on the cliff, my first taste of the region's oily focacccia, or the pebbled beach; whatever it was, I am definitely not complaining.  

Even though images don't do justice, here are some views of the five Cinque Terre villages:


Riomaggiore (The southern most city of Cinque Terre)
The main street in Riomaggiore


Houses in Manarola on the Cliff
Manarola during the sunset


Church in Corniglia


This way to Vernazza!
View of Vernazza from the South
View of Vernazza from the North

Relaxing on the Beach


Monterosso the northern most village of Cinque Terre
Freezing in the Mediterranean Sea
Too many steps...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is Mantua Actually Charming?

In conjunction with my Sabbioneta visit, our group of international travelers made our way to Manuta; only about 20 miles from Sabbioneta and two hours from Milan by car.

Published in the WhereMilan April 2014 issue was an article about Manuta describing the main sights one should see, regional foods one should taste and entertainment one could experience. Under the article titled, "Charming Mantua," it was stated, "Some people call her the 'Sleeping Beauty' because she just lies there, at the tip of Lombardy, romantic and a little lazy." Now, it was my turn to be the judge and determine just how "charming" Mantua actually was.

Established on a settlement before Etruscan times, Mantua is widely known as the focal point of the powerful Gonzaga family's dynasty during the Renaissance. In fact, if you have read Shakespeare's play, "Romeo and Juliet," some of the scenes take place in Mantua. From its buildings to its atmosphere (which still slightly contains a remnant of Renaissance flair), Mantua is saturated with Renaissance and medieval influences.

Me, Jitin and Nico in Piazza Sordello infront of the Palazzo Ducale and Duomo
One of the unmissable buildings in Mantua is the Palazzo Ducale (Duke's Palace), the main residence of the Gonzaga family. With a surface area more than 32,000 sq. m., the complex contains an uncountable number of extravagant, frescoed rooms and several courtyards. Regular admission was only 6.50 Euros and was well worth it.

A fresco in the Palazzo Ducale 
Intricate decorative details
Long corridors connecting the buildings
Photo courtesy of Nico; Palazzo Ducale
Another stop on our visit was the Basilica of Sanit Andrea. The basilica was built directly next to an existing bell tower from the early 15th century, and is even said the crypt houses sacred vessels containing the relic of the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see that part because the basilica was under renovation; I assume preparing for the upcoming Holy Holidays.

Under the barrel vaulted ceiling of the Basilica
Being a lover of authentic regional foods, I had to try the recommendations provided by WhereMilan in their article. For my main course I had bigoli, which is a form of thick spaghetti, and I followed it with sbrisolona, a crumbly, brittle almond cake.

Overall, Mantua lived up to my expectations. There are many things to do in this laid back city which provides the visitor with a opportunity to escape the vigorous city pace of Milan. Some of the other places we visited are depicted in the images below.

Mantua's Duomo (Cathedral) 

Plaza Broletto
Rotunda di San Lorenzo
Photo courtsey of Nico; Castle of San Giorgio

Friday, April 11, 2014

Milan Design Week - Part 2

Just a simple continuation post about living life in Milan during Design Week...wait, there is nothing simple about living in Milan during Design Week. LOL! (Check out Design Week - Part 1.) This time my evening was mostly spent at the Martini Racing Lounge watching a live cooking presentation from Andrea Grignaffini, a Italian Gourmet expert chef associated with the famed International Italian cooking insitution called Alma. I even got the chance to help the chef create one of his presentation dishes. Only in Milan. 

----------Milan Design Week - Day 2----------

Martini Racing Lounge
Pouring liquid nitrogen in Martini Bianco 
My buddy, Andrea (We are on a first name basis LOL)
Keep it flowing @ Martini Racing Lounge
Wall of Robots...?
I just don't know

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milan Design Week 2014

As luck would have it, my stay in Milan is crossed by one of the city's most internationally renown events...Salone Internazionale del Mobile (aka. Design Week).

From April 8-13, 2014, Milan will become inhabited with masses of international visitors and some of the world's "hottest" designers showcasing their concepts and ideas about design particularly in the home furnishing sector. Many say this annual Milanese festival sets the global design benchmark.

Brera Design District
The headquarters of the festivities is located at the Milan Fairgrounds, but due to massive expansion and interest the entire city is transformed into a giant design venue with the Brera Design District and Lambrate area containing the highest concentration of "fuorisalone" events. Walking through the Brera Design District last night, I was able to catch a few (ok, more than a few) cocktail parties. There is nothing better than browsing the latest and emerging design concepts while sipping on free drinks and munching on hors d'oeuvres. 

-----------Milan Design Week - April 9-----------

Saturn & Sons Lamp (Cocktail Party)
Saturn & Sons Lamp (Cocktail Party)
Sound wall made of peat moss (Swedish Cocktail Party)
Designer Jangir Maddadi (Swedish Cocktail Party)
Svensk Form's Cocktail Party 
Design display in a historic Brera church
New seating concept on display in Brera
Lighting design

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sabbioneta, Italy: An UNESCO World Heritage Site

Right now you are probably thinking, "Wow! An UNESCO World Heritage Site; sounds important." Well, your instincts are is important and I'm going to briefly tell you why.

What exactly is UNESCO?

Under the United Nations (UN), a specialized agency was created to carryout the UN's mission of ensuring peace and security by the promotion of universal respect and international collaboration through educational, scientific and cultural methods; thus, the birth of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Out of its 195 member state agency, 21 create the UNESCO World Heritage Committee which catalogs and conserves sites of significant importance to the heritage of humanity in general. With 981 sites on the list, Italy contains the highest concentration with 49; one being the city of Sabbioneta.

Preserved Sabbioneta

Located between the cities of Parma and Mantua and roughly two hours southeast of Milan by car, Sabbioneta is the "ideal city" of  late Renaissance architecture and city planning. The city, which still lies within its original 16th century defensive walls, makes the visitor feel as if the city was still under the rule of the Gonzaga family. 

As we trekked our way on the river rock roads towards the center of Sabbioneta, we had an unique opportunity to experience an Italian Renaissance welcome. You see, it was around noon and do you know what happens in a old city when the clock strikes noon? Find out by watching this short clip.

Just like most tourists do we wondered the streets until we found an open attraction. By doing so, this gave us our first stop in Sabbioneta...the Palazzo del Giardino (Garden Palace). With a rather dull outside, this 16th century building had a outstanding inside. The perfect comparison would be Iowa's state rock...the Geode; rough on the outside but beautiful on the inside. Directly adjacent to the Palazzo del Giardino was the Galleria degli Antichi; which in it's prime, housed the duke's collection of ancient statues, hunting trophies and other valuable processions. This happens to be Italy's third largest gallery.
Galliera degli Antichi looking towards the Palazzo del Giardino
With a location on the main plaza, our next destination was the Palazzo Ducale (the Ducal Palace).The rooms of the palace were completely decked out with intricately carved wooden ceilings and frescoed walls. These ceilings were so remarkable, they outshone the other artifacts on display in the rooms. Just look at the photos.
Fireplace in the Duke's Palace
Wooden Ceiling in the Duke's Palace
Close up of the ceiling details in the Duke's Palace


A Slight Disappointment

Being a tourist destination and listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, we were shocked to find we weren't able to enter some of the places due to the fact they were closed and didn't open until 3:30 pm. Sabbioneta is home to some remarkable places like Europe's first theater that wasn't built from pre-existing structures and an architecturally beautiful Jewish synagogue. Unfortunately, those places were closed when we were there, so I don't have any pictures of their insides.
Teatro All'Antica
Outside of the Jewish Synagogue (right)
Chiesa della Beata Vergine Incoronata

The "Felice Nel Box" Project

With an interesting plot, this indie project tells the story of a family who took a gravestone from the deprived Jewish cemetery in Sabbioneta in order to preserve the Jewish history. The purpose of this video production is to raise funds to help restore the earthquake damaged  Jewish synagogue in Sabbioneta. Checkout the promo video here: Felice Nel Box

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

WhereMilan: Your 5 Star Tourist Publication

WhereMilan Event at Milan's Newest 5 Star Hotel: Palazzo Parigi

Officially opening its doors in September 2013, the Palazzo Parigi currently holds the title of "Milan's Newest 5 Star Luxury Hotel." As soon as you walk through the Palazzo's revolving door, you are hit with a wave of hyper-lux elegance. Maybe it's the glass chandeliers, marble embedded architecture, artworks which are centuries old or a combination of everything, whatever it may be the Palazzo had just taken you to a place that is out of this world. With a price tag of rooms starting around $500/night, you will not be upset with the Palazzo's hospitality and location as it it sits in the heart of Milan near the Fashion and Brera Districts. What a perfect location for a WhereMilan event!

Palazzo Parigi was the perfect location to host WhereMilan's reception and introduction of it's new product offerings. Some of the publication's biggest clients were in attendance, including the editor of Berlin's newest tourism publication WhereBerlin. Again...another fantastic experience provided by WhereMilan.

The Entry of Palazzo Parigi
The entry of Palazzo Parigi
Palazzo Parigi Milan Artworks
Artworks accenting the hotel's focus on luxury
View of the glass chandelier
WhereMilan CEO, Andrea Jarach, presenting


Work Pizza Party at Spontini's

A few weeks ago, WhereMilan treated its team to a pizza party at one of Milan's best pizza joints. The pizza was remarkably good that now I have to update my "Top 3 Pizzerias in the World" list, and make it a global list because of a newcomer in the top ranks. Drumroll, please.... 
  1. Lou Malnati's - Chicago, IL (Chicago Deep Dish Pizza)
  2. Pizzeria Spontini - Milan, IT via Cenisio (Thicker than most Italian pizzas I've had so far...almost a focaccia style crust)
  3. Fong's Pizza - Des Moines, IA (Thin style, orgasmic pizza with an Asian fusion flare)
Spontini Milano Pizzeria 
DELICIOUS Spontini Pizza for 5.50 Euros
The WhereMilan Group