Travels

ALEXANDRIA – DINING IDEAS

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Restaurants in Old Town Alexandria offer unforgettable meals in a beautifully historic and walkable setting. With the combination of a polished atmosphere, exquisite ingredients and personal service, Alexandria’s restaurants leave diners in awe after every meal.   There is something for every taste and budget.   Even if one follows a Vegan and Vegetarian diet you will be able to have a fabulous dining experience.  Restaurants range from Ethiopian, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Indian, Thai, Lebanese, regional and Native American fare, Seafood and more.  This is but a brief introduction and look into the dining experiences that await you in Alexandria. I am aware of many outstanding restaurants as well as micro-breweries and pubs that can be found in Alexandria, and I could write a more complete dinning guide. I don’t mean to slight any of them.

An excellent choice of regional American cuisine can be found at Restaurant 219 on King Street in the heart of Old Town. Found in an elegant Victorian setting, serving genuine New Orleans cuisine since 1979. The Basin Street Lounge has live jazz & blues Fri. & Sat. The Bayou Room has dancing with a DJ. Outdoor dining is available weather permitting.

Take to the outdoors and dine alongside Alexandria’s bustling streetscape or tranquil waterfront. With more than 30 of the city’s restaurants featuring sidewalk or patio seating, finding crepes, pad thai, burgers, or seafood (even dog-only menus!) to enjoy outside is simple. Sip on a glass of wine at Grape & Bean or indulge in Greek cuisine on the garden patio of Taverna Cretekou.

Whether setting the tone for a relaxing, laid back weekend or fueling up for a day of activity in Alexandria, there’s no better meal than weekend brunch, where coffee and mimosas flow. For savory dishes like salmon benedict and shrimp and hoecakes, head to Bastille, or head over to the organic-minded Del Ray Café for sweet treats like fluffy brioche French toast tossed in a vanilla batter and served with a strawberry rhubarb compote.

At Il Porto Brunch offerings include a variety of items including Brunch drinks such as Tuscan Punch, mimosas, Grand mimosa. Favorites include our chop salad, coconut shrimp, paninis, sauteed jumbo lump crab cakes, french toast, poached eggs with hollandaise and biscuits. Try the Grilled Filet Mignon & Eggs, short Smoked Salmon Filet, Jumbo Lump Crab Meat Omelet, home fries and more.     Il Porto’s Brunch menu is as expansive and outstanding as their fantastic lunch and dinner menus.   Every dish at Il Porto Italian Ristorante is made from scratch, on premise, including our pasta, all fresh, every day!  The chef has added his own signature to the Northern Italian style of cooking at Il Porto. The daily specials are not to be missed, always new, always innovative, while still rooted in Northern Italy style and tradition. There is also a wide variety of wines to accompany any and all meals as well as after dinner selections.

Bastille offers elegant and contemporary French bistro cuisine in a comfortable yet, upscale setting. Highlighting the cooking of acclaimed chefs Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, Bastille features an award-winning wine list. Locally sourced ingredients exemplify the cooking of this duo along with an amazing hand selected wine list are just a sample of what awaits you at Bastille. Outdoor seating available, weather permitting.

Nestled in the West End, Tempo Restaurant is one of Alexandria’s best-kept secrets. This elegant, but unpretentious, neighborhood restaurant is where the locals dine. Tempo’s menu displays a blend of northern Italian and French cuisine, featuring fresh seafood.

If you’re in the mood for fresh seafood, look no further than Old Town for some of the region’s most delicious and creative seafood fare. Stop by the Cajun-inspired Warehouse Bar and Grill for crawfish and shrimp beignets or The Wharf for tender clams and oysters steeped in garlic herb butter. DC-area legend Hank’s Oyster Bar, named amongst America’s Best Oyster Bars by Food & Wine, brings New England style comfort food to Old Town. If views leave you breathless, book your reservation at the Chart House at sunset, where diners watch the amber sun’s reflection slip into the Potomac as they dine on macadamia crusted Mahi Mahi drizzled in a warm peanut sauce. In the spring, summer and early fall you can even sit outside at the Chart House and the Wharf to enjoy your meal.

A newcomer to the dining experience is Blackwall Hitch which honors the heritage of the Chesapeake Bay with a modern interpretation of a classic coastal tavern. We deliver an ambiance of relaxed sophistication, with service that pampers and delights and food that is simple, fresh and delicious. Their sophisticated yet comfortable ambiance offers flexible gathering spaces for all occasions. The menu draws upon classic American techniques while we look to our region for additional inspiration. Simply put, the best ingredients make the best food. Their menu is seasonally inspired with classic, local fare. To complement any meal there is an exceptional beverage program complete with creative cocktails and an extensive wine list and draught beer selection. Whether it’s the colossal Blackwall Prawns, oysters shucked at your request, or the wood-fired flatbreads rolled out daily, they deliver an experience you are guaranteed to remember.

In the Del Ray area of Alexandria, I have discovered Cheesetique, a gourmet cheese boutique specializing in hard-to-find cheeses, meats and accompaniments from around the world. Also take the time to browse through their extensive wine and beer selection. If you are unsure of what to choose, do allow their expert staff to help you make selections or create your custom party platter or gift bucket.

For a slightly different dining experience complete with gourmet dining, dancing and an unparalleled view of our nation’s majestic monuments. Day or night, rain or shine, year ’round. Nina’s Dandy features a 465-square-foot marble dance floor and 3,700-square-foot outer deck for dancing under the stars.

There is also the Odyssey. Experience Washington DC from a stunning, glass-enclosed ship on the Potomac River. Listen and dance to live music. And take in the beautiful, totally unobstructed view of our nation’s capital while enjoying creative cuisine. Your Odyssey escape awaits. Come see why nothing on land can compare to the Odyssey.   Delicious food and drinks, top entertainment and stunning views combine for an experience both you and your guests won’t forget. From business meetings to special occasion celebrations, give your event a whole new energy.

There are also two excellent examples to have a bygone era dining experience in Alexandria.   The first is at Gadsby’s Tavern in Old Town.   Gadsby’s is an Historic 18th-century tavern, serving fine dining since 1770. They also serve Brunch on the weekends. Enjoy lunch and dinner in elegant Colonial dining rooms, while enjoying nightly Colonial entertainment.

The other is the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant, located just footsteps from George Washington’s historic estate.  The Inn is open daily for lunch and dinner and brunch on the weekends.   They also offer happy hour Tuesday thru Friday. The menu uses only the freshest and seasonal items, and while contemporary in nature, yet remains colonial in nature. The Inn, like Gadsby’s, is also available for private events and both offer seasonal menus.

The Mount Vernon Inn is located 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria and 16 miles from Washington, D.C. at the southern end of the George Washington Parkway. The Mount Vernon Inn is considered one of Washington’s best- kept secrets.

Kathy Kiefer

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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – REASONS TO VISIT

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ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – REASONS TO VISIT

 

Alexandria, Virginia, is a destination with sophisticated style, extraordinary attractions, and exquisite cuisine. As rich in culture as it is in history, the city on the Potomac links America’s storied past with its celebrated present.

Alexandria’s history reaches back more than thirteen thousand years. From the first Native Americans to settle here, to the bustling city it is today, the timeline of Alexandria’s history is filled with events that helped shape the United States of America into the country it is today.

A vital seaport during colonial times, Alexandria is George Washington’s hometown and part of the original Washington, DC. Thomas Jefferson entertained guests at Gadsby’s Tavern; Civil War general Robert E. Lee moved to Alexandria with his family when he was only four years old, and would eventually become one of the most famous figures in the American Civil War.

A quick ride by boat, car, or train transports visitors to the National Mall, making Alexandria an unparalleled home base for visiting the nation’s capital, but Washington politicos and celebrities cross in the other direction for the galleries, boutiques, and award-winning restaurants that line Alexandria’s cobbled streets.

What makes the city so extraordinary? Among hundreds of experiences to enjoy, here some reasons to visit Alexandria to start you off

Landmarks within the city include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (also known as the Masonic Temple) and Observation Deck, Christ Church, Gadsby’s Tavern, John Carlyle House, Little Theatre of Alexandria, Lee-Fendall House, Alexandria City Hall, Market Square (site the oldest and continual farmers Market on Saturdays year round), the Jones Point Light, the south cornerstone of the District of Columbia, Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home, the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and the Virginia Theological Seminary. Other sites of historical interest in the city include Alexandria Black History Resource Center, Fort Ward Park and Museum, and the Alexandria Canal lock re-creation at Canal Office Center. Interesting sites with Alexandria addresses but outside of the city limits include River Farm, Collingwood Library & Museum, Green Spring Garden Park, Hundley Meadows Park, Historic Huntley, Pope-Leighy House (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), Woodlawn Plantation, Washington’s Grist Mill and Mount Vernon Estate.

In 1830, John Hollensbury’s home in Alexandria was one of two homes directly boarding an alleyway that received a large amount of horse-drawn wagon traffic and loiterers. In order to prevent people from using the alleyway, Hollensbury constructed a 7 feet (2.1 m) wide, 25 feet (7.6 m) deep, 325-square-foot (30.2 m2), two story home using the existing brick walls of the adjacent homes for the sides of the new home. The brick walls of the Hollensbury Spite House living room have gouges from wagon-wheel hubs; the house is still standing, and is occupied.

Finding the best way to see the city is as easy as picking your passion in Alexandria, Virginia. History buffs explore colonial sites or follow lantern-carrying guides through graveyards for haunting tales of the city’s past. Foodies get a taste of the town with Old Town Food Tours, families gear up for adventure with Mount Vernon by Bike & Boat, and sightseers’ board water taxis and river cruises for a leisurely view of D.C. monuments.

A beautifully-preserved historic district on the Potomac River, Old Town Alexandria is the heart of the city George Washington called home. Today Old Town’s cobblestone streets and red brick sidewalks hum with an energy that attracts everyone from presidents to pet lovers to some of the city’s best restaurants, arts events, shopping and historic attractions.

The area is anchored in the west by the majestic George Washington Masonic Memorial and in the east by the Potomac River waterfront, where you’ll find restaurants with waterfront views, the nationally renowned Torpedo Factory as well as numerous boat tours and water taxis.

You’ll also find a wealth of historic architecture and attractions — a museum without walls — including the Market Square Museums and other hidden gems.

King Street, the main thoroughfare of Old Town Alexandria, is a walkable one mile of shops, restaurants, and outdoor cafes. A blend of locally-owned boutiques and national retailers makes Alexandria, Virginia, one of the region’s top destinations for antique-hunting, big-box shopping and high-fashion finds. In Old Town, the free trolley carts shoppers down King Street, the main drag, where upscale clothiers and handmade-jewelry shops nestle between fashion and home goods favorites like Anthropologie and Williams Sonoma. Minutes away in eclectic Del Ray, playful window displays beckon everyone from comic book collectors to cheese gourmands and vintage-fashion hounds.

Easily accessible, the King Street Metro Station links Old Town Alexandria with Washington, D.C., via a 15-minute train ride. Find bike share stations, taxis and the Free King Street Trolley at this multi-modal transit hub.

By day, Old Town bustles with museum-goers, art enthusiasts, and shoppers. Night or day, top chefs draw diners with creative menus and exquisite experiences. At night, Old Town bars and pubs are abuzz with live music, along with local beer or craft cocktails.  There is something for every taste and budget.   You will not be disappointed at all.

Named one of America’s Top Art Places, Alexandria is nationally recognized as a community with a “backbone of creative culture…exceptionally successful at combining art, artists and venues for creativity and expression…to make vibrant neighborhoods.” The city’s visual arts hub is the world-famous Torpedo Factory Art Center, a former munitions factory transformed into an artistic powerhouse with three floors of artist studios and galleries, plus the headquarters of the Art League School which serves 7,000 students annually. The Legendary Music Hall the Birchmere hosts the biggest names in country, folk and rock, while MetroStage performs top-quality productions in an intimate setting. From musical theater to cozy jazz clubs, printmaking classes to comedy nights, Alexandria’s art scene buzzes with life, forming the core of our city.

Alexandria has a distributed park system with approximately 950 acres (3.8 km2) spread across 70 major parks and 30 recreation centers, of which Chinquapin is one of the largest. Chinquapin offers facilities for swimming, tennis, racquetball, and other sports. The city also organizes several sports leagues throughout the year including volleyball, softball and basketball.

The city is home to Cameron Run Regional Park which includes a water park with a wave pool and water slides, as well as a miniature golf course and batting cages. A portion of the Mount Vernon Trail, a popular bike and jogging path, runs through Old Town near the Potomac River on its way from the Mount Vernon Estate to Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC. There is also a largely unbroken line of parks stretching along the Alexandria waterfront from end to end.

Kathy Kiefer

Latin America. The new El Dorado of the world economy

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Latin America

The new El Dorado of the world economy

Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico

European exporters to growing markets

America del surLatin America! More and more companies are looking with interest to Latin America and almost always with good reason. Here’s a close look on a continent that has yet to offer many opportunities for Italian exporters.

In recent years in Latin America countries such as Colombia, Chile, Peru and Mexico, have gained a leading position and claim a more important role in the world economy. To what extent can Swiss companies benefit from their ambitions?

Latin America is a growing market with excellent prospects. Witness also the data of the Swiss export economy: in 2012 the Red Cross exports, not only to Latin America. grew by 10% and in 2013 by 6.4%. These are record values in the current comparison. However, economic development does not follow the same trend in all countries. On the one hand there is the Pacific Alliance with Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Chile as full members. This alliance brings together, as it were, the liberal economic forces in Latin America. On the other side we find the Mercosur, with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela, which is opposed to the Pacific Alliance for its protectionist orientation. The largest differences between these two economic blocks are found in the growth of GDP in 2012; gross domestic product of the Pacific  Alliance increased by 4.6%, or two and a half times compared to Brazil’s economy by far the strongest among the states of Mercosur. The disparities are also particularly evident in exports. In 2012 the countries of the Pacific Alliance have exported goods to the value of $545 billion dollars, while Brazil only $ 243 billion. For example, only Mexico 50% more of Brazil. Mexico, in fact, not only produces for its domestic market and manages to be very competitive on the world market, which of course is reflected on the dynamics of growth.

Mexico, the locomotive, “Chile, the first class”  The actor stronger in terms of economic potential in theSchermata 2014-12-20 alle 05.00.36 framework of the Pacific Alliance is Mexico, in which the future would benefit even better and with this potential stability. To this end, however, it must first reduce its dependence on the United States. Seventy-five percent of Mexican exports are directed to its great northern neighbor. It is a concentrated risk that Mexico wants to evade, with a greater orientation toward the south, or to South America, and to the west, or to Asia. To keep the economic trend of recent years, Mexico and other states of the Pacific Alliance must invest even more in infrastructure, especially in transport networks, whose construction in mountainous areas on the western Andean slope presents many difficulties. A task which seems made for Swiss suppliers. In most countries huge investments are also required in the fields of mining, in health care, in energy supply, water management and waste disposal. Namely classical infrastructures whose quality ultimately determines the direction in which to continue the economic development in the countries of the Pacific Alliance and, in general, of Latin America.

Schermata 2014-12-21 alle 02.51.24Switzerland, for example, has signed a bilateral free trade agreement with all countries of the Pacific Alliance. Even with Chile, which, thanks to the political and economic stability and good growth rate (5.6% in 2012), associated with the low level of inflation and reduced debt, is confirmed as the first of the Latin American class. Despite the relatively small size of the market, Chile is increasingly appreciated by European SMEs as a gateway or test market for South America by virtue of the investment friendly climate and the ease of access to the market.

In all countries there is a strong demand for innovation and cutting edge technology, to increase efficiency and economic productivity. Moreover, in Latin America the trend is toward very strong consumption. In the face of rising incomes there is also a growing demand for better living standards and the demand for high quality products, these needs can only be met by imports from abroad.

The euphoria on the Pacific Alliance is to the detriment of Brazil and Argentina. What are the strengths of these two countries?

Despite the boom in the countries of the Pacific Alliance, Brazil continues to be the most important player in South America in economic terms. It should be noted that Brazil is the sixth world economy, although in 2013 the GDP grew by a modest 0.9%. However for 2014 it is expected to recover with an increase in earnings of 2.6%. The pressure exerted by civil society is of little weight in this area. The social unrest of the last few months, in fact, were triggered primarily by deficiencies in public transport and health services that can only be solved if in the coming years, Brazil will invest heavily in medical infrastructure and public transportation. At the same time we must do everything possible to increase productivity, such as targeted measures against the bureaucracy that rules prevails in the country.

Brazil and Argentina, the giants of the market  In 2014, as the host country of the World Cup, Brazil is theargentina-brasile center of attention in the world. Argentina – Brazil presidential and parliamentary elections that are scheduled for next October will attract international attention. In addition, many targeted investments are aimed to conquer the electorate, but that should continue even after the elections, to dispel the danger of another wave of protests. 2016 will be followed by another mega event, the Olympic Games. Brazil, therefore, can’t afford to pull the oars in the coming years. To make a good impression in front of the rest of the world and not fall behind the competition in their own continent, the giant must focus more than ever on investments.

As we have seen, in Latin America there are two coalitions. An interesting scenario. On the one hand there are the giants Brazil and Argentina. Here it should be noted in particular the potential market for consumer goods offered by the country of Samba, with its 200 million inhabitants and the expanding middle class. Unfortunately, Brazil is a very complex market with many obstacles to access, high taxes and high costs paid by the undertaking (cost of doing business) and because of an excessive bureaucracy where protectionism is prevalent. The same is true for Argentina which, with 40 million inhabitants, has a smaller market and less lively in terms of purchasing power compared to Brazil, but to make it less competitive. However, on the business with Argentina adversely affect the restrictions on foreign trade under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has become even more stringent.

On the other side we have the smaller countries of the Pacific Alliance, who can’ hold a candle to Brazil in terms of size, but they have on their side easier access to the market and a more open liberal economic system. Establishing a company in Chile, for example, is much easier than in the countries of Mercosur.

15d406f06ce12f2ac57cb5137d1afc69_XLIn a nutshell: for those who is on markets by large numbers and are able to deal with administrative obstacles above, Brazil is the right choice. Those who considered it important, easy access to the market, and to make the first experiences in South America and is looking for an entrance that can be used as a hub or test market should move towards the countries of the Pacific Alliance.

What Uruguay has to offer?
Uruguay is small, with just over three million inhabitants, but is conveniently located between Brazil and Argentina, the two giants of the Mercosur. But, above all, Uruguay is by far the most liberal and open country economically among all the states of the “Common Market of the South.”

Uruguay, the jewel   Economic charts rank Uruguay in first place, or at least in the first three, among the Southernuruguay350 Latin American countries. In practice, it is at the same level of Chile, the most virtuous of the continent. Here is what it has to offer. Uruguay: a small cohesive market, and therefore easy to penetrate. Two million people, in fact, live in the capital, Montevideo, or its suburbs. At the same time in Uruguay there are, in progress or planned, many large projects designed to better position the country, which is still heavily dependent on agriculture, such as square industry, particularly for the mining sector and services in the financial and IT.

At first glance, the countries of Central America do not appear to be the primary destination for European SMEs. Nevertheless, with certain strategies and in some situations, the readiness of the international market towards Central America may make sense: to export samples that have already covered more markets, for example, in countries such as Panama or Costa Rica with a relatively high complementary per capita income is definitely interesting.

Central America – wide variety of small-scale                                                                                                       pana-MMAP-mdEven a hub in Panama is convenient, especially from a logistical standpoint. The country is politically stable and offers a huge advantage because thepanamacanale currency local currency – the Panama Canal – Panamanian balboa, is tied to the dollar. Or follow a systematic strategy, a niche, pointing to unexplored segments, where the product offered is not yet on the market. Of course, the market potential is not comparable to that of Brazil, but in return the margins are higher in the absence of competition. At last but not least, the countries with low wages such as Nicaragua are increasing including production plants ideal for high density areas of labor, thanks to numerous free trade areas.

Latin America has the strength and dynamism as well as the political and economic stability necessary to continue to grow in the long term? The answer is’ yes, but you can’t give a summary response. More than 20 latinoamerica_camuflada_con_sus_banderas__335798_t0_bcountries of the continent are too different from each other in size, economic strength or history. Take for example Brazil. The country is at a crossroads. In terms of economic development is a big step forward compared to other South American states? The claims of the population have never been so high. Expectations for the country as a business and industrial center grow from year to year. And the whole world is watching. The World Cup, the Olympics, as well as the growing economic status or BRICS, all places, obligations and responsibilities, primarily with regard to better positioning in the international economy. Because, in the long run, no state can survive only with domestic trade and consumption, even Brazil. The only way to progress is to open and liberalize the market further, invest more in infrastructure and improve productivity. The prospects of this are optimistic or at the very least not negative. The Brazilian government has understood the sign of the times. Over the next two years we will see if it will also be able to draw the right lesson.

imgresFor states of the Pacific Alliance, in particular, it is expected a very promising future. For almost twenty years it has been politically stable. However, they are still a number of measures to increase the added value in the long term. In other words, Latin America should not focus solely on the export of raw materials, but rather invest in a sustainable way in the development of industries and services. Especially in view of a more important role in the world economy and in the creation of additional jobs to ensure economic, political and social stability. This process is already under way and should be pursued further.

Alessandro Sicuro

by sure-com America

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THE BEACHES OF VIRGINIA

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THE BEACHES OF VIRGINIA

Virginia beaches include several that are world famous for various reasons.  You can pick the action packed shores at Virginia Beach or watch the four-legged residents of Assateague Island.  Over 3300 miles of shoreline are available to visitors of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  There are so many wonderful beaches and places to visit in the Commonwealth, not only in the summer time, but all year round.   Each area has things to do that are unique to that area that would appeal to anyone, but no matter what the location there are similarities, such as parasailing, fishing, sand volleyball, kite-flying, swimming, surfing and so much more.   Even away from the beaches, there is plenty to choose from (such as golf, shopping outlets, etc.). Just as where to stay (ranging from unique hotels, town homes, apartments to rent, and the usual chain hotels) to even RV parks, camp grounds. It all depends on what you are looking for and something that appeals to every budget and everyone. The same could be said about places to eat.   You have the usual “chain” restaurants to the homey local dives or restaurants. The best way I have found to find a really good local place to eat (be it lunch, brunch, dinner) would ask the locals. It’s the local folks who know the best places to go that a visitor would not even think about or consider. The same would hold true at times if you are looking for something out-of-the ordinary or off-beat to do while on your trip.

Virginia Beach – This is the largest and most populous of the Virginia beaches.  People come to enjoy the three mile Boardwalk with its games, concessions, arcades and food.  Numerous hotels overlook the beach and shoreline where there is swimming, surfing, sailing as well as sand activities such as volleyball, sand soccer and kite-flying.  Miles of walking and hiking trails are available, not only on the beach and Boardwalk, but the First Landing State Park which winds through the wetlands along Broad Bay.  A short distance away by tram is the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park.

Back in Virginia Beach, many of the entertainment programs are free and aimed at families.  The beaches at Virginia Beach are also free.  If the beach activities are too tame for you, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Waterpark and the go-karts at Motor World will liven things up a bit.  Fascinating educational exhibits are available for viewing at the Virginia Beach Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

A small side trip to Mount Trashmore, to the Cape Henry Lighthouses or to the Old Coast Guard Station adds local color to your visit.  You may also enjoy a more secluded beach experience at North End Beach and Sandbridge just to the south of Virginia Beach.  Some of the ocean-front houses there can be rented by the week.

Eastern Shore- Virginia’s Eastern Shore is home to three well-known beaches.  The peninsula is reached via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel where the Kiptopeke State Park is known for its annual birding festival.  Because Chesapeake Bay has calm waters and there is a short nature trail, this is the ideal beach for families with young children to use one of the many camping sites.

Sister islands, Chincoteague and Assateague are famous for the herd of wild ponies which reside on Assateague except during the annual two day drive.  Chincoteague has no beachfront, but Assateague, reached by a short causeway between the two islands has wide beaches, virtually untouched and miles of trails.

Chincoteague – Chincoteague is home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, listed as one of the top five U.S. shorebird migratory staging areas. Chincoteague is Virginia’s only resort island, and is world famous for oyster beds and clam shoals. It’s also the gateway to Assateague, and the wild ponies there are herded to swim across the channel to Chincoteague Island each July for auction, a popular public event. In addition to the usual swimming, sun bathing and water sports, the Park Service and Wildlife Refuge both offer guided wildlife tours and exhibits throughout the year.    Chincoteague Island gained national fame in 1961 when Twentieth Century Fox premiered the movie Misty of Chincoteague. The movie was based on author Marguerite Henry’s award-winning children’s book Misty of Chincoteague, which she wrote in 1947 while staying at Miss Molly’s Inn on Chincoteague Island. The book and movie helped to forever transition Chincoteague Island from a small fishing village into a world-class tourist destination

Assateague Island is a barrier island just off the coast of Maryland and extends to Virginia. It is an undeveloped island and is a National Park and recreational area. Activities such as fishing, crabbing, canoeing, birding watching, ecotourism, are abundant it this rich natural area.
The best way to see Assateague is not cooped up in a hotel but rather to get in touch with nature by camping at once of the many camping areas Assateague has to offer. Whether you rent an RV or a camper, or just go truly native with a tent, you’ll be closer to the wildlife than you would have ever imagined. Various parks, depending on their location, have a lot of different animals to see. Parks closer to the woods will offer small forest creatures, as well as a wild deer or two. To see wild horses and other scruffy animals, go to a park near the barren landscape of Assateague. If you want to camp close enough to smell the salty ocean, choose a park there, where if you are lucky, you’ll awake to the sound of dolphins splashing and great herons cawing. One of the most awe inspiring sights in the world is the great ocean, and even though it makes up 70% of our world, few people really get to see it and appreciate it. The ocean has that iconic salty smell to the air, and the animals you will get to see will make you truly appreciate the “great outdoors”. Sea gulls swoop down upon the fish, and sometimes the people! Dolphins jump up out of the water in the distance, and on the beach, it’s like an entire new world! Blue crabs, the most well-known crab in Assateague, scurry across the shallow water. Kids can collect sea shells and fish scales in the sand, or even build a castle or two. The sunny atmosphere will allow adults to sit back and enjoy getting a tan.

Assateague is well known for its wondrous animal life. On the rough barren landscape, you can see a variety of birds and small creatures, as well as wild horses roaming the land. Towards the ocean, you can see reptiles and lizards, basking in the sun, and marine animals swimming under waves of sea water. Each year these creatures migrate and make their home at Assateague, to be admired by both locals and tourists as well. Due to the large amount of animal life, many naturalists come to visit, snapping photos and doing research on the many animals Assateague has to offer.

Norfolk – Ocean View Beach at Norfolk stretches for eight miles along Chesapeake Bay.  The four wide city beaches feature gentle surf, lifeguards, and picnicking facilities.  Visitors can rent kayaks, paddleboats, jet skis and sailboats.  In addition to the beach activities, visitors to Norfolk can visit museums such as Hampton Roads Naval Museum, the National Maritime Center and the USS Wisconsin, and Nauticus.

Hampton – In addition to 12 deep water marinas, Hampton is home to Buckroe Beach, a favorite for windsurfing visitors.   Partially bordered by the Hampton Roads harbor and Chesapeake Bay, Hampton is located in the center of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. Hampton is the site of America’s first continuous English-speaking settlement and is home to a variety of historical, cultural and recreational activities and attractions. Such visitor attractions include the Virginia Air & Space Center and Riverside IMAX Theater, Hampton History Museum, harbor tours and cruises, Fort Monroe, among others. The Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe National Monument chronicles the imprisonment of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the Fort’s role during the Civil War. Sea lovers will enjoy taking a stroll on the Downtown Hampton Public Piers and stopping by the Center Maritime. Take advantage of an array of water-related activities, such as the harbor tours aboard the 65-foot Miss Hampton II,”Buckroe Beach and fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.

Ocean View Beach – At the northern end of Norfolk on the Chesapeake Bay lies Ocean View Beach, with 7.5 miles of beaches, commercial piers, bait shops, rental paddle boats, Jet Skis and sailboats, and a park with a bathhouse and picnic tables. The Ocean View Beach Festival is held every summer with live music, dancing and family activities right on the beach. The boardwalk is a good spot for a stroll and occasional sightings of submarines from nearby Norfolk Naval Air Station.

River Beaches – Virginia also has several river beaches where the tributaries flow into Chesapeake Bay or into the Atlantic Ocean.  Fishermen particularly appreciate these beaches, because they can catch both freshwater and saltwater fish in the same area.  An outstanding river beach is Chippokes Plantation State Park with two miles of beach along the James River.

Colonial Beach – Colonial Beach is at the tip of the Northern Neck region, one of the few remaining small seaport towns on the Potomac River. It has sandy beaches and marinas on Monroe Bay ideal for swimming, boating and sailing. The area is also quite historic, containing George Washington’s birthplace; Stratford Hall, the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee; and neighboring Westmoreland County, the birthplace of James Monroe. Colonial Beach has been designated as one of the few “Golf Cart Towns”, where golf carts may be operated by licensed drivers on city streets, but the Town Trolley also makes sightseeing stops.

 Kathy Kiefer

STAYCATION

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STAYCATION

 

staycation-funnyWhat is a STAYCATION?   How does it differ from what we know as a vacation?   Why has it become so popular?   Do the benefits of a Staycation outweigh a “normal” vacation?

Ah vacation.  How many of us don’t sometimes wish we could escape the hustle, bustle, & day-to-day responsibilities of our normal lives for a week of fun and relaxation somewhere far, far away?

The truth is that for many of us a traditional vacation is not always in the cards.  Between restaurants, hotels, and transportation, travel costs can add up fast especially when those costs are multiplied for a family.  And even when the cost isn’t a factor, sometimes health concerns or work obligations prevent us from leaving town anytime the urge strikes.

But that doesn’t mean when Spring Break or summer vacation time rolls around and the kids are home from school that you can’t still have a greatstaycation 2- relax time! This year, why not plan a vacation in your own backyard?  A true Staycation is more than just a week at home; it is an intentional time of fun and relaxation for your whole family.  It does take a little effort to do it right, but can ultimately be just as satisfying as going somewhere far away.

For most people—and moms especially—the hardest part of trying to “relax” at home is letting go of the all the everyday obligations and distractions that bombard us in our own homes.  But the key to having the best Staycation ever ultimately has nothing to do with the activities you choose, but with your own attitude and commitment to making your week a time of fun and relaxation.   Let the chores be for a week and instead give yourself permission to kick back and enjoy the moment.  Laugh and talk with your kids and spouse and create memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.  This is your time make the most of it!

A staycation is a period in which an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in their own beds at night. They might make day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues, or engage in fun activities such as horseback riding, paintball, hiking or visiting museums. Most of the time it involves dining out more frequently than usual. Some people may include one or two overnight visits at relatives, friends or a longer trip. Staycations achieved popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007-2010. Staycations also became a popular phenomenon in the UK in 2009 as a weak pound made overseas holidays significantly more expensive.

120613-414635-tdy-120612-staycation.blocks_desktop_largeCommon activities of a staycation include use of the backyard pool, visits to local parks and museums, and attendance at local festivals and amusement parks. Some staycationers also like to follow a set of rules, such as setting a start and end date, planning ahead, and avoiding routine, with the goal of creating the feel of a traditional vacation. It could also include a trip to the local zoo or aquarium.   Some offer junior zookeeper programs or opportunities to feed the animals, while some others even allow you to spend the night in the zoo!  Be sure to pack a lunch to save on pricey zoo fare!   Possibly major or minor league sporting events.   While major league events are a lot of fun, they can get pricey quickly, especially for a family.  Luckily almost every city has a minor league team these days, which can give you (almost) the same experience for a fraction of the price!  Be sure to check out which days include special events, such as free caps or fireworks for added fun!    Play Outside – Go fly a kite, take a walk, go for a bike ride, or take a hike–most state and national parks have at least a few walking, hiking, or biking trails to choose from.  Do a little research to find one that fits your family’s athletic ability, and then head out to enjoy the great outdoors.  Don’t forget to pack snacks and water for your trek!   These are but a few ideas, but there are a plethora of ideas of activities for families or even those that are solo to do.

The word staycation is a portmanteau of stay (meaning stay-at-home) and vacation. The term “daycation” is also sometimes used. The word becameKiddiePoolJ97 widely used in the United States during May 2008 as the summer travel season began with gas prices reaching record highs, leading many people to cut back on expenses including travel.

A closely related concept and term is nearcation, which is taking a vacation to a location relatively close to home. “Nearcation” and “staycation” may be used interchangeably since the travel destination may be in the same metropolitan region in which one resides and it is unclear how far away a destination needs to be until it becomes no longer a “staycation”.

Nearcation is a portmanteau of near and vacation. The alternate naycation (“nay” + “vacation”) has been used to signify total abstention from travel.

Staycations are far less costly than a vacation involving traveling. There are no lodging costs and travel expenses are minimal. Costs may include transportation for local trips, dining, and local attractions. “The American Automobile Association said the average North American vacation will cost $244 per day for two people for lodging and meals. Add some kids and airfare, and a 10-day vacation could top $8,000.”

staycations-summer-travel_infographics_lgStaycations do not have the stress associated with travel, such as packing, long drives, or waits at airports.

Indeed, a few people go as far as leaving their home only for their usual errands (such as food shopping). Those with backyard swimming pools have an advantage as they can spend more time swimming without leaving their property and sometimes have as much fun as they might have had going anywhere.

Staycations may be of economic benefit to some local businesses, who get customers from the area providing them with business. In 2008, the tourism bureaus of many U.S. cities also began promoting staycations for their residents to help replace the tourism dollars lost from a drop in out-of-town visitors.

As staycationers are close to their places of employment, they may be tempted to go to work at least part of the time, and their bosses may feel theirCabin scenic, ontario, Canada. employees are available to be called into work. Staycationers also have access to their email (whether personal or business) at home as they would regularly, allowing them to be contacted, and feeling the temptation to keep up with this contact (whether business or social). These risks can be balanced by strictly adhering rules that make the experience feel like a real get-away, such as “no checking email,” or “no watching television.”

Staycationers may spend money they had not planned as retailers and other advertisers offer “deals” to encourage staycationers to spend money. These may include hotels making package deals in hopes of luring planned staycationers to do some travel.   Staycationers can also finish a stay-at-home vacation feeling unsatisfied if they allow themselves to fall into their daily monotony and include household projects, errands, and other menial tasks in their vacation at home or near home.

Some things that may make a staycation more memorable and enjoyable.   (1) Turn Off The Phone. While may sound obvious, but the point of a staycation is to have a vacation, and the point of a vacation is to get away MS_StaycationHolidayAtHome_JWfrom the demands of your regular life. To truly do so, you need to stop being ‘on call,’ and set your phone to go straight to voicemail. You can check your messages each night if you want to, and decide who you want to call back, but it may be a good idea to tell everyone you won’t be around for a week, and just take a break. You might also consider putting your mail on hold and take other precautions you’d take when you go on a traditional vacation?   (2) The Computer.   Many people make the mistake of taking work with them when they go on vacation (a strategy that tends to sabotage the relaxing element of a trip), it’s even more important to avoid being available for work when you’re on a staycation. (It may be more tempting to ‘check in’ at work, and they may feel more entitled to request it of you, which is all the more reason for the computer to stay off.) Even if you’re not planning to work with your computer, do you really think a week of playing World of Warcraft or Weboggle would be as relaxing and memorable as other options you have? (3) Try Something New   Staycations mean you can play ‘hometown tourist,’ and enjoy the fun things that your city (or surrounding areas) have to offer, which you normally might go out of your way to experience. An added benefit of going to the touristy places in your area is that when you pass by these places after your Staycationstaycation is over, your fond memories will be triggered and you can relive the fun. You may also be more inclined to do such fun things during the rest of the year when you’re not vacationing, which might provide a nice little escape that can help stave off burnout. (4) Don’t Over-Book Yourself   As you indulge in the fun that your town has to offer, remember to schedule in some ‘down time’ to read, relax, sleep in, lollygag, and do all the things people really like to do on traditional vacations. The idea of a staycation is to feel like you’ve gotten a break, so be sure you get one. Just balance it out with fun activities also. And (5) Don’t Be Afraid To Splurge because you’re saving money by staying close to home, you can (and should) eat meals out and splurge in other areas, just like you would on a traditional vacation. If you want to go to brunch, get a massage, go shopping, or even hire a cleaning service to come if you don’t already have one (you’d get maid service in a hotel, right?), you should do so guiltlessly if you can afford to. It contributes to the carefree mindset you’re trying to capture with your staycation. It makes all the difference between a staycation and just a week hanging around.

Kathy kiefer

FLORENCE

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FLORENCE

FIRENZE_STAMPATA_A_NORIMBERFlorence is the capital city of the Italian Region of Tuscany as well as the provience of Florence.    It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area.

Florence is famous for its history. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence has been considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.   A turbulent political history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici family, and numerous religious and republican revolutions.   The historic centre of Florence attracts millions of tourists each year, and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Due to Florence’s artistic and architectural heritage, it has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the city is noted for its history, culture, art, architecture, and monuments. The city also contains numerous museums and art galleries, such as the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, amongst others, and still exerts an influence in the fields of art, culture and politics. Florence is also an important city in Italian fashion, being ranked within the top fifty fashion capitals of the world; furthermore, it is also a major national economic centre.

Florence lies in a basin among the Senese Clavey Hills, particularly the hills of Careggi, Fiesole, Settignano, Arcetri, Poggio Imperiale and Bellosguardo (Florence). The Arno River and three other minor 3479790663_1d5feaa539_zrivers flow through it. The best-known site of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, known as the Duomo, which was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. The nearby Campanile and the buildings are also highlights. The dome, 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world. In 1982, the historic centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site.   The centre of the city is contained in medieval walls that were built in the 14th century to defend the city. At the heart of the city, in Piazza della Signoria is the Fountain of Neptune, which is a masterpiece of marble sculpture at the terminus of a still-functioning Roman aqueduct.    The River Arno, which cuts through the old part of the city, is as much a character in Florentine history as many of the people who lived there. Historically, the locals have had a love-hate relationship with the Arno – which alternated between nourishing the city with Piazza-Della-Signoriacommerce, and destroying it by flood.  One of the bridges in particular stands out – the Ponte Vecchio, whose most striking feature is the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. The bridge also carries an elevated corridor that links the Uffizi to the Medici residence, Palazzo Pitti.  Although the original bridge was constructed by the Etruscans, the current bridge was rebuilt in the 14th century. It is the only bridge in the city to have survived World War II intact. It is the first example in the western world of a bridge built using segmental arches.

The church of San Lorenzo contains the Medici Chapel—the most powerful family in Florence from the 15th to the 18th century. Nearby is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the finest art museums in the world – founded on a large bequest from the last member of the Medici family.  I can attest to that, having recently been at the Uffizzi.   The Uffizi is located at the corner of Piazza Della Signoria, a site important for being the centre of Florence’s civil life and government for centuries  and is still home of the municipal government.   The Piazza is also the location of a number of statues by other sculptors such as Donatello, Giambologna, and Cellini, although some have been replaced with copies to preserve the originals.mostra-palazzo-strozzi

The Palazzo Strozzi, an example of civil architecture with its rusticated stone, inspired by the Palazzo Medici, but with more harmonious proportions. Today the palace is used for international expositions like the annual antique show (founded as the Biennale del’Antiquariato in 1959), fashion shows and other cultural and artistic events.

Florence contains numerous museums and art galleries where some of the world’s most important works of art are held. The city is one of the best preserved Renaissance centres of art and architecture in the world and has a high concentration of art, architecture and culture.   In the ranking list of the 15 most visited Italian art museums, 2/3 are represented by Florentine museums.   The Uffizzi is one of these; one of the most famous and important art galleries in the world, it has a very large collection of international and Florentine art. The gallery is articulated in many halls, cataloged by schools and chronological order. Engendered by the Medici family’s artistic collections through the centuries, it houses works of art by various painters and artists. The Vasari Corridor is another gallery, built 1302188477connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace passing by the Uffizzi and over the Ponte Vecchio. The Galleria dell’ Accademia houses a Michelangelo collection, including the David.  It has a collection of Russian icons and works by various artists and painters. Furthermore, other museums and galleries include the Bargello, which concentrates on sculpture works by artists including Donatello, Giambologna and Michelangelo; the Palazzo Pitti, containing part of the Medici family’s former private collection. In addition to the Medici collection, the palace’s galleries contain many Renaissance works, including several by Raphael and Titian, large collections of costumes, ceremonial carriages, silver, porcelain and a gallery of Modern Art dating from the 18th century. Adjoining the palace are the Boboli Gardens, elaborately landscaped and with numerous sculptures.

There are several different churches and religious buildings in Florence. The Cathedral is the Santa Maria del Fiore.  It is the fourth largestduomofir church in Europe. Other churches in Florence include the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, located in Santa Maria Novella square which contains works by Masaccio and others, The Basilica of Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in the city, which is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce, about 800 metres south east of the Duomo, and is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile, Rossini, and Marconi, it is also known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories; Santo Spirito, in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name, which was founded by the lay order of the Umiliati, and is among the first examples of Baroque architecture built in the city; the  Santa Maria del Caramine, in the Oltrarno district of Florence, which is the location of the Brancacci Chapel,  housing outstanding Renaissance frescoes as well as several others, including  Santa Trinita, San Marco.   The city additionally contains the Orthodox Russian church of Nativity, and the Great Synagogue of Florence, built in the 19th century.

FIRENZE_3191-06-08-19-3166Aside from such monuments, Florence contains numerous major squares (piazze) and streets. The Piazza della Repubblica is a square in the city centre, location of the cultural cafes and bourgeois palaces. Among the square’s cafes: the GUIBBE Rosse cafe has long been a meeting place for artists and writers. The Piazza Santa Croce  is another; dominated by the  Basillica of Santa Croce, it is a rectangular square in the centre of the city. Furthermore, there is the Piazza Santa Trinita,  a square near the Arno that mark the end of the Via de’Tornabuoni  street. Other squares include the Piazza San Marco, the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, the Piazza Beccaria and the Piazza della Liberati.  The centre additionally contains several streets. Such include the Via Camillo Cavour, one of the main roads of the northern area of the historic centre; the Via Ghibellina, one of central Florence’s longest streets; the Via dei basilica-di-santa-croceCalzaiuoli, one of most central streets of the historic centre of the which links Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, winding parallel to via Roma and Piazza della Repubblica; the Via deTornabuoni, a luxurious street in the city centre that goes from Antinori square to ponte Santa Trinita, across Piazza Santa Trinita, characterised by the presence of fashion boutiques; the Viali di Circonvaliazione, 6-lane boulevards  surrounding the northern part of the historic centre; as well as others, such as Via Roma, Via degli Speziali, Via de’ Cerretani, and the Viale dei Colli.  Florence also contains various parks and gardens. Such include the Boboli Gardens, the Parco deue Cascine, the Giardino Bardink and the Gardino dei Semplici amongst others.

09-20_cupola_brunelleschiThe cathedral, topped by Brunelleschi’s dome, dominates the Florentine skyline. The Florentines decided to start building it – late in the 13th century, without a design for the dome. The project proposed by Brunelleschi in the 14th century was the largest ever built at the time, and the first major dome built in Europe since the two great domes of Roman times – the Pantheon in Rome, and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore remains the largest brick construction of its kind in the world.   In front of it is the medieval Baptistery. The two buildings incorporate in their decoration the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In recent years, most of the important works of art from the two buildings – and from the nearby Giotto’s Campanile, have been removed and replaced by copies. The originals are now housed in the Museum dell’Opera del Duomo, just to the east of the Cathedral.

Artists associated with Florence range from  Arnolfo di Cambio and Cimabue to Giotto, Nanni di Banco, and Paolo Uccello; through Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Donatello and Massaccio and the della Robbia family; through Fra Angelico and Botticelli and Piero della Francesca, and on to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Others include Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea del Sarto, Benozzo Gozzoli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippo Lippi, Bernardo Buontalenti, Orcagna, Pollaiuolo, Filippino Lippi, Verrocchio, Bronzino, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelozzo, the Rossellis, the Sangallos, and Pontormo. Artists from other regions who worked in Florence include Raphael, Andrea Pisano, Giambologna, Il Sodoma and Peter Paul Rubens.

The Uffizi and the Pitti Palace are two of the most famous picture galleries in the world.   Two superb collections of sculpture are in the Bargello and the Museum of the Works of the Duomo. They are filled with the creations of Donatello, Verrochio, Desiderio da Settignano, Michelangelo and others. The Galleria dell’Accademia has Michelangelo’s David – perhaps the most well-known work of art anywhere, plus the unfinished statues of the slaves Michelangelo created for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Other sights include the medieval city hall, the Palazzo della Signoria (also known as the Palazzo Vecchio), the Archeological Museum, the Museum of the History of Science, the Palazzo Davanzatti, the Stibbert Museum, St. Marks, the Medici Chapels, the Museum of the Works of Santa Croce, the Museum of the Cloister of Santa Maria Novella, the Zoological Museum, the Bardini, and the Museo Horne. There is also a collection of works by the modern sculptor, Marino Marini, in a museum named after him. The Strozzi Palace is the site of special exhibits.

Florentine food grows out of a tradition of peasant eating rather than rarefied high cooking. The majority of dishes are based on meat. The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe, and is still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city. Antipasti include crostini toscani, sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver-based pate and sliced meats). The typically saltless Tuscan bread, obtained with natural levain frequently features in Florentine courses, especially in its soups, ribolita and pappa al pomodoro, or in the salad of bread and fresh vegetables called panzanella that is served in summer. The bistecca alla florentina is a large steak –T-bone of Chianna beef cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare with its more recently derived version, the tagliata, sliced rare beef served on a bed of arugula, often with slices of Parmesan cheese on top. Most of these courses are generally served with local olive oil, also a prime product enjoying a worldwide reputation.  Food and wine have long been an important staple of the economy. Florence is the most important city in Tuscany, one of the great wine-growing regions in the world. The Chiant region is just south of the city, and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Supertuscan blends. Within twenty miles  west is the Carmignano area, also home to flavorful sangiovese-based reds. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also few miles east of Florence. More recently, the Bolgheri region (93 mi southwest of Florence) has become celebrated for its “Super Tuscan” reds such as Sassicia and Ornellaia.

I recently spent nearly 10 days in Forence, totally exploring the city and becoming very much acquainted with its past and present, as well as the culture and people that make Florence unique.   Plus spending time in many of the wonderful art galleries and marveling in the treasures that are there done many centuries ago and still are breathtaking today.  Such as Bottechellis the Birth of Venus.

Kathy Kiefer

Schermata 09-2456547 alle 16.18.29

TUSCANY

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Tuscany

firenze-vista-dallalto-Tuscany is a region in central Italy that has an area of 23,000 square kilometers and has a population of about 3.8 million.   The capital of the Tuscan Region is Florence.

Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its permanent influence on high culture,  is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and is home to many influential figures in the world of art and science.   Thus Tuscany boasts world renowned museums such as Uffizi and Pitti Palace and its famous wines (such as  Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and others) .  There are also several localities in Tuscany designated World Heritage Sites, these include the historical centers of  Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Pienza, the Cathedral of Pisa, Val d’Orcia as well as the Medici Villas and Gardens.  Tuscany also boasts over 120 protected nature reserves.

Surrounded and crossed by major mountain chains, and with few plains, the region has a relief that is dominated by hilly country used for agriculture.   Many of Tuscany’s largest cities lie on the banks of the Arno, including Florence, Empoli and Pisa. The climate is fairly mild in the coastal areas, and is harsher and rainy in the interior, with considerable fluctuations in temperature between winter and summer.

At the time of the renaissance, Florence had become the cultural capital of Tuscany. One family that benefitted from Florence’s growing wealth and power was the ruling Medici Family and theirLorenzo_de_Medici legacy still visible today in the prodigious art and architecture in Florence.    Tuscany has an immense cultural and artistic heritage, expressed in the region’s churches, palaces, art galleries, museums, villages and piazzas. Many of these artifacts are found in the main cities, such as Florence and Siena, but also in smaller villages scattered around the region, such as San Gimignano.    Tuscany has a unique artistic legacy, and Florence is one of the world’s most important water-color centres, even so that it is often nicknamed the “art palace of Italy”.   It is believed that the city has the largest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world.   Painters such as Cimabue and Giotto,  the fathers of Italian painting, lived in Florence and Tuscany as did  Arnolfo , Andrea Pisano,  architecture and sculpture;  Brunelleschi, Donatello and  Masaccio, forefathers of the Renaissance, Ghiberti and the Della Robbias,  Filippo Lippi ,  Angelico; Botticelli, Paolo Uccello plus the universal genius of  Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.  The region contains numerous museums and art galleries, many housing some of the world’s most precious works of art. Such museums include the Uffizi, (Botticelli’s Birth of Venus), the Pitti Palace, and the Bargello, just to mention a few.  Many of the frescos, sculptures and paintings in Tuscany are held in the region’s abundant churches and cathedrals (including the Florence Cathedral, Sienna Cathedral, Pisa Cathedral and the Collegiata di San Gimignano.

Tuscany has a rich ancient and modern musical tradition, and has boasted numerous composers and musicians, such as Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni.  Florence is the main musical centre of Tuscany. The city was at the heart of much of our entire Western musical tradition. It was there that the  Florentine Camerata convened in the mid-16th century and experimented with setting tales of Greek mythology to music and staging the result: the first operas, fostering the further development of the operatic form, and the later developments of separate “classical” forms such as the symphony.    There are numerous musical centres in Tuscany.  Arezzo is indelibly connected with the name of Guido d’Arezzo, an 11th-century monk who invented modern musical notation and the do-re-mi system of naming notes of the scale;  Lucca hosted the greatest Italian composer of Romanticism,  Giacomo Puccini and Siena is well known for the  Accademia Musicale Chiglana, an organization that currently sponsors major musical activities such as the Siena Music Week and the Alfredo Casella International Composition Competition.

Tuscany has a renowned literature, and has boasted several famous writers and poets, most notably Florentine author Dante.  Tuscany’s literary scene particularly thrived in the 13th century and the Renaissance.

DANTE ALIGHIERIIn Tuscany, especially in the Middle Ages, popular love poetry existed. A school of imitators of the Sicilians, but its literary originality took another line — that of humorous and satirical poetry. Another type of poetry also began in Tuscany. Guittone d’Arezzo made art abandon chivalry and Provençal forms for national motives and Latin forms. He attempted political poetry, and although his work is often obscure, he prepared the way for the Bolognese school. Bologna was the city of science, and philosophical poetry appeared there.  Guido Guinizelli was the poet after the new fashion of art. In his work the ideas of chivalry are changed and enlarged. Only those whose heart is pure can be blessed with true love, regardless of class. He refuted the traditional credo of courtly love, for which love is a subtle philosophy only a few chosen knights and princesses could grasp. Love is blind to blasons but not to a good heart when it finds one: when it succeeds it is the result of the spiritual, not physical affinity between two souls.  Guinizelli’s Canzoni make up the bible of Dolce Stil Novo, and one in particular, “Al cor gentil” (“To a Kind Heart”) is considered the manifesto of the new movement which will bloom in Florence under Cavalcanti, Dante and their followers.

Simplicity is central to Tuscan cuisine.  Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used. Olive oil is made up of Moraiolo, Leccino, and Frantoiano olives. White truffles from San Miniato appear in October and November. Beef of the highest quality comes from the Chiana Valley, specifically a breed known as Chianina used for Florentine steak.  Pork  is also produced.  Wine is a famous and common produce of Tuscany.  Chianti is arguably the most well-known wine internationally.

The Via de’ Tornabuoni in Florence, the city’s top fashion and shopping street, contains some of the world’s most luxurious clothing and jewelry houses, such as  Cartier, Ferragamo, Gucci, Versace and Bulgari,  just to name a few.  The fashion and textile industry are the pillars of the Florentine economy. In the 15th century, Florentines were working with luxury textiles such as wool and silk. Today the greatest designers in Europe utilize the textile industry in Tuscany, and especially Florence.   Italy has one of the strongest textileSchermata 2013-10-15 alle 11.31.20 industries in Europe, accounting for approximately one quarter of European production.

Food and wine has long been an important staple of the economy. Florence is the most important city in Tuscany, one of the great wine-growing regions in the world. The Chianti region is just southof the city, and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Supertuscan blends. Within twenty miles to the west is the Carmignano area, also home to flavorful sangiovese-based reds. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also few miles east of Florence. More recently, the Bolgheri region  (95 miles southwest of Florence) has become celebrated for its “Super Tuscan” reds.

I was fortunate that while I was in Florence to get to the Chianti Region to do some exploring and see first-hand what went into wine production.   Talk about an experience and education!   This is something I will not forget.    There is so much into the production of the grapes and the making of wines and champagnes many consumers just don’t take the time to put it all together when they go out to buy wine and champagne.   Talk about being in the right place at the right time.     It truly was worth it.

The entire Tuscan region is awe-inspiring, not only in its architecture, but with the sweeping vistas, the lush settings, rich heritage and so much more.  I would also venture to say that this applies to the Tuscan people as well.   They are not like people from other parts of the county, they are unique.

Kathy Kiefer

Schermata 09-2456547 alle 16.18.29