Saturday, March 27, 2010

Castello di Gorizia, Italy

The Castle of Gorizia was first mentioned in a document dated April 28, 1001, in which the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III donated the castle and the village of Gorizia to the Patriarch of Aquileia John II and to Count Verihen Eppenstein of Friuli. The castle passed to Austrian Habsburg rule in the year 1500. The Habsburgs, under Emperor Maximilian I, reinforced the castle's defenses but were not able to fend off the Venetians, under the rule of Bartolomeo d' Alviano. The Republic of Venice occupied the castle briefly in 1508 and 1509. The Venetian coat of arms still hangs proudly over the entrance to the castle. The castle once again returned to the Habsburg rule in 1509 and would change hands many times between the French, Austrians, Italians, and even the Germans.

During World War I, the Castle of Gorizia suffered its first major damages in over nine centuries when it was bombed. At the end of WWI the castle was nothing more than a ruin. It was rebuilt in 1934-37 after its own 16th century design. In 1943 the castle was occupied by German troops and its north east garden was used for executions.

A visit to the castle affords stunning views over the town of Gorizia with the Alps as a backdrop. The Cappella di San Spirito, dating to 1398 stands in the foreground of the castle.

Postojna Cave, Slovenia

Postojna Cave is located in western Slovenia and is a 20km (12 mile) labyrinth of passages filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and rock formations. Postojna Cave is part of the Karst cave system, meaning a landscape shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite, and is the longest cave system in Slovenia. Postojna Cave is also home to the Proteus Anguinus, a unique creature with no eyes, which can grow up to 30cm (1ft) in length and feeds on snails and worms.

The cave was first discovered in the 17th century and opened to the public in 1819. The cave has a long history and was used for many purposes. It was used as storage room, a hideout, a bunker, and the Germans used it as an fuel depot during World War II. When the fuel was destroyed by partisans, the explosion and the fire, which burned for seven days, also destroyed a huge passage of the cave. The partisans were guided by a former cave guide and entered through Crna jama, and used the artificial tunnel dug by the Italians to enter Postojna from behind. The Italians took all cave maps with them when they left, so the Germans did not know about this rear entrance and did not guard it.

Since its opening, the cave has been visited by more than 31 million visitors from all over the world. In 1872 railway lines were laid in the cave with the first railway cars being pushed by the cave guides. Next, a gas locomotive took tourists into the cave. Electricity arrived in 1884 and today visitors board the electric lightning cave train, zipping 5km deep into the cave in under just 5 minutes.

From there, visitors join a tour available in Italian, English, or Slovenes and walk amongst the calcite formations for another 1.5km. Some of the tour hot spots are the Russian Bridge, where the formation known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa can be spotted, the pool to spot the Proteus Anguinus, and the formation known as the Brilliant. The Brilliant is a pure white calcite formation known to be 300 million years old.

Exiting the cave, you see a raging river flowing into the cave over some small waterfalls and exit through the historic entrance gate. There is also a cave restaurant, cave concert hall, which can hold more than 10,000 people, and a cave post office.

Predjamski Grad

Predjamski Grad, or the Predjama Castle, is perched in a cavern 123 meters up a steep overhanging cliff. Aside from the stunning cave-castle, archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric settlement in the caves of the area which dates back 150,000 years before Christ. The castle dates back to 1202. The castle has a drawbridge over a raging river, holes in the ceiling for pouring boiling oil over intruders, a dungeon, several natural water wells, and a eerie hiding place at the top called Erazem's Nook, a secret shaft and tunnel system that leads all the way to Postojna Cave.

Erazem, the castle's most famous inhabitant, lived in the unfinished castle in the second half of the 15th century. During the wars between the Austrian Emperor Frederick III and the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, Erazem support King Matthias Corvinus, angering Frederick III. The Austrian Emperor ordered Erazem killed. Erazem was able to fend off the Austrian army, under Gašpar Ravbar, the governor of Trieste, for one year and one day. Erazem supplied food and continued in his robberies of the Austrian caravans during the siege by using his secret passageway leading to Postojna Cave. Erazem was hit by a cannon ball as he sat on the toilet. It seems a turncoat servant had betrayed him, by marking the location of the water closet with a little flag, for Ravbar and his men.

The original castle was destroyed during an earthquake in the 16th century. The castle we see today was rebuilt Renaissance style in 1570 and has remained virtually unchanged to this day. In 1991, while working in the cellars, restoration workers discovered buried treasure from the 16th century, which is now housed in the National Museum in the Slovenia capital of Ljubljana.

The cave below Predjama Castle is a 6km network of galleries spread over four levels. October until May, the cave is closed to visitors because it is an active cave and the bats need darkness and silence. During the open season, May until September, visitors can see the cave in small groups led by a guide with the use of special gear that can be rented there.

There is also Gostilna Požar, a simple restaurant conveniently located and in full heart-stopping view of the castle.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Conegliano is a town in the Veneto region of Italy and home to the oldest and most prestigious wine school in Italy. The region is well know for its wines, such as Prosecco, Cartizze, and Raboso and other wines which go well together with the regional specialties: rabbit, grilled meat, chicory, polenta, and some cheeses produced in the nearby hills.

High on the hill above Conegliano sits the Villa Gera, commissioned in 1830 by Bartolomeo Gera, and above that, the Castle of Congegliano.You can see the remaining castle towers - the Torre della Campana (Bell Tower), which houses the Museo Civico, and the Torre Mozza. The Museo Civico del Castello contains sculptures, coins, a lapidary, weapons of the sixteenth century, and pre-Roman and Roman finds. It also houses a collection of paintings from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century with works by Palma the younger, Cima da Congeliano, the Pordenone, and Parmigianino. Also on the Hill of Giano, sits the Old Cathedral of San Leonardo.

Back down in the historic city center, the Cathedral has a nine-arch facade embellished with scenes from the Old Testament frescoed by Ludovico Pozzoserrato, dating back to 1593. The Cathedral is connected to the School of the Battuti. The Hall of Battuti, a meeting place for the Brotherhood of the Battuti in the 14th century, is about 41 meters by 7 meters and its walls are adorned with frescoes by Francesco da Milano. The five tapestries, depicting the Stories of Davide and Bestabea, are made of a Flemish material (panni) and date back to 1560. 

Il Teatro Accademia is located in the Piazza Cima. It was built in 1868 when Conegliano was under Austrian rule. Operas, concerts, children's theater, and comedic productions are all held in the Accademia today and a tour can be taken to admire the artwork inside the theater. 

The Church of San Rocco, with a facade of Neoclassic style, stands on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele and dates from the 17th century.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Carnevale Notturno Prata di Pordenone

Carnevale Notturno (Carnival at Night) in Prata di Pordenone took place on March 13th this year. Prata closes the streets to traffic and food, candy, and wine stalls line the streets as everyone settles in to the perfect spot to watch the parade. More than 20 theme decorated floats, each with music, traveled along Via Cesare Battisti to the main piazza, where the party continued throughout the night.

Wine Pairing Class

Tim and I attended a wine pairing class hosted by Adriano Teston, owner of Ca Madresca winery at Da Beppo Ristorante. During the class, we learned how the senses of sight, smell, and taste all combine to truly appreciate a glass of wine.

Adriano had each of sniff a numbered bottle and guess what we thought each of the various scents were. They were grouped together as to what scents and flavors would be part of the same "family." It was very difficult! A whiff of the scent would keep your mind turning as the smell was familiar, yet we all just couldn't put our finger on what a lot of the scents were.

Next we learned about the appropriate types of wine glasses to serve the various wines in as the size of the glass allows the right amount of oxygen to mix with the wine, presenting you with the perfect smell and taste. We also learned a little about the types of grapes and process to produce each kind of wine we were about to sample and how age can change the taste.

Finally it was time to eat and drink! We paired a Biano Nibbio (Chardonnay) and a Elfo Biano Chardonnay '07 with our first course of marinated angus beef with a pear and montastic cheese strudel.  Next were the red wines, a Brioso delle Venezia '08, a Ninfa Cabernet, and a Reys Cabernet Sauvigno '06 which we paired with our second course of grilled Irish beef with rocket salad, Parmigiano cheese, and Modena balsamic vinegar glaze. The sweet dessert wine, Moscato Rosa (a favorite of mine from Adriano's winery!) was delightfully paired with a caramel and almond mousse.

It was truly amazing how pairing a certain wine with food could dramatically change the taste of the wine. Wines we did not really like on their own transformed when paired with the right food!