Posts Tagged ‘italy’

The Rainbow Island of Burano, Italy

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Italy is known for holding some of the world’s greatest masterpieces of art, culinary traditions, and the ancient world. But, amongst these mighty giants are wondrous treasures that remind us that the little charms are just as magical. The island of Burano on the Venetian lagoon is just that. Just a 40 minute boat ride from Venice, Burano is a must see.


The colorful houses of Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user o palsson.)

Burano is an old fishing village, and the fishing traditions of Burano date back to Roman times. For most of its history, fishing was the main source of income for the island, but the number of fishermen has greatly declined over the years. However, today, you can still go to Burano and be assured that the fish you eat on the island was caught that day by local fishermen. You can also find the fish being sold daily at the historical Rialto Market in Venice. But, do not leave the island of Burano without trying the fish at one of the local restaurants. If you like fish, this may be the best fish you will ever try.

Calamari Fritti at Ai Pescatori restaurant in Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user HarshLight).

Fishing is, or I should say was, not the only source of income for Burano. The art of lace making has played a large role in Burano’s history. Legend has it that a betrothed fisherman out at sea was given a wedding veil by a siren, and when he gave it to his betrothed; everyone tried to replicate it with needlework. The replications became Burano lace. Burano lace making was greatly admired by the Venetian patrons and even the Royals of the world. King Louis XIV was said to be wearing a Burano lace collar for his coronation and Leonardo Da Vinci purchased a piece for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. Lace making on the island has declined significantly since its golden age, but you can still see women sitting outside or inside the lace shops creating these beautiful textiles. Burano lace making is truly unique in that it is all 100% handmade, with extravagant designs and detail, and more than likely made by the person you see working before your eyes.

sewing lace

A 92 year old lace maker in Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user Pat Ferro.)

Besides lace making and fishing, what makes Burano different from the rest of the surrounding islands is its rainbow of houses. Though these houses are beautifully painted and look like artwork, the reason for their vivid colors is quite practical. Years ago, the fishermen painted their houses bright colors so when they were coming home in the fog, they knew whose house was whose. That said, the colors of these houses have been in families for centuries. And, if you want to change the color of your house, you have to send in a request to the government. And, if you want to buy a house on the island, good luck with that.

Colorful Burano Houses

A row of colorful Burano houses. (Photo courtesy of flickr user kevinpoh.)

The Island of Burano is full of hidden charm, history and culture. It is truly a treasure and no surprise that it is one of the many beautiful stops on Smithsonian Journeys’ Hidden Venice trip. If you want to visit, sign up today.

A Day in the Land of Gods & Heroes

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Kris Trego, Smithsonian Journeys Study LeaderKris Trego is an assistant professor of classics at Bucknell University. For the past 11 years, she has spent her summers working with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology excavating ancient shipwrecks off the coast of Turkey. Additionally, Kris lectures and publishes on narrative and rhetorical techniques used by ancient Greek and Roman authors.  This summer, Kris led a Journeys family cruise adventure tour around Italy’s beautiful coastline, visiting some of the ancient world’s most remarkable and best preserved Greek and Roman sites. See her post from the trip below:

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For the rest of the world it may have been a normal Thursday morning, but for those of us aboard the Corinthian II the day had brought wonder, adventure, and exuberant joy. After disembarking from our ship, which was anchored in the caldera off the cliffs of Santorini, the adults spent the morning exploring the Bronze Age site of Akrotiri. This site had been buried in darkness for thousands of years by the violent eruption of the Thira volcano that created the caldera, and we walked in hushed awe over the ancient

A Bronze Age fresco of a fisherman in Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini

A Bronze Age fresco of a fisherman in Akrotiri. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

streets that had been brought back into the light. We looked into the houses, abandoned eons ago by their caretakers, strewn with pottery that lay were it fell when the inhabitants fled the island, warned by earthquakes of the impending eruption.

As we explored the results of the volcano’s past, the Young Explorers from Corinthian II traversed its living presence. The Young Explorers hiked to Nea Kameni, the volcano at the center of the caldera, and felt the heat still rising from the ground. The groups, young and adult, reunited for a delectable lunch on Santorini perched high on the cliffs overlooking the caldera. Breathless stories of riding the donkeys up the cliffs, feeling the steam from the volcano, and marveling at the colorful and detailed frescoes from Akrotiri at the museum were shared over an endless array of Greek dishes. Our laughter echoed down the cliffs, and our smiles rivaled the sun for their brilliance. Could this day be any more amazing, we wondered? After exploring the island a bit more that afternoon, we returned to the Corinthian II for dinner, which never failed to delight with exquisite flavors. But the adventure was not over for the day yet! After sailing out of the caldera, the captain found a calm, sapphire blue anchorage, and we went for a pre-dinner dip in the Aegean from the ship’s stern. The sun sparkled on the waters, and the waters responded with twinkling reflections, all flashing over the faces of the splashing, laughing bathers. Over dinner, we talked of how we shared many adventures over the course of the trip and how we transformed from fellow adventurers into friends, as we sailed through these lands of gods and heroes. Each day brought new sites, new tastes, and new reasons to smile and laugh.


Santorini. (Photo by Kris Trego.)

Smithsonian Journeys Group, Italy

Smithsonian Journeys group. (Photo by John Frick.)

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Kris will be leading two upcoming trips this fall and coming spring. Check them out here:

Travel Book: Rome – by Robert Hughes

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Rome - Robert Hughes cover imageWith his book Rome:  A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, art critic Robert Hughes shares a wide-ranging, inclusive, and deeply personal history of Rome— its life as city, heart of an empire, and, as the site of the beginnings of what we now call Western art and civilization.

Hughes begins by taking us to the Rome he first met at the tender age of twenty-one, fresh from Australia in 1959. From there, he journeys back more than two thousand years to the city’s foundation, steeped in mythology and superstition that sewed the seeds of Rome’s development.

Traveling through the centuries, Hughes investigates the modern era, from Mussolini to La Dolce Vita, to today’s age of technology and tourism.

Spend the weekend with Hughes in Rome, or journey there yourself on our tours to Italy.

Book of the Week – The Great Sea

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Our book partner, Longitude books, is on the hunt for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

The Great Sea - cover imageThis week, plan a journey through Mediterranean history with The Great Sea by David Abulafia.

Coming in September, Abulafia uses zest, detail, and anecdote to examine the sweep of Mediterranean history from the time of Troy to the mid 19th century. He argues that the great port cities—Alexandria, Trieste and Salonika and many others—prospered in part because of their ability to allow many different peoples, religions and identities to co-exist within sometimes very confined spaces.

Abulafia brilliantly describes the lives of the individuals who’ve populated the region over the centuries, using the experiences of bankers and bakers, pirates and priests, as well as artists and armorers to make the region come alive for you.

If you’re ready to set sail, click to learn more about all of our journeys to the Mediterranean.

Here at Smithsonian Journeys, we can’t get on a plane without a good book or two.

What do you like to read when you travel?

Family Dining in Florence

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America. He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd. and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares some advice on dining in Florence.

Diners at a Cafe in Florence

Diners at a cafe in Florence

Florence is an Italian jewel box filled with iconic art, glorious architecture, flavorful food, and rich wine. Therefore, finding a suitable family-friendly trattoria that would welcome a two-year-old and seat a table of seven adults seemed a formidable challenge, but we were fortunate that several candidates were located in our new Santa Croce neighborhood and we tried Pizzeria I Ghibellini located just a few blocks from the family apartments.

We had just ordered a family meal of the famous hearty and filling ribollita bread soup and beef lasagna when Amelia, our toddler niece, began to demonstrate how terrible the “terrible twos” could be. Admittedly, the dining hour was late, but this was Italy after all, and while all the adults sipped wine or beer and talked while waiting for our supper, Amelia had nothing to do. Eventually she became quite animated and even agitated, perhaps due to hunger. She started pounding on the table with her fork, and yelling, “Dingle hopper! Dingle hopper!” Amelia had recently seen Disney’s film The Little Mermaid about thirty times in which, you may recall, the fork is called a dingle hopper.

We, of course, thought it was quite amusing and a sign of future brilliance that she knew the Little Mermaid word for fork, so we smiled, kept sipping, and talked over her yelps. But as the clamor continued the amusement wore off, especially for the waitress. She came over to our table, crossed her arms over her generous form, and peered down at little Amelia, with a silent stare that needed no translation. Our bambina slowly dropped her fork on the table and slinked underneath it to be in the protection of her father’s legs. When our food arrived, we all wolfed our dinners, retrieved our dear little mermaid, and then retreated to the safety of the nearest gelateria.

On our different treks to Florence, I always tried to plan our dinner meals to be a short walk from our hotel, in deference to the advanced ages of our parents. Buca dell’Orafo, near the Ponte Vecchio, is one of those restaurants and one of the many cellars or buca-type eateries beloved by Florentines. An orafo is a goldsmith and the buca, “hole in the wall,” was once part of an old goldsmith’s shop. One interesting aspect of this dining experience is their custom of placing full, large carafes of wine on the table and charging customers according to how much wine has been consumed from the carafe. Saluté!

We dined family style on thin, silky, bicolored fettuccine with porcini mushrooms followed by bistecca alla fiorentina, the traditional grilled steak preparation of Florence. We passed the wine carafe, poured, relaxed, and had a wonderful meal in this unusual and delightful buca.

There are high water levels on the walls of this below-ground restaurant, marking the great flood of 1966. During this epic storm caused by days of heavy rain, Florence was engulfed in a colossal natural disaster as the Arno River rose above its banks and went cascading through the city streets. Today, you can see the high water marks along the restaurant walls at your standing head height. Many tourists seek out the Buca for its warm atmosphere and traditional recipes but they should check the weather forecast for rain before they go.

On the Oltrarno side of the Arno, we had dinner at the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, or White Boar. The restaurant nestles on the ground floor of a 13th-century tower and judging from the buzz inside, does a good repeat business of locals and tourists alike. We were ushered into the first of its two cozy rooms by one of the owners. The dining room has exposed stone, wood tables, odd and old iron implements hanging everywhere, and lights that evoke a medieval mystery. Our two young waiters, Massimo and Marco, were friendly, English-speaking, and very professional. They were both quite enchanted with my mother-in-law and her Italian cheekbones and they spent the night charming us with their flamboyant style.

Cinghiale Biancois a comfortable restaurant with genuine Tuscan food. We savored our meal which started with taglierini with pesto, and was followed with a family style platter of tender and savory grilled meats. My father-in-law seemed to have the best dish of the night, the Tagliata con Rucola e Parmigiano, which was a perfectly cooked New York cut beef steak served with arugula dressed in olive oil and shaved parmesan. He protested in his usual manner that it was too much to eat, but the waiters egged him on and he finished it in grand style, washed down with a beer.

Where do you like to dine with family? Please share.

Ready to dine Florentine-style? Click here for our journeys to Florence.