Ancient Marvels in Sicily

January, 2018
Sicily

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Golden temples of old, scattered across the landscape of Sicily, were the focus of our week in western Sicily.
Castellamare del Golfo, recommended by our friend Laura of See Italy Travel, was a perfect headquarters for this winter stay. Our priority was views – and oh did we get them from our hillside Airbnb, La Casa del Normanno!Those golden temples we’re seeking out pop up inland – such as at Segesta, the closest to us at Castellamare, and in abundance at Agrigento – the valley of the temples (that’s Concordia at the top of this post), and majestically overlooking the sea at Selinunte.We spent the most time at Agrigento, in the fascinating Valley of the Temples, settled by Greeks around 580 B.C. With the best-preserved Doric temples outside Greece, it’s justifiably popular – but such a huge area (a 1300 hectare park!) that you don’t feel surrounded by crowds at all. Beginning in the Eastern Zone, we walked up to the Temple of Concordia which has survived almost entirely intact since its construction in 430 BC. Stopping for a light lunch, we reveled in the winter warmth, sitting beside fields of blooming flowers as we ate outside the little café. The area has been affected by earthquakes through the millenia, and the other temples, such as Hera and Hercules, have only sections standing – surrounded by tumbled pillars and capitals. Walking amidst this fascinating jumble emphasizes how massive the pillars and structures were! A pedestrian bridge brings us to the Western Zone where the main feature is the crumbled ruin of the Temple of Zeus. This would have been the largest Doric temple EVER built, but construction was interrupted when the Carthiginians attacked the city…then later what had been built was destroyed by an earthquake.
Although the original is in the Archeological Museum, the 8 meter tall telamon (a figure of a man with arms raised) which would have supported the temple, is still an awesome sight. Kirk stands by it to show the massive size.
As we drove off to another Sicilian beauty, we circled around to see the temple above us, a field of winter yellow blooming below.
About 20 minutes west of Agrigento the white cliffs of the Scala dei Turchi plunge to the sea, worth a walk along the beach to take a look! On the western shore of Sicily the ruins of Selinunte spread out over a vast area – so large we took advantage of the golf-cart shuttle to get to the seaside temple after wandering around a 5th century BC marvel. Standing between the massive pillars, we looked to the sea beyond, once again appreciating the winter warmth and the peaceful ambiance of this archeological park.
Then on to the sea, where once again we can walk amongst the ruins, marveling at the size and the workmanship still visible after millennia. Waiting for our shuttle back to the entrance, we’re in no hurry – it’ll be a long time before we can enjoy blooming daffodils back home in Virginia! We can’t recommend a winter jaunt to Sicily enough – where better to escape a cold bleak winter than surrounded by sunshine, blooms, and uncrowded majestic ancient marvels?!

 

Jazzy Days in Orvieto

December 2017
Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

 Umbria Jazz Winter is now in its 25th year, filling the hilltop town of Orvieto with jazz all hours of the day and night. This marvelous town, halfway between Rome and Florence, is a joy any time of year, but especially delightful during this winter festival – jazz drifts through the doorways of bars and cafes, bundled up fans and families linger in the piazzas, sample a chewy nut from the chestnut vendor while sipping mulled wine, stroll the lanes during the evening passeggiata, pausing to greet friends, showing off holiday gifts of new cozy coats, follow the Tuscan troubadors Funk Off as they march through the streets twice a day – it’s all so much fun! It’s been 15 years since the first time we came, and my most vivid memory of that first year, 2002, is the New Orleans Jazz band strutting through the streets. The current marching jazzmen have been leading the parade for 14 years now – at noon and at 6.
The town goes to sleep for the winter, from what we’ve been told, after Umbria Jazz Winter, but it’s lively as ever right now – the florist under the arcades doing a brisk business, shop windows and entries showing off their best New Year’s Eve attire  the most beautiful boutique in town is esconced in a gorgeous old palazzo. Ready for a bite to eat, we grab a stump-table at Cantina Foresi, beside the majestic Duomo, and order the soup of the day and a platter of Umbrian tastes – superb as always! 
Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini is the perfect historic-center location to really feel a part of Umbria Jazz Winter  – each year some of the musicians stay there, making our breakfast and aperitif conversations quite memorable for both us and our tour guests. This year a legendary bass player, Henry Grimes from New York, and his wife, were a pleasure to talk to – and passed on a CD recorded with Henry’s trio in the renowned Village Vanguard where some tour clients took us last year!
On our way to check out the sunset from our hilltop perch, we pass through quiet lanes, and there it is – a beauty! The pink hue spreads from west to east, where the cliff edge reminds us how high we are.
Another strut through town with Funk Off, another delicious Umbrian meal, just one more stroll through beautiful Orvieto, and we say goodbye til next years’ Umbria Jazz Winter.

Ho-Ho-Holidays in New York City

December, 2017
New York City

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

It’s Christmas time in the city! Just can’t resist a few more holiday lights – so up we come from DC to NYC for a weekend! We’ve lately become fans of The Milburn, in the upper west side, and are happy to hear that we can check in early before stopping at one of the many excellent restaurants nearby for lunch (we chose tiny little Piccolo, on Amsterdam Avenue – and had a yummy authentic Italian meal). Then we’re off to see the Christmas sights, walking across Central Park and down 5th Avenue where the crowds really begin. Cartier exudes chic holiday elegance with its signature red bow, Tiffany glitters outside as well as in, and Bergdorf Goodman highlights New York city icons with their sleek decor – love this silver tree with musical instruments!The crowds are intense at the Rockefeller Center – this is as close as we’ll get to the tree! But we’re content to stand by the angels, eyes on Saks across the street,where the show is about to begin! Just after 4:30 in the evening the façade explodes with color and lights as music pours out over the crowds – a very Disney feel, appropriate as Saks’ windows celebrate 80 years of Snow White magic! Hear the snippets of “Whistle While You Work” or “Someday My Prince Will Come”?
One beautifully crafted window after another recounts the tale – that wicked stepmother and the poisoned apple, the 7 dwarfs’ hospitality, the prince’s kiss, and of course, the happily-ever-after! Designers share their holiday frocks, inspired by the tale, such as this colorful gown by Naaem Khan. We’re not shopping, but we peek inside too – feels like a wonderland!
And now time for some refreshment – a taste of Paris at Maison Kayser! Before we head back uptown we say hi to the garlanded lions at the New York Public Library. It’s just perfect walking weather – always a pleasure in the city!
Today we’ll focus on more intimate decorations, pausing at the Sunday market on Columbus before crossing Central Park. Walking up one block and down another of the Upper East Side, we ooh and aah at the holiday decor – from little accents by a stairpost, to a welcoming nutcracker by an English basement door. We often see a spread of greens and pine cones, accented with snow remaining from a couple of days ago, on the garden beds – an idea we’d like to try in our front yard next year.
We’ve saved a classic beauty for last – the angel tree in the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Superb 18th century creche figures from Naples adorn the towering spruce, placed in front of a delicate and impressive Spanish choir screen also from the 1700s. Charming as the village scenes and the worshipful nativity are, it’s  the bevy of angels, with their luxurious flowing silk robes and graceful poses, that are the show-stopper. Even if you see nothing else in the Met at Christmas, visit the tree!
We continue the Italian theme with a late lunch at Machiavelli in the upper west side – the decor nearly as sumptuous as that tree!  And the fritto misto was as good as any I’ve had in Italy, from where our next update will arrive!
May your holidays be merry and bright – and filled with light and beauty!