Archive for December, 2011

December 30, 2011

New Year’s Eve in Italy

New Year's toast Rome

Italians love festivals and the ending of the old year and beginning of the new year, il capodanno, is a great time to celebrate in Italy.

La Festa di San Silvestro is celebrated December 31 on New Year’s Eve. As with most Italian festivals, food plays a major role. Families and friends get together for a huge feast. The star of the dinner is lentils, symbolizing money and good fortune for the coming year. Traditionally, the dinner in many parts of Italy also includes a cotechino, a large spiced sausage, or a zampone, stuffed pig’s trotter. The pork symbolizes the richness of life in the coming year
Fireworks and Dancing
Huge midnight fireworks displays celebrate the coming of the new year. Most towns have public displays in a central square but private parties will also include firecrackers or sparklers, too, and will continue for a long time. Naples is known for having one of the best and biggest New Year’s fireworks displays in Italy. Some smaller towns build a bonfire in the central square where villagers will congregate into the early morning. If you’re near the coast, lake, or river you will hear boats and ships blowing their horns.

Dancing is also popular and many towns have public music and dancing before the fireworks. Rome, Milan, Bologna, Palermo and Naples put on huge popular outdoor shows with pop and rock bands. These events can sometimes be seen on television, too.

More New Year’s Eve Traditions in Italy
Guests of private or public parties are sometimes entertained with a game called “Tombola”, similar to Bingo.

The New Year is also celebrated with spumante or prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. New Years parties, whether public or private, will often last until sunrise in order to watch the first sunrise of the newborn year.

An old custom that is still followed in some places, especially in the south, is throwing your old things out the window to symbolize your readiness to accept the New Year. So, keep an eye out for falling objects if you’re walking around near midnight!

Oh, one more thing, don’t forget to wear your red underwear to ring in the new year! They say it’ll bring you luck in the coming year.

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December 15, 2011

Do you use your hotel’s concierge ?

Some travelers are intimidated by the thought of using a hotel’s concierge. Don’t be! The concierge is available to all guests and is able to assist with a variety of requests including event tickets, dinner reservations, and destination advice.

Click here for more information:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/07/travel/hotel-concierge-tips/index.html?hpt=tr_c2

December 14, 2011

Saffron anyone ? (nice holiday gift idea for the cook)

Saffron

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus.Saffron’s bitter taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. It has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for the lion’s share, or around 90%, of world production. Research into its many possible medicinal benefits, ranging from cancer suppression to mood improvement and appetite reduction, is ongoing.

Did you know that saffron is cultivated in one of Italy’s most famous hill towns….San Gimignano…known for it’s towers, vineyards, & sunflower fields. See this fascinating excerpt of an article just published in Florence’s local ragsheet.

San Gimignano

“Saffron has long been one of the world’s most expensive foods. The carefully picked red stigmas of the lilac-coloured crocus flower have been cultivated, fought over and treasured for centuries. Cleopatra used to bathe in saffron-infused water, Alexander the Great used it to treat battle wounds and the Ancient Romans planted it across their entire empire. While the plant is native to central Asia, the spice was already well known in Italy in the Middle Ages, introduced through trade in port cities like Venice and Genoa. Today, saffron in Italy is grown most notably in Sardegna, Abruzzo and Tuscany, with San Gimignano the region’s saffron capital. Documents date saffron in San Gimignano trade routes to the 1200s, where it was treated as currency and contributed to the city’s wealth. The saffron of San Gimignano is cultivated using natural methods and sold whole, in crimson-red threads, instead of as a powder. In 2005, it was awarded Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) certification. This autumnal plant likes the sun and blooms for a very short period in late October or early November, where it requires a speedy and labour intensive harvest. Flowers are picked early in the morning and the stigmas removed before the blooms wilt. Each flower contains only three stigmas. One kilogram of fresh flowers produces just 72 grams of fresh stigmas, or a mere 12 grams of dried stigmas. Luckily, a little goes a long way to impart a rich golden yellow colour and just enough of its characteristic, hay-like flavour to food. There is no sense in trying to impress people by adding extra saffron, as it will taste bitter if there is too much. For a dish to serve four people, a pinch of 10 strands is plenty. Saffron can be used in many recipes from liqueurs to desserts and is wonderful in rice dishes, like in this adaption of a risotto milanese, which makes the most out of autumn’s bounty.”

December 2, 2011

Christmas Season in Rome

Rome is a top Italian city to visit during the Christmas holiday season and the place where the celebration of Christmas originated. The first Christmas mass was said at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the earliest known permanent nativity was created for the Rome Jubilee in 1300.
The Rome Christmas sights during the Christmas holiday season run from early December through Epiphany on January 6.

Piazza Navona Christmas Market

Piazza Navona in December, Rome’s famous Baroque square, is transformed into a huge Christmas market. You’ll find stands selling all kinds of Christmas sweets, toys, nativity figures, decorations, and gifts. There’s a merry-go-round and Babbo Natale, Father Christmas, makes an appearance to delight the kids. A large nativity scene is erected in the square later in December, too.

Each year a huge Christmas tree is erected in Saint Peter’s Square. A life-size nativity is also set up but usually not unveiled until Christmas Eve. Thousands of visitors flock to Saint Peter’s Square when the Pope says midnight mass on Christmas Eve inside Saint Peter’s Basilica (in the square it’s shown on big screen TVs) and delivers his Christmas message at noon on Christmas Day from the window of his apartment above the square. December 13 there’s a colorful parade to Saint Peter’s Square for Santa Lucia Day.
Christmas trees are really not an Italian tradition but are starting to become more popular. In addition to the tree in Saint Peter’s Square, two of the largest Christmas trees in Rome are usually erected in Piazza Venezia and next to the Colosseum. There’s also a tree in the area in front of the Museums on the Capitoline Hill. Some shops, hotels, and restaurants display small trees.

Rome’s main streets are decorated with lights and often have entertainment by roving musicians and vendors selling roasted chestnuts. A good place to go is the shopping streets near Piazza di Spagna. An outdoor ice skating rink, open daily from 10:00 to midnightis set up near Castel Sant’Angelo where there’s also a small Christmas market.

Rome has a large Jewish population and Hanukkah is another important holiday celebrated in December. A large Menorrah is erected in Piazza Barberini and one candle is lit each night during the Hanukkah season.

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