MILAN EXPO 2015

World's Fair Milan 2015

Milan Expo 2015

The Milan Expo is set to open on 1st May 2015.

But what exactly is the World Expo?

Known also as the World Exposition, World Fair or Universal Exposition, it is a tradition that dates back to 1844 when Paris held a national fair, the French Industrial Exposition. This then grew into first a European and then international trend.

The International Exhibitions Bureau was established as the official Expo sanctioning body as of 1928.

The first World Expo was held in London, England, in 1851 with the name “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. This Expo had a great impact on international trade and tourism, a good start for the world’s fair tradition indeed.

The first twenty or so World Expos kept the concept of industrialisation as their theme, until the New York World’s Fair of 1939 changed its focus to culture and cultural exchange.

The Expo ’88 held in Brisbane, Australia, saw a shift in focus of the Expo to national identity, seeing Expo becoming more a means to promote national identity through each country’s pavilion.

Today, the World Expo is still considered as a great platform for national promotion, however of late focus has also shifted back to innovation and culture.

For the 2015 Milan Expo, the theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Its focus is on how tradition and technology mix with culture and creativity in the production of food for the world.

Subthemes of the Milan Expo 2015 include: Science for Food Safety, Security and Quality; Innovation in the Agro Food Supply Chain; Technology for Agriculture and Biodiversity; Dietary Education; Solidarity and Cooperation on Food; Food for Better Lifestyles; and, Food in the World’s Cultures and Ethnic Groups.

The 2015 Expo will be the second World’s Fair held in Milan, Italy. The first was in 1906 with the Milan International, also known as The Great Expo of Work (L’Esposizione Internazionale del Sempione) that attracted over 4 million visitors.

To visit the Milan Expo 2015, we have the Milan Expo in a Day, including private transfer from Milan’s central train station plus an Expo orientation, plus free time to explore the pavilions of the 144 countries participating, representing approximately 94% of the global population.

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Easter Foods in Italy

Photo kindly borrowed from ricette.giallozafferano.it

Traditional Italian Easter treat – La Colomba (Photo kindly borrowed from ricette.giallozafferano.it)

Each holiday in Italy is marked by special foods enjoyed as part of the celebrations.

Easter in Italy is no different.

In the lead-up to Easter, the locals head to their local grocer, baker, butcher and the enotecca – wine shop – to find the best ingredients to go into their recipes… and their bellies.

At the grocer and the butcher store alike, there will be discussions about what dishes are being prepared before the grocer and butcher will caring select the best quality ingredients.

Asking for a kilo of, say, tomatoes in Italy will usually be met with a question about what dish you are preparing so that the perfect kind – or even the best blend – can be selected.

The traditional Easter recipe served on Easter Sunday is lamb. The butcher will similarly enquire about the dish to be made and the number of persons being catered for so as to cut the lamb in accordance with the traditional Italian recipe, often even throwing in a selection of fresh herbs.

Dessert is often a ‘Colomba’ – a sweet bread with candied fruits that is a typical sweet at Easter.

Aside from the wine consumed with lunch, Italians will usually cap off a big meal with an espresso coffee and possibly a liqueur like grappa or Limoncello, which are claimed to be ‘digestive’.

Our Italian Easter Menu

This year, our Easter menu in Tuscany will include a typical platter of delicious Tuscan cured meats including salami and prosciutto ham plus some scrumptious cheeses and plush olives grown and prepared by our neighbour.

Starters in Italy are typically pastas, risottos or soup dishes. Our Easter lunch will this year feature ricotta and spinach ravioli that we have made by hand.

The main will be a (hopefully) delicious lamb dish. We have a shoulder of lamb, to which we will add about 6-8 cloves of garlic, some fresh rosemary cut from the pots on the balcony plus some bay leaves pinched from the neighbour’s hedge (with permission), and about 600 grams of ripe tomatoes. A dash of red Chianti wine for the cook and for the pan, and we’ll be set!

First the lamb will be rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. The meat will be placed in a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil on the base. Using a knife to make holes in the lamb, the garlic will be inserted into the slots together with some sprigs of rosemary. We then add the chopped tomatoes to the pan plus a splash of wine, before placing the pan into a pre-heated 180°C oven. The liquids should form a nice sauce as the meat cooks. It can take several hours just depending on the size of the cut of meat. One done, we’ll remove the garlic and rosemary before serving, with the remaining tomato in the pan spooned atop.

As it is traditional to serve lamb with a side of potatoes, we’ll also have roast spuds on the side sprinkled with a mix of salt and finely chopped sage and rosemary traditional of Tuscany.

For more traditional Tuscan recipes, join our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

We also have a great range of Tuscany tours, including our great small-group Best of Tuscany tour.

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Easter in Italy

Easter in Rome, Italy

Easter in Italy

Easter in Italy is traditionally celebrated like most major holidays – with historic traditions, masses, and with delicious traditional foods.

If you’re visiting Italy over the Easter period, you may be interested in some of the great number of Easter events taking place around Italy to celebrate this special holiday in Italy including…

Easter Thursday in Italy:

At St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, holy oils are blessed throughout a mass held by the Pope both in the morning and again in the evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During this service, the Pope washes the feet of twelve priests there to represent the acts of Christ at the last supper. Typically additional hosts will also be blessed for use during the Holy Friday mass at the Vatican.

Holy Friday in Italy:

Many parishes will put on a procession representing the Stations of the Cross – Via Crucis – around Holy Thursday and Holy Friday in Italy. These can be quite elaborate with costumes, horses and singing, particularly in the smaller towns and villages.

There is the ancient tradition that no mass be held on this day of mourning of Christ’s death. However one exception is a service that takes place at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Rome. After the mass, the Pope leads a Via Crucis procession around the Coliseum, also in honour of the martyrs who were said to have been killed there in during medieval times, likely referring to the Christians who were thrown to the lions for their faith. This procession has taken place since the 1700s.

Easter Saturday in Italy:

Known as on Black Saturday, many towns will illuminate the streets with torches or candles in red jars. Mass is typically held late in the evening, with new converts being officially received into the congregation throughout this service. Then at midnight, the church bells toll.

Scoppio del Carro in Florencefirenze

Easter Sunday in Italy:

Easter Sunday mass in Italy is celebratory in honour of Christ’s arising. There is much singing and merriment amongst the congregation.

Rome and of course Vatican City are packed with pilgrims at this time of year.

Easter in Florence rather is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart), featuring a fantastic pyrotechnic display. A (nowadays mechanical) dove is released from the Florence Cathedral, Il Duomo, which is said to predict the quality of the upcoming crops, trade and the general well-being of the locals.

In the towns and cities of Italy, the air is filled with the sounds of merry church bells ringing. Many Italians will head to mass in the morning.

Although there is the charming saying in Italian, “Natale con i tuoi, pasqua con chi vuoi” (which translates to “Christmas with your family, Easter with who you choose”), most families will still gather for Easter Sunday lunch in Italy.

After lunch, Italians traditionally take a ‘passeggiata’ – a stroll around the town where they will stop to chat with their friends and neighbours, and work off a bit of the Easter feast!

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Heracles and Nessus restored in Florence, Italy

 

 

The statue of Ercole e Nesso in Florence's Uffizi Gallery

The statue of Ercole e Nesso in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery

In the late 1500s, Italian artist Giovanni Caccini completed his recreation of the Ercole e Nesso (Heracles and Nessus) statue. The artwork depicts the strong man of Greek mythology overpowering the centaur, not long before Heracles himself died from Nessus’ tainted blood.

Caccini’s statue was recreated from a possibly Roman certainly antique original, of which there remained just the feet. Although Caccini managed to recreate the statue from such a small starting point, scholars believe his recreation to be remarkably accurate.
This great work of art has recently been restored by the Friends of Uffizi Gallery group and can be seen in its home of the  Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it welcomes visitors into one of Florence’s top museums.

The story behind the statue of Heracles and Nessus sees Heracles’ wife Deianeira being aided by Nessus to cross a river. Once on the banks, Nessus makes a move on Heracles’ lady. Heracles, seeing this pass from the opposite bank, fatally wounds Nessus with a poison arrow. His dying words are to Deianeira, telling him that his blood would make Heracles forever hers.

Not seeing the act of malice for what it was, she coats Nesso’s blood on Heracles’ robe which, once he adorned it, burned the Greek mythology hero to death. At this point, Heracles was taken to Mount Olympus where Zeus made him a god in thanks for his heroics.

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Michelangelo’s David in Florence, Italy

Michelangelo’s David is considered by many as the greatest artwork ever made.

Its creator, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), was pretty great too. Not only was he a sculptor, but also a painter (think, Sistine Chapel), architect (dome of St Peter’s Basilica), and even penned a few poems in his time.

Nearly a century prior to the creation of the David by Michelangelo, the Overseers of Florence’s Cathedral decided to commission a dozen sculptures representing Old Testament figures. The first was Joshua, made in terracotta by Donatelo in 1410.

After liking the results of Agostino di Duccio’s Hercules of 1463, the Overseers requested the artist make another statue, this time of David, to be carved in marble that was transported in from the famous Tuscan Carrara area.

Agostino made a start on the figure, however for some reason this project was abandoned, before being taken up again by Rossellino a decade later. However, even he did not complete the David statue and some 25 years passed before the Florentine powers that be decided to complete the statue so as not to waste the valuable marble.

In 1501, Michelangelo – at just 26 years of age – was commissioned to complete the statue of David. It took two years for him to complete the impressive figure of David. Towards its completion, it was decided to abandon the initial idea of placing the statue atop the Cathedral of Florence – not least because it weighed some 6 tons.

It was eventually decided to place Michelangelo’s David in front of Florence’s Town Hall building, Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza della Signora.

There it stood, exposed to the elements, from 1504 until 1873. At this time, the local government decided to move it to a specially-constructed room in the Accademia Gallery, Florence, where it stands to this day.

A replica was eventually placed in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1910.

Being quite a small exhibition space, the Accademia museum in Florence can be (and usually is) fairly crowded and entry queues quite long. Tickets cost approximately 11 euro each. Advance bookings (with an additional 4 euro) are highly recommended, either directly through the Firenze Musei or by booking our David – Accademia Tour.

What else is there to see in the Accademia besides the David? The Accademia also holds several other incomplete statues by Michelangelo, a cast of the Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giambologna, a small collection of Renaissance and Florentine Gothic paintings and a unique collection of Russian religious icons.

So how much time do you need to spend in the Accademia? Except the time you want to spend hanging out with ol’ Dave, you don’t really need much more than a half-hour or so.

Don’t forget to make use of the restrooms within the Accademia, as bathrooms can be hard to find in the Renaissance city.

We’re happy to share with you some photos of David that we took on a winter’s day when the museum was delightfully uncrowded.

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Fun times in Venice, Italy: Carnevale di Venezia

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Carnevale di Venezia is one of Venice, Italy’s most spectacular events.

Now held annually, the tradition of the Carnival of Venice dates back to 1162, when the Venice locals held massive celebrations after a victory in battle. In the Renaissance times, the anniversary of this military success grew into the Carnevale di Venezia.

Today, Carnevale in Venice concludes on the first day of the Christian Lent, acting as a big hoorah before six weeks of prayer and penance.

As if Venice itself doesn’t hold enough beauty and mystique, the Venice Carnival sees the locals don elaborate and ornate masks and fancy costumes to match, mostly harking back to the rich styles of the Renaissance.

During good times, this adornment of masks and costumes allowed locals to let themselves go, celebrating with anonymity that meant you were free to act without problems of social repercussions. During periods of hardship however, the festivities allowed the locals to forget their woes and be happy, if just for a short period.

From the start of the 1700s, the Carnival in Venice also helped put the city on the world map, bringing great fame and esteem to Venice.

However, in 1797, the ruling King of Austria banned Carnevale and the wearing of masks altogether. Despite several attempts to bring back the famous festival in Venice, it was only officially reinstated in 1979 as a governmental attempt to bring back cultural and historical traditions in Venice, Italy.

Today, around 3 million people flock to Venice during Carnevale.

One of our wonderful Venice tour guides took these photos around Venice during the Carnevale di Venezia to share with you!

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Tuscany, Italy: Snow White

Abetone in Tuscany, Italy Abetone in Tuscany, Italy Abetone in Tuscany, Italy Abetone in Tuscany, Italy

Taking a drive in the Pistoia province in Tuscany, on the way to the small town of Abetone.

Less than 700 people call Abetone home, although they have a lot more company during the winter when many skiers flock to the area to take advantage of the snowy slopes.

The history of Abetone dates back to the 1730s when a large fir tree (an ‘abetone’) was cut down to allow for the building of a customs point for between Tuscany and Modena.

Today, it’s a lovely place to go for a white weekend away for those who like to ski, or just relax by the fireplace.

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Artisans: tips for traditional items in Italy

Best shopping in Italy

Artisans in Italy turning their trade since Medieval times.

Travelling to Italy and planning to do some shopping? Looking for something special and traditional? You may want to turn your eye to the Italian artisans, or “artigiani”.

The tradition of handmade in Italy stretches back a long way throughout history, and thankfully holds strong to this day. Throughout time, artisans have been admired as highly-skilled workers, whilst Master artisans rather were those who owned their own business and held a higher status in society.

If you are looking to buy handmade items in Italy, many artisan wares are sold direct from the workshops or in specialty stores, often family-run through the generations. The skills for producing these specialty items were usually passed down by fathers and grandfathers, as is still often the case to this day.

So strong was the tradition of handcrafted goods that in Medieval times, the workers formed specialty guilds which remained until well into the 1700s.

Each region and even each town has their own range of specialty items to buy in Italy.

One highly prestigious artisan item from Venice Italy is glass from the Island of Murano. Indeed, the master glassblowers were even forbidden from leaving  Murano to stop their trade secrets from spreading. Venice’s Burano Island is well-known for its hand-woven lace. Venice is of course also famous for its handmade Carnivale masks, some of which are decorated with another signature artisan item from Venice – marbled paper.

From Sorrento come beautiful ceramics, often decorated with designs featuring the local lemons that go into making the Limoncello sweet liquor that is also famous from this Italian coastal village. Another artisan craft from Sorrento is the stunning inlaid wood items.

Florence‘s artisans produce gold and silver jewellery, wools and fabrics and leather items – all of which have rendered Florence a famous fashion hub!

In the Tuscany surrounds, you can find artisan ceramic and terracotta items with traditional shapes and designs. Then of course there is the fantastic foodie finds around Tuscany including cured meats, cheeses and wines.

In Naples, head to Via San Gregorio Armeno where you will find store after stores selling figurines for nativity scenes. The same skills have also been applied to renderings of non-Christmas statuettes of well-known figures in history and popular culture.

In Florence from 24th April-3rd May, 2015 Florence is hosting the 79th edition of the Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato – The International Handicrafts Trade Fair.

 

Watch our complete Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series! Be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.

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6th January: Epiphany in Italy

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If you thought January diets were hard to stick to, spare a thought for the Italians.

6th January marks the date of the Epiphany, a much-celebrated feast day in Italy.

Yep, that means Italians are all geared up for yet another great festive meal together.

Families gather for the Epiphany to celebrate the date on which it is said Jesus was discovered to be the son of God.

Throughout the night, children can expect a visit from La Befana.

La Befana

She may not be much to look at, but she is much loved in Italy. Flying from house to house on a broom, she  leaves a small gift for well-behaved children and a lump of coal for the naughty ones.

Where Santa Clause may be left  milk and biscuits/cookies, La Befana is left a left a glass of wine. And as a thank you, she even sweeps the floor for you on the way out.

On the 6th January around Italy, expect much fanfare to celebrate this special feast day.

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In Florence, there is the “Cavalcata dei Magi”, the procession of the Three Wise Men that crosses through the city.

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In Rome, there is also a historical parade from St Peter’s Square featuring the Three Wise Men. Events for families will also be held in Piazza Navona throughout the day. Other events are being held around the city, including a lights show in Piazza del Popolo and family activities at the Rome Zoo.

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6th January officially marks the end of the festive season.

But to stave off any end-of-holiday blues, there is some good news. The big after-Christmas sales start on the 7th January!

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Delicious Italian Christmas Recipes

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Planning a great (and easy) Christmas meal?

Italians have a great traditional festive menu that allows for much advance preparation so everyone can enjoy the most family time together during the Christmas lunch and dinner meals.

A traditional Italian Christmas feast will begin with some simple starters like crostini, a simple platter of  ham and cheeses or perhaps even Pinzimonio to whet the appetite.

The first course will likely be a pasta dish that can be prepared ahead of time then reheated on the day. Commonly served is Tortellini in Brodo (Tortellini pasta in Broth) and a baked dish such as Lasagna. Don’t be surprised if there are even two first course dishes served!

Then comes the main. This again will usually be something that can be prepared ahead of time, such as roast meat served with baked potatoes and vegetables.

On the menu at Christmas in Tuscany, it is common to have Bollito Misto – mixed meats that are boiled then served with a range of homemade sauces. A vegetable side will also be prepared, possibly the delicious Tuscan  pea recipe.

Dessert will likely be Panettone, Panforte or Pandoro. It is also common for mandarins or other fresh fruit to be placed on the table for guests to enjoy as a palate cleanser either before or after dessert.

To conclude the meal, a liqueur such as limoncello or grappa will be placed on the table to enjoy with an espresso coffee.

And after this delicious Christmas lunch menu?

It’s traditional to go for a lovely walk though the local town or village to visit the Presepi (nativity scenes) around town. Many locals will be about doing the same thing so it also offers a great opportunity to wish Buon Natale to the fellow locals!

***

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