Thursday, July 21, 2016

Farewell Cremona…Hello Florence!

The Cremona area felt a bit like home for many East River South Dakotan's as corn and bean fields and flat to gently rolling farmland is normal the area. This morning we packed up our luggage and headed to three more farm tours prior to entering the hills of Tuscany and the city of Florence.

Before getting into the details of our day, I will share a few ins and outs of coffee in Italian culture. A coffee or caffe as the Italians call it is actually an espresso shot by American standards. We have been drinking caffe's (espresso shots) at the end of every formal meal we have eaten as a group. Italians do not drink all the "foo foo" drinks that one can purchase in Starbucks for Caribou Coffee in the USA. Actually they are no where to be found in Italy as the companies likely realized the business would not succeed in a country with such a strong coffee culture. If you are a American coffee drinker, I highly suggest doing a bit of studying on the Italian coffee etiquette prior to traveling to the country.

The very common Italian coffee, otherwise known as a shot of espresso by Amerincans.
Now on to the first visit of the day, a tour of a typical historical farm house and the COFA AI Stud farm. 
The OSAC farm originated in the 1500's and was purchased by the current family in the early 1900's. As is typical it is a courtyard surrounded on all four sides. During WWII the farmers had a bit of advantage as they could close the gates during the night and this would often keep the German soldiers away. 
This historical farm was an antique lover's paradise. Here we learned about how the wooden spacer was placed between the sheets of the bed and a pot of hot coals set in the middle to warm the bed prior to electricity.
We also learned about making Nochino, a hazelnut liquer. Supar, hazelnuts and water
are placed in the  glass jug and set outside to ferment for 40 days. Then brought inside
and placed in a dark room for another 30 days before it is really to drink.
The soils we have seen in the first five days of the trip have been mainly clay.
This makes irrigation very important for the region.
 Next we stopped at the Az Ag. Boccarone, a 30,000 head beef finishing operation and biogas facility.

This 1729 acre operation raises all its own feed, produces biogas, raises some hogs and
also has solar panels. The cattle are required by law to have 2.5 square meters of space per head.
The pens are much smaller than those in comparable cattle facilities in the USA.

We then ate lunch and toured the Monte Baducco donkey farm. Yes, there really is a donkey farm with 1000 head of donkeys raised for both milk  and milk.
Another beautiful Italian Farmhouse.

The donkeys are raised for meat, powdered and regular milk for consumption and also milk for cosmetic purposes.
There are body lotions, hand and foot creams and facial cream all contain donkey milk.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Venice…a land of islands, cathedrals, waterways and much history. The city structures date back a few thousand years in many cases. The water has caused some structures to shift and need additional support via wooden poles below the water's surface. Venice has 120 islands and 170 churches. In addition to the many foot bridges, boats and gondolas are common modes of transit between islands.

I had always wondered if seeing this city would be as amazing in person as I thought it was in photos. Now, I, along with the rest of the group would agree today was well spent exploring Venice. We started out touring parts of the city with a Venetian tour guide and then all went our own directions for a few hours.

Below are just a few of the sites from today.

The view of St. Mark's Square and the clock tower as we came in on the Water Taxi to Venice.
St. Mark's Cathedral
Riikka gave us final instructions as we started our day in Venice. One important reminder was to make sure we kept our belongings close as pick pocketers tend to be active in the large tourist crowds.
On our tour it seemed every time we turned a corner a different
church appeared. Everyone of them was unique in its own way.
St. Maria's church was one built to appear larger than it really is.
It was rare to come across a quiet street.

Terry and Sandra Jaspers, Kevin and Terry Jaspers and ReaJean Gee set off on their gondola ride.
The Rialto Bridge is in the background. Originally the Venetians built this bridge to connect
the people of Venice to the city's original trade center area.
Gary and Amy Cammack also enjoyed a bit of time away from the crowded streets in their gondola.

This is a view of the Grand Canal, the main water way that weaves through Venice.
A few in the group came back to tour the inside of St. Mark's Cathedral and it is stunning. The gold plated glass tiles almost make the inside glow. Mosaic murals lined the ceiling and some of the walls in the church. Photography is limited to a few areas within St. Marks Cathedral and even if more photos could be take, they would not do the beauty justice.

Even the floor of the cathedral is beautiful mosaic.
St. Giorgio's Cathedral and island can view to the south of Venice.
Your eyes really are not deceiving you! The tower in the background is really leaning a bit to the left. Many of the towers on the island are leaning due to the shifting that has been happening in Venice. We were told by our tour guide that the city is sinking by a millimeter per year. Some people like to say the water level is rising by a millimeter. Either way, the buildings are faced with a challenge due to the changes.
Another leaning tower in the background.
The Jesuits built this church bordering the water in Venice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?

Today we headed east to towards Verona, the well known town of Romeo and Juliet. While on our way to the city center, we took two more agricultural tours. 

First, we stopped at a 130 acre large wholesale market. Even though this market sells fruit, vegetables, meat and flowers our tour focused on the fruit and vegetable market where 85 operators work from 3:00 a.m. to noon to sell produce. The operators who bring the produce to the market are not the growers. Basically, these operators are the middlemen. Thirty-five percent is sold for export and 65% is sold within the country to supermarkets, restaurants and a few private customers. The small percentage of produce that does not sell is donated to local non-profit organizations. 

Our tour guide shared that the market has 25 employees and the 50%
of the market is used for the fruit and vegetable sales.

Fennel is currently in season as our group has eaten this vegetable at many of our meals since arriving in Italy.
 Italians eat thousands of varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Here alone are three varieties of garlic.
The market director shared the company mission: "Goodwill generates well being."
He said it applies not only the employees, but also the customers at the market.
Next we stopped at the Azienda Agricola farm, an 85 acre diversified operation raising peppers, apples, turkeys and soon strawberries. A bed and breakfast business is also run out of the home generating additional income. 

Peppers, the most labor intensive product the farm produces, must be analyzed
and pruned every 15 days.  These plants will grow to 12 feet tall.
The owner, Vittorio Anselmi, said once harvest starts peppers are picked every three to four days.
The growing season last for eight months with a little help of the heat of the green house,
irrigation and some artificial light. Otherwise the growing season is six months.
These peppers grow to be quite large and noticeably heavier than the ones we often purchase at the supermarkets in the USA. According to Anselmi, the heavier, the higher the quality due to the thickness of the meaty part of the pepper. We were gifted a few of these peppers and were able to taste test them with our lunch at a local restaurant.
Peppers are grown in a mixture of soil and coconut shells in these white bags, which will
last up to three years. An irrigation system provides consistent moisture.
Apples are grown by grafting them at an M-9 level two times per year in summer and winter.
(They are grown in such a way that they look similar to grape vines.) The black netting
helps to keep the birds away and also protects the trees and fruit from hail storms.
Anselmi shared while one person can tend to the apple orchard, it takes six or seven to tend to the apples. An irrigation system is also used to keep ideal soil condition for the apple trees.
Both the peppers and apples have proven to be profitable ventures for the operation. The peppers are generating a 15% profit on $280,000 while the apples generate a 7.5% profit on $465,000. That is about a $77,000 profit, and doesn't even take into account the turkey operation.

For over 20 years turkeys have been grown in this operation.
Today the farm has 35,000 turkeys with the current ones at 20 days old. 
We were pleasantly surprised when Anselmi invited us to see his home and attached bed and breakfast a short drive from the farm. 
This historical farm house dating back to the 1400's was used as the German headquarters at the end of WWII.  The family has worked to restore it and use it for tourism as well as their living quarters.
Being against the law to destroy historical structures, the family has embraced the history of this beautiful villa.
In the living room a portion of the original rock wall is visible.
This stair case has also been restored.
The SDARL Alumni with the Anselmi family in front of their beautiful home and bed and breakfast.
You can notice a small tower on the roof of the tallest part of the home.
This is the tower where the German's flew their white flag at the end of the war.
The structure in the center of this photo was about a quarter mile or a little more away from the
farm house pictured above. This is where the American soldiers were fighting from at the end of the
war, and they eventually could see the white flag signaling the German surrender.
The structure from above a bit closer. 
The Verona city center served as the final stop of our day. We were given a driving and walking tour of the area and then explored on our own for a few hours. One could spend months learning about the rich history as literally 1000 page books have been written about this castle or that monument or this coliseum. We learned simply admiring the architecture, listening to a tour guide and capturing a few photos only scrapes the surface when it comes to understanding the vastness of this town's sites.

The beauty of Verona is quite sure to be just the start of many more memorable sites we witness while in Italy.
Notice the marble street in the main shopping area in Verona.
The area that marks Romeo's home, which is today owned by a
private individual and not accessible to the public.
Entering the courtyard to the famous balcony at Juliet's home, visitors leave letters, notes and
various inscriptions on the wall. It really is a work of art or a whole lot of grafitti depending on how you look at it! The romantic in me thinks it is quite sweet. One can even leave a letter to have
answered by a group who works to write responses to letters dropped in a specific area. 
The famous balcony. "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo."
This statue of Juliet resides in the courtyard and is a popular photo opportunity. You will notice her brightly polished bust. This is because of the customary placement of hands here to bring long and lasting love.
Superstitious or not many in our group, including Pat and Dawn Scheier, joined in the photo op fun.
The Anfiteatro Arena, a Roman Ampitheater, is still used today for many operas and theater productions. 
Although smaller than the Coliseum in Rome, this is still a picturesque site.
Various original art can be viewed on buildings throughout the city center.
White and red stripes are a trademark of cathedrals in Verona.

The Adige River weaves is way around and through the city. In the background here is Castelvecchio.
The dome shaped building in left center is a church. Views such as this
one were many and often while walking along the Adige River.