Our latest Italian quiz to test your knowledge of all things Italian….





Who founded Italy’s capital?


Romulus and Constantine

Augustus and Caesar

Remus and Romulus

Nero and Remus


What would you do with a ‘triglia’?


Play it

Laugh at it

Eat it

Adopt it


What time of day is the ‘passeggiata’?


The morning rush hour

At lunchtime

In the early evening

After dinner on football match nights


Who could be described as ‘uomo pipistrelli’?





Topo gigio


Italy borders four countries. What are they?


France, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium

Germany, Belgium, Croatia, Holland

Austria, Slovenia, Holland and Croatia

France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia


Which of the following was not a famous Italian composer?





Manuel de Falla


What ‘zuppe inglese’?


A soup made from dead Englishmen

A kind of sherry trifle dessert

A dinner in an Alpine restaurant

A love song by Zuppero Inglesias


The Borgia family, a papal dynasty, came from where?







Where would you find Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’?








What did Byron call ‘the gladiator’s bloody circus’?


The Circus Maximus

The Colosseum

The Field of Mars

The Spartacus ‘ludus’


Which of these wines is a rose?



Pinot grigio




What are antipasti?


People who don’t like pasta

Hors d’oeuvre

Antipathetic people with intense aversions

Small aniseed snacks eaten before drinking pastis


Which one of the following is Italian?


Caesar’s salad

The Spanish steps

Pizza Express



Thinking of visiting this beautiful country this year. Please do take a look at the great selection of tours and vacation packages on offer by the specialists : www.italytraveltours.biz.



Answers: Eat it/In the early evening/Batman/France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia/Manuel de Falla/Remus and Romulus/A kind of sherry trifle dessert/Valencia/Rome/The Colosseum/Chiaretto/Hors d’oeuvre/The Spanish steps


A new, lighthearted quiz to test your knowledge of Italy and all things Italian. Answers at the bottom, no cheating!


Within Italy, there are two independent states. One is the Vatican City, home of the Pope. Which is the second?



San Marino




There are many islands in the Mediterranean. The second largest is Italian. Which island is it?







Lake Lugano is partly in Italy and partly in Switzerland. Which other lake does Italy share with Switzerland?







The long mountain range running north-south through Italy?





Sierra Nevada


A beautiful square in Rome?







The location of Julia’s balcony (as in Shakespeare)?







Which of these countries does not share a border with Italy?







Where is the Fiat car factory located?








Which of the following is a town in Cinque Terre?




Nastro Azzurro



Beautiful Bellagio is located on which lake?







Italians usually eat their pasta……?


in a postribolo

al dente


with a sharp knife


‘Lavori in corso’ refers to?


a beautiful woman in a silk corset

road works

public toilets

spiced beef in lavori panini


Thinking of a holiday in this beautiful country this year? Have a look at some of the great tours available on: https://www.italytraveltours.biz/



SanMarino/Sicily/Maggiore/Apennines/Navona/Verona/Germany/Turin/Manarola/Como/al dente/road works


Italy food and drink. A lighthearted quiz to test your knowledge of this beautiful country’s gastronomy…….


What is ‘panna cotta’?


a) a deep pan pizza invented by Pizza Hut, Italia S.a.

b) malted wholemeal bread

c) cooked cream

d) pasta with cottage cheese and rocket


Which of these is a type of rice?


a) arborio

b) rizzi

c) farfalle

d) garganelli


Which of these is a vegetable?


a) cannellini

b) canditi

c) colifiori

d) cappriccio



Where does chianti come from?


a) Superiore

b) Toscana

c) Reggio Chiantini Rosso, Sicily

d) between Secco and Asti spumante


What is the famous dessert from Sicily called?


a) canneloni

b) canoli

c) canola

d) candelabra


What alcoholic drink is a translation of ‘witch’?


A) morticia

b) grappa

c) strega

d) amaretti


What is Mozzarella cheese made from?


a) ewe’s milk

b) buffalo’s milk

c) goat’s milk

d) milk of human kindness


What is the name of the Sardinian cheese crawling with maggots?


a) dragoncello

b) azzuro grigetti

c) casu marzu

d) maggerotti


An ‘osteria’ is a what?


a) an oyster/seafood bar

b) a wine bar with food

c) a McDonald’s in Ostia serving ‘ostra panini’

d) a hostel without restaurant


What is the name for ‘bolognese’ sauce in Bologna?


a) bolognese

b) ragu

c) sugo bollicine

d) pomodoro con carne


UK Queen Elizabeth’s favourite dessert?


a) zuccine

b) zafferano

c) zabaglione

d) zuccero


Tiramisu was invented when?


a) 1780’s

b) 1920’s

c) 1870’s

d) 1960’s





(no cheating now….)

cookedcream/arborio/cannellini/Toscana/canoli/strega/buffalo’s milk/casu marzu/a wine bar with food/ragu/zabaglione/1960’s



Given you a taste for Italy (oooops, sorry for the dreadful pun)?) Why not discover the best of Italy this year by having a look at: https://www.italytraveltours.biz/



Carnevale di Venezia, a Little Lighthearted and Condensed History.

One of the greatest parties in the world, certainly the most flamboyant in terms of color, cost and style, the Venice Carnival has not had the unbroken history most tourists believe.ven7ven5

The word “carnevale” derives from the Latin for “farewell to meat” and refers to the Christian tradition of giving up meat-eating in Lent (the time before Easter). Naturally, it’s a great opportunity to overindulge in the days preceding Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Martidi Grasso or Mardi Gras, whatever you want to call it, with plenty of merrymaking before the ‘suffering’ begins…. It’s a tradition celebration time in many parts of the world but, with the extravagant masks and costumes, Venice does it a little differently, with a great deal of style from the comic to the sinister, the bizarre to the beautiful.

The wearing of masks for street parties in Italy long precedes Christian times. The Romans celebrated in the same vein, with even slaves being allowed to wear masks. A little like school uniforms, the mask was a social leveller offering little distinction between social classes (except the evident cost of the outfit! Sorry I’m a cynic). ven4

The tradition of masks in Venice can be traced back to the 1200’s but the heyday of the Carnival was in the 1700’s when, decadence really set in. This was possibly as a result of Venice´s loss of mercantile power and influence due to the rise of Dutch and British trade monopoly. What better way to forget your problems than in an orgy of vice, fornication, drunkenness, dancing, music, gluttony, gambling and general irresponsibility. Sounds good to me….. ven3

After the dastardly French, under Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Venice in 1797, the glory days of the Venetian Republic virtually ended, cash flow declined as did the carnival.

Astonishingly fascist dictators and puritans have something in common, they’re all killjoys! The final death note of the carnival was in the 1930s when Mussolini banned it totally.

Thankfully, Venetian businessmen, never ones to miss a moneymaking opportunity, revived the tradition in 1979 and the cash registers continue to ring more loudly every year. ven8

Whatever the history, the Carnival is one of the events that no tourist should miss, it´s spectacular. However beware…. trying to find accommodation in Venice during Carnival is more than a nightmare, it´s impossible. If you want to visit and I do urge you to go, use an experienced specialist tour operator such as Allegro Holidays (part of the award-winning Blue Danube Holidays Group), they will even help you rent costumes. For dates and prices, have a look at: http://www.allegroholidays.com/Carnival_in_Venice-Package-Independent.htm

Orange madness.

 Earlier this week’ on the Blue Danube European blog, we looked at an event in Spain, la Tomatina. This is a fiesta involving a street ‘fight’ where tons of ripe tomatoes play the leading role… La Tomatina brings tens of thousands of foreign participants to Spain every year and is now an international event.


Sadly, the tourist dollar does have the effect of ‘muddying’ the water (or tomato juice) of local culture for bad or good and la Tomatina is now regarded by cynics as just another way of attracting visitors to a poor area of Spain. For those of you who thrive on authentic festivals, let’s look at a lesser known but similar event which takes place every year in the small Italian town of Ivrea in Northern Italy. The idea is similar, the colour orange instead of red, but the whole thing does feel more spontaneous and authentic!


To celebrate the untimely death of an unpopular, violent, money-grabbing Duke who raped a young village girl on the eve of her wedding (exercising his droit de seigneur), the townspeople celebrate each year with an anarchic, lighthearted, boisterous four day festival of music, wine, fireworks, dancing, food, more wine, processions and, you guessed it, even more wine and thousands of oranges. Every year a local girl is elected to play the role of Violetta, the violated (excuse the atrocious pun) young lady in question. While la Tomatina in Spain is restricted to squashy over-ripe tomatoes which don’t really involve black eyes and bruising, Ivrea is really only for the hardcore masochist. Oranges are hard and they hurt!


Spectators, unlike Spain, are reasonably well protected from the mayhem by safety nets but do make sure that you sport a red hat to demonstrate your ‘neutral’ status.


In the ‘battle’, groups of of “Aranceri” (orange throwers) on foot hurl oranges (representing stones) at other Aranceri riding in carts (representing the Duke’s soldiers).

 Orange fight in Turin

Ending on Shrove Tuesday with a solemn funeral procession, the festival closes with “arvedse a giobia a ‘n bot“, (“we’ll see one other on Thursday at one”) ie. next year, same time, same place.


Originally beans were thrown instead of oranges. Later apples were the prime choice of ammunition. Nobody can explain why oranges were first used as they do not grow in Northern Italy and the village needs to import over a quarter of a ton each year from Sicily.

Trulli and the Tax Inspector…..



In the Puglia region of Italy, you’ll be fascinated to see strange traditional stone built homes with conical roofs, painted white and resembling beehives. These are trullo (the plural is trulli), built with thick stone walls to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter.


The construction of a trullo is fairly unique in Europe as they were generally built from any random limestone lying around but without mortar. Every stone in the conical roof depends on the ‘key’ stone to prevent the roof from caving in. With all building materials freely available for nothing, we might assume that this clever form of construction was merely a clever way of producing a cheap home. Wrong!


During the Seventeenth century, the rapacious nobility, always on the lookout for another way of extracting the last cent from the poor peasant, came up with the bright idea of a property tax. A few hours before the tax inspector arrived for his pound of flesh, what did the crafty trullo owner do? He merely pulled out the keystone and the only evidence of his home was a pile of rubble. Presumably after numerous demolitions the owners became quite adept at rapid reconstruction. Many trulli have curious iron rings embedded in the roof, these were supposedly to facilitate the rapid demolition.


Most trulli have only one room, with additional space created from arched alcoves. Children would sleep in wall niches covered by a curtain. However there are many trulli with two, three or even more cones, representing the wealth of their respective owners.


With increasing social mobility during the last century and a gradual drift of country dwellers from rural to urban life, many trulli were abandoned and left to decay. Happily, in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the trulli and many have now been carefully reconstructed as ‘luxury’ holiday homes for well-heeled Brits and Germans.

Trulli of Alberobello - Puglia - Italy. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

One other curiosity about the trulli is that many have strange symbols or letters painted on their roofs in lime. Their meanings vary from magical symbols to ward off the ‘evil eye’ to religious good luck symbols, both Christian and pagan.



The best place to see trulli is the town of Alberobello has over 400 trulli and is now a major tourist destination.


Pasqua i la Pasquetta

While Easter eggs are becoming popular in Italy Easter bunnies and new-born, yellow spring chickens haven’t really made serious inroads.


Still a pretty deeply religious country, Easter is an important time in all the Italian regions. Serious and solemn with endless masses, processions (with many participants often dressed in traditional costume), religious statuary, incense etc. until Pasqua (Good Friday), it’s all pretty intense but sometimes deeply moving even to agnostics and atheists.


Easter Monday, la Pasquetta is also a holiday throughout Italy but is more of a joyous celebration, still with plenty masses but a family event with everyone from young to old celebrating in their own way.


Saying that Italy is a bit ‘solemn’ on the run up to Good Friday would sound a bit like an understatement to a Spaniard. Here, I live here, we still have flagellants, penitents and endless processions of people dressed up in a manner which would have given a dose of the ‘cold sweats’ to anybody with little more than a summer tan living in the ‘Deep South’ during the early part of the last century.


Apart from the world-famous events at the Vatican, let’s have a look at some of the more notable events:

Florence has its ‘Scoppio del Carro’ which means ‘explosion of the cart’. A spectacular sight for more than 300 years, a huge decorated wagon is dragged through Florence by a team of white oxen. The finale is where the Archbishop lights a rocket which ignites the cart setting off a spectacular display of fire and fireworks.

Chieti, in Abruzzo, has a procession with Selecchi’s Miserere played by 100 violins and is very moving. Trapani, Sicily, is a great place to view processions with several held during Holy Week. The dramatic Good Friday procession, Misteri di Trapani, lasts a full twenty-four hours.


Enna, also in Sicily, has a major procession every Good Friday, with more than 2,000 friars walking through the streets in a silent parade . This dates back to the Spanish domination of Sicily. In Umbria towns, Montefalco and Gualdo Tadino being the most famous, host live scenarios re-enacting the stations of the cross.


On Easter Monday many towns and villages hold dances, feasts and live music.concerts. There are some unusual games often involving food…… In Umbrian town Panicale, cheese is the star attraction. Ruzzolone is played by rolling large wheels of cheese around the village. The idea is to roll your cheese round the course using the fewest number of strokes.


In Tredozio, the Palio dell’Uovo is a competition where eggs are the stars, use your imagination!


Merano has the Corse Rusticane, horse races featuring a breed famous for its blonde mane with riders in local traditional costumes. Barano d’Ischia is famous for the ‘Ndrezzata‘ which takes place in Barano d’Ischia, a dance reviving the battles against the Saracens. The Madonna del Belvedere is celebrated in Carovigno, where the ‘Nzeghe’ is a competition to throw banners.

Wherever you visit, Italy and Sicily will have something at Easter to interest you, all (with reasonable luck) in lovely spring sunshine…..

Sorrento to Apulia and Basilicata

cave cityShort Tour from Sorrento to Castel del Monte Noci Lece Alberobello Matera 

2 nights 3 days

Departure Dates: May 7, 21, June 4, 18, July 2, 16, 30, Aug 13, 27, Sep 10, 24, Oct 8, 22 2014

Early morning departure for the region of Apulia, on the way, stop to visit Castel del Monte, imposing castle with eight octagonal towers at each side built in 1250 by the emperor Federico II, on a hill of 570 meters that dominates all the valley. Free time for lunch, then continue to Castellana Caves. Discovered in 1938, the entrance is represented by an enormous vertical tunnel 60 meters long.  ontinue to Nocie for dinner and overnight.

After breakfast we deart to the city of Lecce famouse for its white Baroque buildings form the end of the XVI century and the first half of the XVII century. We’ll visit the church of S.Oronzo, the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Celestini Palace. In the square of S.Oronzo we can admire the roman amphitheatre from the II century ac and the column of S.Oronzo, 29m high with a copper statue of the saint on the top. Departure to Ostuni, an architectural jewel commonly referred to as “the White Town” for its white walls and its typically white-painted architecture. Free time for lunch. In the afternoon, continue to Alberobello, the town of “trulli” and Unesco Heritage Site. “Trulli” are typical houses with a cone roof that were used as homes and to keep the farmer utensils. Return to the hotel in Noci. Dinner and overnight.

Buffet breakfast. Departure for Matera that has gained international fame for its “Sassi”. The Sassi originated from a prehistoric settlement, and are suspected to be some of the first settlements in Italy.  Ancient Byzantine monks from Byzantine Cappadocia in today’s Turkey were some of the first inhabitants of the sassi carving their cells, houses and little churches into soft Tufa.  Many of these cave “houses” are really only caverns, and the streets in some parts of the Sassi often are located on the rooftops of other houses. One of the peculiarity of this ancient city, is that there is a great similarity with the ancient sites in and around Jerusalem. This has caught the eye of film directors and movie studios. Principally due this reason the Sassi were the set of many film, as for example “The Gospel According to St Matthew” (Pasolini,1964), “King David” (Bruce Beresford,1985), “The Passion of the Christ” (Gibson, 2004) and “The Nativity Story” (Hardwicke, 2006). Matera is also a Unesco heritage. Time for a snack and return to Rome or Sorrento. End of the program.

Euro 382 per person based on 2 people per room
Euro 344 based on 3 people in the room
Euro 487 based on single room accommodation

Capri, the centre of the Roman Empire?

romanAlthough human presence on the island can be dated back to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, Capri eventually became an obscure Greek colony, the inhabitants being predominately wild goats, Capri began its history of attracting the rich, powerful and famous at an early age.

After an exchange for the neighboring island Ischia, Caesar Augustus visited the island in 29BC but the island became truly famous when his successor, Tiberius fell in love with the island’s beauty a few years later and ruled the Roman Empire (at that time most of the known world) from his villa there for the last ten years of his reign.

Although only three of the twelve villas built by Tiberius can be  accurately identified and visited nowadays, it is almost certainly”Villa Jovis” (Jupiter’s Villa) which, commanding a spectacular view of the entire Gulf of Naples from its location atop the Capo, that was his main residence. The island however is rich in Roman remains, most 

interesting of which are the Bagni di Tiberio, the Emperor’s Baths.

After Tiberius’s death the island fell into steep decline. Centuries of attack by barbarians and pirates, and 


repeated earthquakes wiped our most traces of the island’s famous and ancient heritage.

Lombards and Normans occupied and left followed in succession by Aragonese and Anjous and the Ottoman occupied for some years. In the 17th century, most of the island’s inhabitants died from the plague. After Napoleonic French occupation, Capri became a chess-piece between Britain (a “Second Gibraltar”), and France because of its strategic location.
The renaissance of Capri, coming from the tourist trade, developed on an almost industrial scale, from the late 19th century with the 

arrival of the ‘gliterrati’ (mostly writers, artists and philosophers, not Manchester United football players or rock stars) of their day who discovered its charm, climate and natural beauty.

If you plan to visit Capri with its intoxicating mix of flowers, na
rrow lanes and alleyways, this year, do try and travel with a specialist tour company such as www.italytraveltours.biz. Don’t miss the Caesar August Gardens with views over the 


Faraglioni rocks and Gracie Fields’s villa. In Anacapri, stroll through the beautiful gardens of Dr Munthe’s villa. It hardly needs to be said that the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is a ‘must-see’ but sadly you will not be able to bathe in the azure waters favored by Augustus and Tiberius



Malta’s Silent City M’dina


With a sixtieth birthday coming up in about five weeks, retirement still seems a long way away but I’m already being asked by daughters and friends about where I would like to retire.

street2Having lived in Spain for many years, I´m obviously happy here; sea, sunshine and good quality cheap red wine by the bucketful! Who could ask for more? However, since my first visit to Malta more than forty years ago, I have been in love with Malta’s old capital M’dina and, with a little luck that cirrhosis of the liver (caused by the aforesaid red wine) doesn’t finish me off early, this is where I will put my old bones to rest…….

streetM’dina, Città Vecchia, Città Notabile, the “Silent City”, whatever name you like best, is truly unique. With a history of more than 4,000 years, M’dina is one of Europe’s best examples of an ancient walled city.

Mdina - GateMalta, as the centre of the Mediteranean, lying between Sicily and North Africa, has been prized and occupied by just about everyone; Phoenicians, Romans (the Roman Governor’s villa is here and can still be visited), Sararacens Normans, Crusaders (The Knights of the Order of St John), French and British have all been and each has left a little of their cultural legacy.

The Apostle St. Paul is said to have been shipwrecked on Malta and lived inside the grotto, Fuori le Mura, St. Paul’s Grotto, in neighbouring Rabat with its fascinating and extensive catacombs, once used by early Christians to hide from the Romans.

facadeHome still to the island’s gentry and nobility, M’dina’s closed and silent doors intrigue while impressive palaces line its narrow, shady streets. The city gates are locked at night and no motor vehicles (other than resident’s cars, emergency vehicles, wedding cars and funeral hearses) are allowed entry. If you are averse to walking there are plenty of horse-drawn carriages.

cathThe fabulous Cathedral of the Conversion of St Paul, which rivals the Vatican in its internal decoration, dominates this lovely ‘city’ which only has about 300 residents.

Malta, Mdina, Kathedrale St. PaulNot a great place for window shopping, M’dina is a ‘must’ when visiting Malta, you’ll be hard-pressed to experience anything like it!

Because of its proximity to equally fascinating Sicily, with which it has much in common, my recommendation would be a combined tour of the two. Specialists Italy Travel Tours have a great new programme for 2014. Take a look at: https://www.italytraveltours.biz/sicily-and-malta

bacchusDo try and visit and don’t miss the wonderful Bacchus Restaurant, set in the old Roman dungeons. If you return in about five years, you’ll hopefully see me propping up a bar somewhere (there are only three or four). The red wine is on me.

With special thanks to Claire Kadoch for introducing me many years ago to this enchanting place.