Salento, Apulia, Italy

I went for a run yesterday. Only my third after the holiday, and after initial lack of will and motivation I can proclaim I’m back in the saddle: it felt good again. Sadly, I noticed the more than slight change en route. The leaves on the trees are beginning to wither. The shadows are becoming longer and darker as the days shorten and the cyclamen are here again. Their bewitching scent was a nice company although it meant the autumn was just around the corner. A perfect moment then to recollect the summer holiday memories and order them up.

A spectacular Adriatic coast of Apulia
A spectacular Adriatic coast of Apulia

Oh boy, what a holiday! It’s pretty obvious I was smitten with Apulia from day one. It’s very well possible that it was one of our best travels ever.

Colours, tastes, scent, delights for eyes and mind – all is there, making you healthily aware of your senses and feelings. I guess it’s what biology, history and sociology of a place fuse into within an attention-paying mind. A deep and long-lasting satisfaction is almost palpable.

Deep blue Adriatic and colourful oleanders
Deep blue Adriatic and colourful oleanders

When we entered the crypt of Otranto duomo perching above a coastal town I did expect to see a ‘forest of columns’ (as described in one of the guides) but nothing could actually prepare me for the real thing. It’s simply amazing. Not two columns seem to be alike and there are more than seventy.

Forest of pillars in the crypt of the duomo in Otranto, Apulia, Italy
Forest of pillars in the crypt of the duomo in Otranto

Striking as it is, the main sight awaits you upstairs though: the grand Tree-of-Life mosaic. The mosaic itself is quite basic in terms of execution and it appears a bit naive to the untrained eye but it’s its size and age that humble you immediately. The 12th century masterpiece namely covers the entire floor of the cathedral. By all means brace yourselves for sighting of relics of Martyrs of Otranto that are housed in the glass cabinets in the cathedral. Shocking.

Apulia, Italy
Ancient mosaic floor in the duomo of Otranto

De-stress outside on the public beach – it couldn’t be any closer, just steps from the old town.

Apulia, Italy
A view of municipal beach in Otranto

The Apulian Adriatic coast is like that: turquoise waters and alternating sandy stretches and sensational cliffs and rocky bays.

Solitary sunbather on the beach near Lecce
Solitary sunbather on the beach near Lecce
Crystal clear waters of Adriatic Sea in Apulia
Crystal clear waters of Adriatic Sea

Fantastic scenery of a coastal road leading from Otranto to Leuca is interspersed occasionally by little and large man-made wonders. Palazzo Sticchi in Santa Cesarea Terme evokes the fantasy of One Thousand and One Nights. There may not be another reason for visiting this fairly unattractive little coastal and thermal town but marvelling at this Moorish palace in its commanding position on a hot summer’s day in the south of Italy is a joy.

The magnificent palace in Santa Cesarea Terme, Apulia, Italy
The magnificent palace in Santa Cesarea Terme

While we were down there, only a couple of dozens kilometres away from the south-easternmost point of Italy and definitely the southernmost point of its heel, it would’ve been regretful not to dip into the Adriatic at Bagnisco. Or any other bay or beach – there are plenty but from the road mostly accessible on foot. In July you can expect them to be relatively peaceful and not too crowded. August is another matter altogether being a “holy” holiday month for most Italians.

A hot summer’s day is best spent on the beach in Bagnisco
A hot summer’s day is best spent on the beach in Bagnisco

The Ionian coast of Apulia is heavenly, too. The sand is golden and macchia smells divinely.

The Ionian coast in Apulia: golden sand, turquoise sea, silver green macchia
The Ionian coast in Apulia: golden sand, turquoise sea, silver green macchia

The tourist Mecca of Gallipoli, an ancient town on the costa ionica, with monumental fortified walls, has retained its own golden beach just behind the old town looking out towards the distant Calabria. Spreading out of town on both sides there are countless miles of party and family beaches. Be warned.

The clouds gather over Gallipoli in Apulia, Italy
The clouds gather over Gallipoli

The modern part of town is dominated by a long wide avenue of sorts, which ends at the foot of the bridge connecting it to the old town. The old town is lovely, reminiscent of Dalmatian flair: local ladies cooling off in the gentle breeze seated by the wide open door leading from the street directly into the kitchen. Men are playing cards or watching television. From time to time, during roaming the labyrinth of narrow semi-deserted streets, a nice smell sneaked out from within of a simmering broth or something equally appealing.

Under the bridge, there are stalls abound with freshest from Gallipoli.

Frutti di mare to be eaten raw in Gallipoli, Apulia , Italy
Frutti di mare to be eaten raw in Gallipoli

If you have the nerve, the top specialty (ask any Italian if you don’t believe me) is ricci di mare, thankyouverymuch.

The greatest extravagance of Gallipoli: sea urchins to be eaten raw
The greatest extravagance of Gallipoli: sea urchins to be eaten raw

Inland, tranquillity of olive groves continues.

Apulia, Italy
Olive trees galore

In Manduria I had freshly squeezed pomegranate juice with my cappuccino.

Coffee break in Apulia, Italy
Cappuccino and spremuta di melograno (pomegranate)

I don’t know why the culture of spremuta hasn’t spread out of Italy. It doesn’t seem to bother any Italian bartender to prepare it either with agrumi (there goes my little obsession with citrus again) or even pomegranate as was the case in Apulia. A welcome and refreshing change.

The white town of Ostuni, Apulia, Italy
The white town of Ostuni

The prevalence of gold and leisurely is pushed aside in the northwest of Salento where the dominating citta bianche rule the hills. Ostuni‘s patron is St. Oronzo, apparently a very busy man taking care of Lecce as well.

Ostuni, Apulia, Italy
St Oronzo is looking over Ostuni

Ostuni is chic and stylish not least because it’s so very photogenic. One could easily imagine to be in another place altogether (Oia on Greek Santorini comes to one’s mind) or maybe in one of the charming places up on Amalfi coast.

One of the many ceramic shops in Ostuni (colours! colours!)
One of the many ceramic shops in Ostuni (colours! colours!)

The white town offers splendid views down the plains full of olive trees (all that green between the houses and the sea on the photo below are olive trees) to the intensively blue Adriatic. Consider it a must-see.

View from Ostuni to the Adriatic, Apulia, Italy
There are so many breathtaking views, this one from Ostuni to the Adriatic being no exception

The best thing in Apulia is you can eat really well. Furthermore, you can enjoy a nice view at the same time. One day we stopped for lunch in Torre Santa Sabina. True, we decided for Ristorante Miramare because of Rowley Leigh‘s article published in Financial Times a few years ago, so we had some idea what we can expect. It was good, I can tell you that.

A delicious lunch at Ristorante Miramare in Torre Santa Sabina, Apulia, Italy
A delicious lunch at Ristorante Miramare in Torre Santa Sabina
Lunch with the view at Ristorante Miramare, Apulia, Italy
Lunch with the view at Ristorante Miramare

Locorotondo felt dearest to my heart in that part of Apulia. Expect narrow spiralling streets, tiny and more roomy piazze full of flowering pots, the all-over white carefully embellished with romantic patterns of vivid colours. Everything is so clean and tidy one would nearly want to change to slippers before stepping in.

Locorotondo, Apulia, Italy
Endearing Locorotondo
A typical lane in Locorotondo, Apulia, Italy
A typical lane in Locorotondo

After these boutique-like towns, Martina Franca feels like stepping back into reality again: it’s grandiose and impressive. Its elegance oozes down the lanes packed with proper townhouses. No matter how narrow the roads of the centro storico the traffic within is surprisingly lively yet smooth. The piazze are spacious and the churches loom large over them.

The largest of the white towns: Martina Franca, Apulia, Italy
The largest of the white towns: Martina Franca
Apulia, Italy
It’s hard to imagine but this is a motorised street (Martina Franca)

The Val d’Itria is not only home to these remarkable white towns (and many others), it is an extraordinary place in its own right.

View over Val d’Itria, the land of trulli of Apulia, Italy
View over Val d’Itria, the land of trulli of Apulia

The countryside looks manicured to the last metre, the fields and the vineyards may remind you of Tuscany but with one pronounced distinction: trulli.

Val d’Itria, Apulia, Italy
Val d’Itria is full of vineyards …
Val d’Itria, Apulia, Italy
… and is reminiscent of Tuscany
Apulia, Italy
Trulli!

And then, you enter the fairy-tale-ish Alberobello. Only this is not Las Vegas or Disneyland, it’s incredibly genuine. Once we approached the viewing point on the opposite side my jaw dropped approximately two storeys below.

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy
Trulli wonderland: Alberobello

There are masses of intertwined trulli, mortarless (at least used to be mortarless) stone constructions, that are still populated. It’s Unesco World Heritage site and it’s very popular with tourists but I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Trulli of Alberobello, Apulia, Italy
Trulli upclose in Alberobello

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy

As much as I love walking down memory lane of our albeit recent summer holiday I have to tell you it’s been an exhausting one (indulging in memories not the holiday). That’s why I’m saving the jewel of this trip, Lecce, for another time (there are some appetizers in my previous post as well). Stay tuned.

Nevertheless, just a tiny glimpse of what’s cooking:

Lecce, Puglia
Rooftops of Lecce

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You’re welcome.

 

Related:

Otranto Cathedral

Martyrs of Otranto

Santa Cesarea Terme

One Thousand and One Nights

Gallipoli

Manduria

Ostuni

St. Oronzo

Rowley Leigh in FT on Puglia

Ristorante Miramare da Michele

Locorotondo

Martina Franca

Alberobello

The Guardian on Salento, Puglia

Salento

The Guardian readers on Puglia

The Guardian on Puglia (2004)

We’ll Always Have Apulia

Photo of typical Apulian feast
There’s always food first in Apulia

A traveller arriving to Apulia by way of Campania is greeted by rolling, seemingly endless, wide and flattened hills of wheat fields. If one is lucky enough to arrive in full sun of a mid July afternoon, it appears as though one entered an enormous treasury. All around, practically everywhere, for as far as the eye can see, to the ends of the horizon, there are interconnecting fields of wheat. Some pure golden, others in deep antique gold colour, some already harvested and loaded with bales lying around in a semi-scattered order, just like diamonds set in a necklace of a frivolous heiress, waiting to be escorted to some grand ball. One feels almost hypnotised by all that golden delight on both sides of a modern motorway.

Then, after a while, after tens and tens of kilometres of ripe wheat fields and nothing else, one notices slender white windmills dot the landscape of golden infinity. Somehow, they’re not obtrusive: in different sizes they line the soft borders of smooth hilltops in a never-ending sight. The immensity and vastness of it all is overwhelming.

After another while, kneaded within the gold appears a lonely vineyard. The vines are fascinatingly spread over a pergola-like structure the height of a man forming a rather dense shade overground. Gradually, the land gets filled with nothing else but vineyards. As much as everything was golden for quite a stretch of the way now everything changes to fresh and gleaming green. The landscape is still wide without an obvious interruption in visual field. Wherever one turns the head, all vineyards. Some are, for unknown reason (possibly some kind of a protection against heat? birds?), completely covered with what seems to be dense cloth of some sort. Again, tens and tens of kilometres of everything green. In awe, a first-time traveller to this fertile land needs to be pinched to make sure it’s not all a dream.

Apulia, Italy
An enormous olive tree by the road in Apulian inland

Every now and then an olive grove squeezes in between the vineyards. Those are huge olive trees, clearly very old even to an unaccustomed onlooker. Their crowns are almost as high and voluminous as those of chestnut trees in the north. How can they let them grow so big, one can’t stop to wonder. As a déjà-vu of some sort, step by step the land fills up with nothing but silvery green olive trees and it goes on and on and on. Once more, whatever you see for tens and tens of kilometres are gigantic olive trees.

Apulia, Italy
There’s a lot about olives in Apulia

Above it all, a painfully blue sky. A-l-l t-h-e t-i-m-e. The images of luxurious variations of gold, green, silver and blue are doomed to remain forever embossed in traveller’s mind. So, obviously, Apulia welcomed us royally. Although very hot and quite exhausted by a long ride, we were both continually being astonished by yet another kilometre of breathtakingly wonderful landscape.

Not to neglect the rows of colourful oleanders lining the motorway for hundreds of kilometres on end. Alternating in spectacular pinks and reds and whites, some of them are as big as houses. And fragrant too.

Apulia, Italy
Oleanders as big as houses lining the Apulian motorways

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise then, that once we arrived to Lecce, the heart of Salento, our final destination, we were nearly speechless. True, we were captivated even more by a soft pink sunset but the town is a precious haven even without it. The dusk, though, lends it a special feeling of magic-like magnetism.

Lecce, Apulia, Italy
An unforgettable view from our apartment’s window: St Matthew’s church in Lecce, Apulia

This is how our uncovering Apulia started. We fell in love with it on the very first day. So much so, that I’m enchanted even after a few weeks of everyday. It will certainly take more than one post of praise.

A breathtaking view from our apartment’s terrace over early evening Lecce, Apulia
A breathtaking view from our apartment’s terrace over early evening Lecce, Apulia

For any of you out there contemplating a perfect Apulian lunch (as presented in the photo at the beginning of this post) this is what you need:

(serves 2)

– a kilo of ripe, locally grown pomodori (firm and meaty, juicy but plump)

– a jar of large, green Apulian olives with pepperoncino

– a bunch of rucola selvatica (a woody silver leaf kind of rucola, extra sharp and spicy)

– a pouch of silky soft, creamy burrata, super fresh from Mercato di Porta Rudiae in Lecce

– sea salt

– Apulian extra virgin olive oil

– a bottle of Primitivo di Manduria

– a sunny day

– a roof top terrace in Lecce with unbeatable view over town.

That’s it. Buon appetito!

Lecce, Apulia, Italy
The magical terrace in Lecce

Do come back for more on our Apulian trip. This one post can’t do it all the justice.

UPDATE: my other post about our Apulian trip

and another one on Lecce

We need to talk about Istria, Croatia

A fantastic sunset colouring everything violet in Istria, Croatia
A fantastic sunset over Oprtalj

Oprtalj is a tiny hilltop town set in a countryside of lush Mediterranean forest, manicured vineyards and cultivated olive tree groves. In a word, it’s a land of infinite shades of green.

Manicured vineyards in Istria, Croatia
Manicured vineyards in front of Arman winery

Oprtalj is very similar to its neighbours Grožnjan or Motovun or Buje yet at the same time very much different. They’re all filled with charming stone houses and cottages, some derelict some wonderfully renovated, and all offer breathtaking views across the valleys to the Adriatic or inland.

A view towards the Adriatic from the terrace in Grožnjan, Istria
A view towards the Adriatic from the terrace in Grožnjan, Istria

Anyway, as many as there are similarities each little town has its own character.

One of many tiny courtyards in Grožnjan, Istria
One of many tiny courtyards in Grožnjan, Istria

Grožnjan exudes everything art, for instance. There are plenty of galleries and artists’ studios (some of them even work outdoors). There’s this gorgeous terrace acting as a main square with beautiful view, where excellent coffee is served along with homemade pies. At the entrance to the old town some local farmers sell their produce on the improvised tables under the safe shade of a huge tree.

Mediterranean smells abound in Grožnjan, Istria, Croatia
Mediterranean smells abound in Grožnjan, Istria

There’s a spectacular deserted graveyard behind St Martin’s church in Buje that’s filled with grave stones scattered all around a terraced lawn. Old gravestones carry all kinds of personal information about the deceased which might not mean much to today’s Facebook generations used to everything being published anyway.

Door leading onto deserted graveyard at St Martin’s church in Buje, Istria
Door leading onto deserted graveyard at St Martin’s church in Buje, Istria

There’s a last resting place of one lady from Umag, a woman of force, donna di forza, who left behind a devastated husband, had given all her heart into educating their three sons who all grew up to be prudent, and dedicated her life to taking care the poor recognized the power of Christ. Among other things. On some gravestones even crusaders’ symbols can be seen.

A stupendous but derelict graveyard monument in Buje, Istria
A stupendous but derelict graveyard monument in Buje, Istria

The sign on the town main square’s tower implies the sleepy town of Buje is not so sleepy all the time. The school is one of the buildings lining the square on the hilltop. The tower bears the plaque of Venetian lion since the town had been a part of Benetian Republic for several centuries. The Baroque church next to it was built on the sight of a Roman temple.

Football not allowed in main square of Buje, Istria
Football not allowed in main square of Buje, Istria

At some point, a lavender field amidst the vineyards surprises an innocent passer-by.

Lavender field amidst the hills of Istria
Lavender field amidst the hills of Istria

And then, when exhausted after all those steep hills and rocky lanes, a plate full of this fragrant dish might feel like a cherry on top of a much deserved cake.

Lunch of truffles over pasta in Livade, Istria
Lunch of truffles over pasta in Livade, Istria

Have no fear, there’s some fantastic wine to be enjoyed.

A box of wine by Franc Arman winery, Istria, Croatia

At the back of the Oprtalj village in Istria the view stretches over the endless green
At the back of the Oprtalj village the view stretches over the endless green

Istria NW map with some points of interest (added August 17, 2016)

Small Potatoes

There’s more to taking a day off than you might imagine when you apply for it at work. Trust me, I speak from experience.

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The last time I took a day off to have some peace and quiet at home our bedroom got (nearly) flooded. There we were in the small hours of a Friday morning watching the water pouring in through the ceiling. Don’t ask. The day was spent on waiting for the repairmen and cleaning the mess up. All’s well that ends well, right?

After a couple of weeks, we both took a day off and arranged to visit some friends who were vacationing on Krk, Croatia. The motorbike was fresh out from the service, the weather forecast was fantastic, no worries at all. Off we went. To cut the long story short: the brake problem caused us touring four countries including Slovenia, Austria, Italy and finally Croatia. In a day. Don’t ask. A serious rehearsal before taking the summer holiday.

Maybe this is the universe communicating we’re not meant to take days off. I don’t know.

One version of a simple potato salad - the addition of capers and kalamata olives makes all the difference

One version of a simple potato salad – the addition of tiny capers and olives makes all the difference

Cruising around the beautiful landscapes that day made me long for potatoes. The neat fields we were passing were full of flowering potato plants and green beans climbing up the poles next to them. I love potatoes prepared in almost every possible way but my firm favourites are:

  • mashed potatoes (irresistible when lots of butter and a spoonful or two of sour cream alongside the milk are mashed within)
  • potatoes braised in a roemertopf together with some carrots and a piece of meat (veal for instance)
  • French Fries (especially the Californian ones – the slim cuts).

So, while we waited at the bar adjoining the repair shop I found these two mouth watering (so summer) recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi: Green beans with peanuts and lime and Braised new potatoes with broad beans and pink peppercorns. To join the two vegetables … so good … yum.

Yes, it totally felt like a potato day.

 

A Bowl of Cherries

Finally, it’s the cherries season!

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I have this thing with cherries. You know how there are cat people vs. dog people? In my opinion there are also strawberry people vs. cherry people. I’m a cherry person myself, no doubt about it, and it’s the one segregation I don’t object to.

The best way to eat them is directly off the tree of course. Regrettably, this is a fairly rare indulgence.

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It’s not only the fruit that satisfies my appetite, I love to see a cherry tree in every guise. I love to watch the cherry tree’s transformation through the seasons: first, in the dead of winter, there are black trunk and branches with wonderfully patterned bark and nothing more. Then, in the spring the branches get covered in white fragrant blossoms, which look like quilted down sleeves. Next, it turns elegant dark green with ruby red fruits hanging in couples or triplets resembling the most precious earrings. Finally, in autumn, its leaves steadily become a sunset’s mirror as they turn the warm spectacular red before they fall off.

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I was growing up in a concrete neighbourhood of apartment buildings bordering on one side a highway and on the other a large area of detached houses. The houses typically had their cute little backyards, flowerbeds, kitchen gardens and at least one fruit-growing tree (if I were to inspect the area today I’d notice most of the front lawns transformed into parking lots since every household now has more cars than the side road can accommodate).

Needless to say, we, the kids from the boring urban community, shamelessly raided the cherry trees every June when they were laden with fruit. Some people didn’t really mind our self-invitation to their garden as long as no damage was done, but the great majority of them weren’t all too happy with sharing their fortune with us. Those trees were particularly attractive because by some unwritten rule they bore the sweetest, the reddest, the best fruit. Usually a group of four or five of us sneaked on the fence and snatched as much cherries as possible off the branches and straight into our mouths, continuing until we were discovered and made to run away as fast as we could. The cherry raids we called them, our expeditions. On a good day we had a chance to raid several trees in a row so in the end we would feel pleasantly full (and our mothers wondered how come we’re not hungry after a whole afternoon out).

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Also, my both grandparents, who lived in the countryside, had had a cherry tree each, so when I stayed with them in cherry season I could stuff myself dead with cherries until my stomach neared an explosion.

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Nowadays, I normally buy them from the farmers at the local market. I’m known to consume a kilo in one go all by myself. Day in day out. Yes, cherries are by far my most favourite fruit. Not only do I adore eating them fresh I also like to have them in desserts: clafoutis, cherry strudel, cherry and apricot gallette to only name a few. I might just poach them with a few slices of ginger and a strip of lemon zest. I might even buy a jar of those candied cocktail decoration stuff when I crave cherries out of season. I even used to freeze them – they freeze well. I never bother to pit them before using them.

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I simply love clafoutis but it’s probably been years since I attempted to make it myself. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that quite often I wasn’t really happy with the result. The best clafoutis I had was the one in  London at Le Cafe Anglais. To my deep regret the restaurant has been permanently closed but fortunately the chef’s Mr Rowley Leigh’s columns for the Financial Times are still running (too seldom though). I must admit it amused me to read his confession about the common disappointments in this classic French dish.

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Today I followed his recipe (yes, I separated the eggs) but I didn’t pre-cook the cherries. I don’t find it neccessary since I prefer the cherries firm. When I arranged them in the dish I tossed some little pieces of butter over them, sprinkled them with a spoon or two of sugar and a spoon of cointreau (in place of kirsch which I don’t stock). The rest by the book recipe (follwo the above link for it). It turned out remarkably well. Delicious too. Very much so, indeed.

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The Weekend of Doing Nothing

I’ve finally warmed up this weekend. Up until Friday I was constantly cold partly because of the weather that stubornly refused to bring the warmth (at least this is a natural fact, something that can’t be controlled, so what the hack, right?) partly because of the office air-conditioning already turned on ignoring the actual outdoor conditions (simply bloody too much). So, a sunny and warm weekend at last delivered the long desired comfort.

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I enjoyed it very much. Contrary to everybody else who’ll be going on and on about what they’d been up to this weekend my reply to the eminent question of What did you do over the weekend? will be simply Nothing.

We drove to the Croatian coast for the weekend, true. Left the town pretty early on Friday, a rare indulgence, true again. We had a lovely late lunch of fresh fish on the way just on the edge of Karst. The nearer we got to the coast the warmer it was getting. The early evening was the colour of antique gold. We had a glass of amaro before we called it a night.

On Saturday we slept late, later than usual at least, and had coffee in bed. We drove to Umag, the nearest town, for breakfast …

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… and shopped at the local market. There are all kinds of vegetables and fruits in season right now, some of them our favourites: fresh cherries, crisp peas, sweetest carrots, young soft cabbage heads, fragrant strawberries, the not-yet-too-bitter radicchio verde, fantastic lettuce and whatnot. After that, we took a short stroll through the old town.

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We stocked up with a stack of magazines and newspapers at the newsagent’s and grabbed a fresh loaf of white bread at the baker’s. The one that we always crave for back home.

Then, we did some work around the house but nothing too exhausting. We enjoyed the sun and the warmth and the calmness of the day. We took a really long walk along the coast and admired the macchia and pine trees and the sweet up-coming smell of the summer.

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Before we turned in we had a glass of local pelinkovac, a remarkable wormwood liquor. One would assume we’re heavy on the alcohol but rest assured the quantities we had were purely medicinal.

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On Sunday, I went for a morning run and when I returned my man had already laid out a sumptuous breakfast. Afterwards, we read. And we read. We lounged in the sun and read. I podded the peas and then read some more. We were delighted by the birdsong and a tender breeze.

We cooked risotto primavera (simplified but nonetheless delicious) for late lunch and watched the tranquility pass us by.

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During our drive back home I watched the moon moving slowly over the sky of dying light. It was huge and deep yellow.

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Come to think of it it was no nothing at all.

It Rains Cats and Dogs

Woohoo, Ice Saints, you brought it on all right! It’s been raining for the past few days like crazy. In this part of the world, the 11th, 12th and 13th of May are presided over by the three saints, St. Boniface, St. Pancras and St. Servatius that bring us what are most-likely the last cold days of the season (typically, bad weather and cold are the norm of these days). For tomorrow a significant drop in temperature is forecast, so, folks, St. Sophia might be kept busy as well. After that, it’s all roses, right?

Apropos the rain, here’s a funny thing I noticed in Gioia magazine:

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I checked the web and I can report that, yes, a Raindrop Cake is a real thing. It seems it’s turning into something quite popular. I find it rather strange though. But who am I to judge? Let people eat whatever they want, I’ll have a slice of my rhubarb pie as soon as it cools down a bit. Wanna see?

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This is a great dessert! The ingredients are a no-nonsense and what people usually stock at home. Thus, it’s doable even on the rainiest of days when the last thing you’d want is a run to the store. It’s basically down to butter, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and lemon zest plus topping. I use a recipe from this entry by The Wednesday Chef with some tweaks. That recipe never really worked for me as a crostata because for some reason the dough doesn’t get firm enough but I tweak it into a pie that is just marvellous. My version of that recipe would read like this (I hope The Wednesday Chef doesn’t mind):

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Mix together 150 grams of sugar with 150 grams of softened butter. To this add 2 eggs, the grated peel of a lemon, 200 grams of flour (depending, you might need up to 50 grams more) and half a packet of baking powder. Pat the dough out in a buttered spring-form pan and cover the dough with jam of your choice (we sometimes thin the jam with a glug of brandy over low heat before spreading it on the dough). Bake until golden-brown and the jam is bubbling, 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before eating.

Sometimes, like today, I use fresh fruit instead of jam. Although I was planning to use up the bergamot jam (yes, I’m still in the citrus compulsive-obsessive period) I decided to employ the pretty rhubarb stalks before they withered.

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I usually poach the fruit quickly before arranging it on the dough. I tried it several times with either apples, peaches or quinces to a great avail. There’s lots of room for playing with the fruit if you’re willing: you can add vanilla, rose water or spice it up with brandy or cointreau while poaching it). But using jam is plainly and straightforwardly rewarding too.

I couldn’t care less if it rained for another whole day. With a slice of this pie on my plate (and a number of them to follow) I’m on the safe side.

The Spring Delights

It’s odd how we all wait rather impatiently for springtime year in, year out although, when it finally arrives, it’s not as pleasant a time as it seems when we’re knee deep in bleakness and greyness and darkness of autumn and winter that seem to last forever.

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First, you’re hit by summer time. Over night, you’re left bereft of one whole hour of sleep.

Then, there’s the spring fever that translates into unexpected loss of energy. Everything around you bursts to life again, revived and all, whereas you couldn’t feel more oxymoronic about it.

And, if you’re lucky, there’s more: a seasonal allergy. (I refuse to refer to it as hay fever: it’s months to the stage of hay.) It’s been a real pain in the arse – for the lack of a more illustrative word, and it’s been my first one, too, so I can’t really imagine how other people cope with it for a lifetime. There’s no other way, I know, but to endure.

In spite of all that, I force myself to go running. Thankfully, I’m grown up enough to appreciate the fact that once I’m out there it’s all good, it’s just the initial push that makes it so hard.

I drag my legs behind me as if they were made of stone. I’m as slow as a snail but I do carry on with it. Kilometre after kilometre. As much as I’m looking forward to finish it off, truth be told, it’s not only torturous. I tend to look out for nice things along the way too. I’m in utter awe, for example, at Mrs Nature’s and her daughter Miss Flora’s capabilities to provide wonders day by day.

I stop to smell this beauty. Pure essence of spring. Makes me feel a tad bit more energetic.

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When I return home I make myself a nice nourishing bowl of yoghurt to replenish. It is not only good for me, my body, it’s a delight for the eye as well.

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This little meal is all I need after a run and it’s easy to prepare. Basically, I add a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt to a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta and top it up with a spoonful of homemade preserved cranberries. I always have a jar of preserved wild cranberries at hand. I simply love them. I guess it’s a combination of sweet and sour and a hint of tart that makes the preserve special. Apart from the fact that I make it myself. I buy them fresh in late summer when they’re available at our local market. Some are cooked to a preserve immediately, some are frozen and used up throughout the winter and spring when needed.

Depending on the mood (and the amount of hunger) I might add some rolled oats and/or linseed. Since I’m crazy about lemons right now  I add a couple of strings of lemon zest. More colour and more aroma. Yum.

After this I just might feel more in favour of spring.

Vienna Calling

There are many good reasons why visit Vienna. These two were a big draw for us this spring:

Two posters announcing great exhibitions in Albertina Gallery in Vienna

The grand imperial city, poetically located in a draught position between the East and the West, saluted us with grey skies and clear, cool air washed by spring rain that we, as it seemed, have just luckily avoided. Not that we cared, really, we came to have a good time. And were served accordingly.

Doors leading to Palmenhaus in Vienna

I dare you to open the door.

It was on one of our walks that I detected my first peonies this year, not really altogether there yet but showing great potential.

View of Burggarten in Vienna: first peonies in bloom

Our every trip gets latticed by food and Vienna has some lovely offerings, I can tell you that:

Delicious meal of tafelspitz in restaurant Plachutta in Vienna, Austria

I start craving the Tafelspitz as soon as we set the date for a Vienna trip. There’s something homely about it but very Austrian indeed: freshly made from local produce, very filling but definitely unskippable. I’d like my horseradish sauce more piquant but I don’t complain at all. I down four servings of delicious broth before you can say Jack Robinson. Then, the rest of the meal.

You’d have to be downright crazy to miss the wonderful Esterhazy cake or Milchrahmstrudel at Demel’s afterwards.

Cakes and coffee at Demel, Vienna

The quintessential coffee served the old-fashioned way (and the only proper way for that matter) at Meinl’s am Graben will spruce you up again.

Coffee break at Meinl am Graben in Vienna

Back to business, both exhibitions are just wonderful. Each of them gave me a light headache, in a good sense. The Russians’ works of art are clearly beautiful and powerful, the German’s clearly huge and impressive. The stories the art tells are universal: the past lurks from behind the present however much we try to pretend to ignore it, influences it heavily, always using the language of art as a vehicle to prod in our faces, and our intellect, to stimulate our brain and cast the light on the path we’re treading now. We’ve been here before, the humankind, we should know better.

 

Wonderful painted ceiling at Museumsquartier, Vienna

Since Vienna has always been artistically and culturally savvy there are many choices. It’s down to your tastes and wallet condition (highly acclaimed classical musicians and artist, that are the essence of Vienna, come at a price) and how far in advance you start to plan (Staatsoper and Musikverein events sell our quite fast). Anyway, there are always very good exhibitions, national (Klimt anyone? Schiele? Kokoschka?) or international, taking place in the many fabulous museums and galleries. The MuseumsQuartier is an example of how well art can be incorporated into city’s everyday. So, there are always many options to explore.

There’s obviously more to Vienna than this but, mind you, it’s only been a sleepover. We’ll be back soon enough.

 

More info (selected):

www.albertina.at

http://www.mqw.at/en/

https://www.plachutta.at/en/home/

www.demel.at

http://www.meinlamgraben.at/Home

www.wiener-staatsoper.at

https://www.musikverein.at

http://www.kameel.at/

PS

When planning a weekend in Vienna please consider that everything, and I mean everything, is closed on Sundays. The Austrians still have it the old way: they work up to 6 PM on Saturdays, after that it’s weekend for all. So, Saturday is for shopping and eating, Sunday for art and outdoors.