So, I've just landed totally suntanned in Denmark after two weeks in Italy! Well, okay... I came back two weeks ago, but I like to think that there still is just a little bit of tan... ;-) I've seen lots of stunning art and architecture in Umbria, and lots of beach and waves in Sicily!
I fully understand that lots of people have fallen in love with Tuscany. It's a beautiful region, but really... Umbria is just as beautiful, less touristy and thus less crowded, which again means the landscape is less tampered with. The Umbrian hills are simply gorgeous...
It's probably best explained in pictures, but first a little guide:
1. The only thing Umbria doesn't have which Tuscany has, is coast. But that doesn't mean no beach, because one can hop into the beautiful Trasimeno Lake instead.
2. If you live in an old, historical, preserved stone house in the countryside near Umbertide, you are in the middle of nowhere - or in the center of the world. You need a car, I'll admit it, and you have a rollercoaster ride on gravel roads past vineyards and olive trees, but once you come out to the real road, Perugia, Gubbio and Città di Castello are only a 30 min drive away, Assisi 45 minutes, and Montefalco an hour - and there are many others nearby.
Here are my favourite towns:
-Montefalco: I've really, really fallen in love with this one. It's like a Medieval fortified town, with intact town walls and a stunning view over the countryside. Here you will find beautiful frescoes by Renaissance painter Benozzo Gozzoli, lovely old houses, a monastery, churches - and good food.
It is lovely and quiet, when I was there, anyway, but of course you can choose to come for the town Festival, along with 10000 other people (though I don't get how they can all be stuffed in there).
- Gubbio: bigger than Montefalco, and more tourists. It clings to the mountain wall, and you have to climb small, steep, roads to get to the town centre, which is perfectly conserved from Medieval times. You are well rewarded, though, because when you get there, the piazza has a view which the Italians call mozzafiato - leaves you breathless.
Then there is the "Studiolo" - a chamber in the Duke's palace decorated with wall panels entirely in tarsia, that is, pictures made of wooden pieces. It is stunning to see its 3D-effect! It is a copy which took 22 years to make - the original is at the Met in New York.
- Perugia: capital of Umbria, and deservedly so. Here you will find an underground suburb, the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, a frescoes by Raphael and Perugino, much more and - good ice cream. You really need to come several times here, one day simply isn't enough.
There are several others: Assisi, Bevagna, Spello, Città di Castello - where there is a restaurant I can only recommend, the "Vineria del Vasaio", Santa Maria in Arce - a tiny church hidden away in a small village in the hills, stuffed with frescoes, Todi, Preggio - there were many more that I didn't get around to.
You can also easily get to Tuscany, if you want - Siena is only an hour's drive away, but you can spend several days here! The art and architecture are fantastic, and don't forget to bring a Panforte home; it's the perfect cake for Christmas which Italians eat, and which is originally from here.
- I can only recommend the food: Your day will surely be a good one if you start with a croissant with custard (or Nutella!) and a cappuccino made the real Italian way.
I got to know a wine farmer who does everything himself from the cultivation over the harvest to the sale of the wine. His white wine is the best I've ever tasted and his name is Pencelli. You can find him on the market square in Perugia selling his wine, or by googling "Vecchia Cantineria Pencelli".
Then there is the mozzarella, which has a completely different taste, as it's made from buffalo milk, truffle sauce, fish, peaches - and ice cream! Ice cream is really cheap but of divine quality, you have to be careful you don't get too much...
In short, I don't think you'll finish with Umbria in two weeks. I will probably never finish with Umbria ;-)
But stay tuned for next week's update about Caserta and Sicily...
We're back after a pause from the blog! This weekend it was the first Medieval Market at Koldinghus, and it was great. There is just no better place to host such an event. And we sang and played medieval songs as we haven't done in a long time. It has been two very intense days, and it's incredible I'm awake enough to write...
The main attraction was the Medieval fighting tournament going on outside the castle, which was really intense and sometimes a bit ugly to see. You couldn't see any rules, really, they were just smashing into each other - but no one got hurt very badly (I hope - I heard about a tooth...) With 35 kg of armour it must be really tough going - there was even a woman in the fighting!
In the castle yard there were different stalls, shops and workshops. There was a blacksmith, who was really nice, (because he liked our music, haha) and the Caramel Master's shop. Did you know marshmallows were truly medieval? We didn't, but apparently they used some juice from a flower, Althaea officinalis, which has the same effect as gelatine.
Giuly had got the bagpipe out again, so we did some pieces with two bagpipes - a lot of noise, but lots of fun! And we had both concerts and workshops with juggling and dancing for children and grown-ups. We ended up with a lot of songs about silvery elves, stout kings, clever peasants, pious psalms to Our Lady, and many more. Giuly has also learned a lot of contact juggling - it's almost magical what she can do with that orange ball!
We weren't the only ones with the music: Almune, Moro and Virelai were also there, and Maximus Heraticus, the jester/juggler and we took turns. We know them a little from previous Medieval markets and it was great to see and hear them again - they're really good and inspiring!
It's always great to be at a Medieval Market, and this one was exceptionally good. The weather was great (especially today), there were lots of people, and the atmosphere was splendid. It's been a great weekend, and we hope that there will be many future Medieval markets at Koldinghus!
Last Sunday it was the third year we did our "Classics for Peace" concert at Slesvigske Musikhus for the Lysfest (Festival of Light - really a celebration of the liberation from the German occupation on the 4th of May 1945 - now also a Festival for peace, freedom and reconciliation). We donate all income from the concert to Médecins Sans Frontières - Doctors without Borders. It's become a tradition for us, but we try to make it a bit new and different every year.
People started arriving already an hour before the concert, and there was immediately a warm, buzzing and excited atmosphere around, and wine, coffee, tea and cake were sold, more on that further down.
This year we were very lucky to get professor and Honorary President of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, Hans Heinrich Hansen, as guest speaker, and he held a beautiful and very moving speech on the subjects war, peace and reconciliation. He has experienced the war himself as a child, and especially the aftermath from the point of the German minority in Denmark, which was not easy. It is therefore astonishing that the collaboration and mutual respect between the two minorities at the Danish/German border now sets an example for reconciliation between minorities in the rest of Europe. We thank Hans Heinrich Hansen very much for his contribution.
Wednesday, the 5th of April we'll be performing with Kolding Mandskor (Men's Choir) at a charity concert for the Sct. Georgs Gilderne. It is an understatement to say we're looking forward to it! They sing so wonderfully.
We can reveal that we will perform a very special piece together - actually, they're all special - but this one has an extra story to it.
It is the aria "Casta Diva" from Bellinis opera "Norma". Now, the three of us feel very close to Bellini because he was a composer from the early 19th century who came from Catania in Sicily. And that's exactly where we've lived!
In Catania everybody is crazy about Bellini. People hum his opera melodies like others hum pop songs - even though he moved away when he was young and hardly ever returned. But he still belongs to Catania; There is an opera house named after him, with one of the world's best acoustics, parks, streets, houses - and recipes.
A week ago I dropped in on Benny Frankfurth, "our" luthier and piano tuner in Vejle, www.pianohuset.dk
His shop is where I bought my cello several years ago (the best I've ever played) and where Giuly bought her violin (119 years old).
We always go there when we need a small adjustment, strings or other things, and we can warmly recommend it. His shop doesn't look big from the street - but don't be fooled: it is very deep and filled with pianos, violins, guitars, cellos and all things related.
The reason why I came there last week was my bow in need of repair, and I had an extremely interesting visit! First, he said my bow needed rehairing - he compared it to another one he had, and yes, I could see there were only half as many hairs left on the bow. No wonder I thought I could only play softly! ;-)
Then he said there was a difference in hair quality: there were Chinese, Siberian and Mongolian horse-hairs (the best type). He said he'd put Mongolian hairs on it, and I'm really looking forward to it!
We'd got some bows on a trial period, which had been very interesting. It's incredible how different bows can feel to play with! The one I tried was very light to play with, the tone was big - but the sound wasn't the one I was looking for. It was a very good bow, but destined for another cello than mine. But a bow isn't the only thing that sounds different from cello to cello!
We played a Mozart concert at Koldinghus on the 5th. It was a fantastic experience, and in the break, the café - Madkælderen - served Sachertorte, a delicious Viennese cake. I didn't get around to trying their version, but so many people asked us for the recipe afterwards that it must have been very good indeed!
In our family, it's become a tradition. So here it comes, we hope you like it too!
- for a baking tin Ø 24 cm = about 8-12 slices
Mix 140 g soft butter together with
140 g sugar in a large bowl.
Add 6 egg yolks (keep the whites in another bowl!)
Melt 140 g dark (cooking) chocolate in a small ceramic bowl or plate that stands in a casserole with boiling water - don't let the water get into the chocolate -
and mix it with the egg and butter mixture.
Mix 125 g wheat flour with
2½ teasponns of baking powder and mix it into the dough.
Whip 6 egg whites in another bowl
and lift them carefully into the dough.
Pour the dough into a round baking tin lined with baking paper and/or butter and flour, and bake it in the middle of the oven at 175-200 degrees for 60-70 minutes. Check it by sticking a thin knife into it - it is ready when the knife comes out without dough on it.
Let it cool completely, then cut it through, making a top and a bottom part. Lay the top aside, then spread
100 g apricot jam (preferably a bit more) on the bottom part.
Lift the "lid" part of the cake back on to the bottom part.
Mix 50 g apricot jam (a bit more would be better) with
1 spoonful of hot water and warm it a little, then spread it over the top of the cake and on the sides.
Melt 100 g (or more) dark cooking chocolate, add 25 g melted palm oil (or olive oil) and cover the whole cake with the chocolate.
Best served with a good dollop of whipped cream (remember to put sugar in the cream!).
Maria, Anna and Giuly