A big decision

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

After much thought I have decided not to fly back to Australia soon. My original flight home was to be on 20th June. That flight was cancelled by the airline and there was confusion over subsequent bookings. If I go home now I will have to isolate in a hotel room for 2 weeks, which holds no appeal at all.

My appointment at the Questura to renew my Permesso di Soggiorno is in mid August and I need to do that. There is also the possibility I might not be able to return to Italy in autumn as I planned to do. I am happy with my decision to stay in Italy, especially now that restrictions have loosened a bit.

We have guests arriving at Casa Debbio shortly and I will be moving down to our apartment in Bagni di Lucca. I am going to miss my garden. It has…

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Six Months Later …. Episode 2 The Lemons

The Vigliano family welcomes us to their Lemon Farm.

Valentina, Ida, son Luigi, Papa Vigliano. Valentina runs the hotel affairs and makes ceramics, Mama Ida cooks, makes mozzarella each morning, Papa supervises everyone, including the 2 pigs, and 2 cows that make this an authentic agritourismo farm stay. This, like so many Italian families in business, members glean continued perseverance and success from ancestorial efforts, requisitioning only the natural products of the earth and their own hard work.   Guests find their way to this relaxing hideaway from all over the world.

Luigi describes grafting process to farm guests.

Recon with the dangers of the wild orange tree.

The canopy is on purpose to protect the trees from the north wind.

We learned that the famous lemons are born from the wild orange and lemon long after a complicated grafting process described by our host Luigi, who also tutored us at lunch one day on the making of limoncello.  

The farm is a replica of grandma Vigliano’s love of flowers.

Lunch on the terrace provides a fine view of Naples under the shadow of Vesuvius.

Mama Ida makes mozzarella each morning.












Neptune shines again

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

The magnificent Neptune Fountain in Piazza Signoria in Florence is on full view again after being covered for restoration for 2 years. The restoration project costing €1.5 million was funded by Salvatore Ferragamo.

The first public fountain in Florence, it was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici in 1559 after a competition to chose a design. Baccio Bandinelli was chosen as the winner but he died before the work began. Bartolommeo Ammannato took over the project. The 4.2 metre Neptune stands high above all else in the middle of the fountain. It is said that his face resembles that of Cosimo I de Medici.

The central part of the fountain with Neptune on a pedestal with the mythical figures of Scylla and Charybdis was completed in 1565 in time for the wedding of Francesco I de Medici and the Grand Duchess Giovanni d’Austria. The basin surrounding Neptune, decorated with bronze…

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Fico, Eataly World

Italy’s New CostCo? Nonna would never approve.

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

Just outside Bologna, FICO is the world’s largest food park. Food from all over Italy is on display in a huge 100,000 square metre area that used to be a wholesale market in the 1980s.


Helpfully, FICO has installed a selfie platform in front of the sign.

The complex took 4 years to complete, cost €120 million, and works with more than 150 Italian companies. It was opened in November 2017.

The entrance has a wall of apples, along with a sign asking you not to take them. The sign above the entrance informs us that there are 1200 varieties of apples in Europe, 1000 of which are in Italy.



Inside there is an amazing display of producers, offering people of all ages classes in the history of food, the relationship between humans and nature and the importance of eating well.





There are 45 eateries all with visible kitchens, many offering…

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Secrets of Ca’Dario in Venice

Dubbed “the house that kills”, this 500 year old Venetian Gothic palace has claimed lives and repelled boatmen, boarders, renters, owners and potential owners like Woody Allen.   Built for the aristocrat Giovanni Dario in 1479, the house then passed on to a long list of owners who were stabbed to death, murdered, or died by suicide or assassin, suffered financial ruin, scandal, or heart attack. Violence, death by near-miss, lovers’ quarrels and ghosts further occupied its long history of tragedies and mayhem. As recently as 2002, The Who’s original bass player John Entwistle suffered a heart attack a week after renting the palace.

The house sits on an old Templar cemetery. Apparently, the settling of the foundation makes the building tilt visibly to the right. The house is directly opposite the S.Maria del Giglio boat stop on the canal.

Photo: Nino Barbieri/CCBY-SA2.5 https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/palazzo-dario

Trendy One-Sheet Pan Dinners without a Sheet Pan

Very trendy right now is the concept of the one sheet pan dinner. I remember our family using this idea ever since I was old enough to shell peas. For one thing, there was hardly time after a busy day in the restaurant, in the house, in the garden, wherever the chores may be, to make a fancy dinner. Yet Chef Dad insisted on fresh, home cooked meals and often demonstrated how to do it quickly.  I make this Winner Chicken Dinner regularly because it has all the earmarks of a well rounded meal that  tastes delicious.


3-4 portions of pork, chicken, fish or beef
1 med. onion
3 strips uncured bacon, chopped fine, or pancetta
4 cloves minced garlic
5-6 small yellow potatoes, cut into quarters, unpeeled
small bunch of asparagus, cut into one-two inch pieces
salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, celery seed (some of my standby
seasonings, but you add your own)
broth or wine of choice

Simply brown lightly the bacon, onion, garlic, potatoes and season. Toss and cook, coating all sides with a little more oil if necessary.
Add a bit of avocado or olive oil to the middle and add seasoned meat or fish. Brown both sides.
Add small amount of wine or broth and put into 350º oven for about 30 minutes, taking care to not overcook (especially fish), but veggies should be al dente.

Buon Appetito!

Sirmione on Lake Garda

Debbie did such a fine job describing this spot in Italy we visited on our tour that I want to share it with you. She really captured it!

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

Sirmione is a beautiful town built on the edge of Lake Garda in northern Italy. We visited in late spring to find a busy town full of holiday makers.

Sirmione is famous for the magnificent Scaligero Castle, a 13th century medieval port fortification. It was begun by Mastino della Scala in 1277. The most striking features are the Ghibelline swallowtail merlons.



The castle stands in a strategic position at the entrance to the peninsular. It is surrounded by a moat and can only be entered by 2 drawbridges…not a bad way to make an entrance.




The tiny church, Sant’Anna della Rocca stands near the castle. It dates from the 12th century and was built for the garrison and the few local villagers.



The pretty streets, laneways and piazzas are lined with stylish shops and restaurants.


There are some lovely parks and gardens.


We spotted the place we want to stay…

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Where have all my flowers gone?


That’s it deer. Feast upon the summer bounty of delectable flowers, tasty shrubs and tempting trees. This year, the resident deer in the neighborhood are more than tame, coming as close as my outstretched hand, but yet to nibble from it. Several seasons ago, mama dropped her newborn in the corner of our front porch. Now, they come right to the door, and I swear, if it was open, they would walk right in.


This year, we were blessed with two sets of twins, and as you see, mama has told them our hospitality outweighs all others. I call our yard “The Garden of Eaten”. Over the years, I’ve learned to plant “deer resistant”, however, when they are hungry, they eat everything, even those plants termed “deer proof”. I know they deerly appreciate the water I leave out for them.  I’m told that finely cut melon rinds are their favorite, but of course, we don’t feed them you know it’s against the law.

The Glorious Gondolieri


It occurs to me that most of the culture in Italy is built in layers, upon layers, upon which its truths become known. We see it in art as the stiff figures of the 14th century transformed into more human forms in which beauty could be brought forth and appreciated in the natural landscape not just a gold background. We see it in the ever present layering of flavors and food. We see it in the teachings of the ancients and in the culture today.

In Venice, for example, one of its symbols is the gondola. A tradition of centuries and construction of layers.  The iron of the bow is structured to communicate the historic and cultural grandeur of the city. The upper part specifies the Doge’s hat, beneath it is the arch to represent the Rialto Bridge.  The double “S” that runs the length of the iron bow represents the Grand Canal. Each of the prongs jutting out below the Doge’s hat represent the six “sestieri” (districts): San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Castello, Dosoduro and Cannaregio. More recent finishes on the back side of the prongs are meant to represent the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.


The “ferro”representing the districts and islands of Venice.

Like the “slow food” known to be the tradition in the Italian kitchen, and signature of famous chefs, a gondola takes time to build, about a year. Comprised of 280 pieces, made from 8 different types of wood: oak, elm, lime, larch, fir, cherry, walnut and mahogany. The oar is made of beech and the “forcola” or oarlock (a work of art itself) is made of walnut. The only parts in metal are the “ferro” in front of the craft, and the “risso” at the back. The flat bottom allows for easy navigation in shallow waters. The gondola is asymmetrical, 24cm longer on the left to help counterbalance both the gondolier’s weight at the back and the tendency of the boat to sway left since the gondolier continually rows on the right.

Competing noblemen would weigh lavish decoration upon the gondolas during Serenissima’s splendor during the 15th and 16th centuries, including settees for lovers inside small cabins with doors, windows, draperies and heaters. The Senate ruled with a law that holds fast today that all gondolas now must be standardized and painted black.

It is not easy to become a professional gondolier. Traditionally, only men were allowed to be gondoliers, from a family of gondoliers. The “Ente Gondola” guild imposes strict requirements that include attending a special school, passing a public competition, and apprenticeship to a professional gondolier for 6-12 months.

Venice is one of Italy’s wealthiest provinces, the cost of living is high and so is the gondolier’s investment. A gondolier could earn more money for less work on the mainland, but his passion is in his highly competitive trade, where he must make a living a few months of the year. Gondolas cost upwards of 20,000 euros and take over 500 hours to build. A traghetto is a public gondola ferry and a great value at only 2 euros to cross the Grand Canal at different spots. The vaporettos are public water buses for which a city card grants you indefinite access on different lines serving different neighborhoods. Water taxis are more expensive private service transport about the canals and to the airport. From the airport, a transit bus may be the least expensive and quickest way to your hotel, compared to the Alilaguna blue line boat. With 400+ footbridges with multitudeness stairs, it’s best to pick a hotel that’s easy to reach, wheeled luggage notwithstanding. There are no taxis or rickshaws in Venice. Nor Uber.

The first female gondoliera was licensed in 2010. Giorgia Boscolo, the 24 year old daughter of a 40-year veteran gondolier, was the first to pass the requirements and obtain a license. Alex Hai, a transgender man, was granted an unofficial gondolier license (Italy is full of controversy) and operates private tours from one of the hotel sites in Venice.gondoliera.4568

The logo on the gondolier’s uniform features St. Mark as the winged lion holding an open book, a symbol of peace and strength, framed by two traditional iron gondola prow ornaments. I was surprised to find the very uniform shirts, sweaters, jackets and more for sale in two shops at the Rialto and one in Cannaregio. Although you can find look-alike items on Amazon, and with vendors in Venice, only the deemed-authentic uniform is found in Venice and on the emilioceccato.com site.

Buying them, I’m told, supports the gondolieri and their trade. The authentic emblem is sewn right into the clothing and represents the Venetian lion and Association of Gondolieri. Does every oarsman wear the authentic emblemed shirt or jacket? No.GondolierBlue_0243

Want a Ride? Practicalities and the Price

Some liken it to a hansom cab in New York’s Central Park. “Best to enjoy the ride and forget the price.” As negotiable as it is, however, be prepared.  A gondola carries up to six passengers, and the city of Venice sets the rates at about 80 euros for 40 minutes, tip not included. Additional 20-minute increments are 40 euros and up after 7p.m. Gondoliers are their own master, boosting the price with singing, or regarding the official rates as polite fiction. A concierge can negotiate for you, even seek out wheelchair accommodation, but may add further charges, and/or increasing the risk of miss-communication. Have in mind exactly what kind of ride you want, and where you want to go also well specified before you set foot in the boat.

Travel Prepared

Preparing for a trip to Italy is not for the faint of heart. Of course, you surmise: pack light, check passport, research your destination so you know what you are looking at when you get there, and confirm all reservations up one side and down the other. Are you fit? Travel requires that you handle stress and strenuous activity like walking and negotiating your routes on upturned cobblestones and around voluminous tourist crowds, especially children who are particularly noisy and never look where they are going. Taking age into account, I had physical therapy because of knee inflammation and then went to the gym for months before the trip. But I never, ever, took into account The Stairs.

There are truly magnificent staircases in the museums (elevators are few, hidden or non existent due to the age of buildings). Such as the age of my hotels’ buildings: 6 flights in the one I moved out of and two long and narrow flights in the one behind Santo Spirito church. The exit signs in the Ducale Palace were turned around and getting lost means many times crossing the Bridge of Sighs and climbing up and down the monumental staircases.

There are 448 bridges in Venice, all with stairs going up and going down the other side.


There are no wheeled transports in Venice, so you are on your feet all day. Going back to your room might mean climbing more stairs. Maybe that’s why the outdoor and indoor cafes are so crowded!