Road Trip: Part II - Italy

Civita di Bagnoregio

After traveling through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, we finally crossed the Alps into Italy, where one encounters a very specific type of achingly-beautiful.

The entrance to Civita di Bagnoregio

It is not like there aren’t many breathtakingly beautiful spots on earth but the relationship of man to nature feels different in Italy from other places. Thousand-year-old hill towns give the impression they sprang up organically from the soil – closer to the insect towers of Africa than modern cities of steel and glass. It isn't always clear where man starts and nature ends.

Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio: a chapel in continuous use for 2,500 years

We slid down through the Alps into Italy for lunch in Bergamo, and then to Cremona for another recital. Eliana performed at the Accademia Cremonensis, the violin making school in Cremona, home to Stradivarius and Guarneri Del Gesu, the greatest violin makers of all time. After the concert we were given a personal tour of the workshops by its charismatic director, Giovanni Colonna.

Lunch in Bergamo at Trattoria d’Ambrosio.
Seriously, look at this place, right?
Like most local trattorias, the menu is just a xeroxed sheet
and changes daily based on what is fresh at the market
Cremona recital in a drab concert hall
Violin varnish studies


Violin templates and unfinished top plates
Cremona: Tortelli ripieni di vitello tonnato
(local ravioli with veal and tuna),
an odd but delicious combination in Northern Italy
Delivering the mail in style

The next day we drove to Milan where Eliana gave a lecture on life as a young musician, followed by a recital for artist management majors at Bocconi University.

We made a detour in Milan to see architect
Stefano Boeri’s “vertical forest” eco-skyscraper
Eliana and Simon in Milan (yes, she is a blond now)

A concert in Rome was cancelled last minute so we broke up the trip down to Naples with lunch in San Gimignano, the famous medieval city of towers.

San Gimignano
San Gimignano: Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (wild boar)

As we worked our way south for the last concert (Eliana and I also taught a chamber music master class for local students), we stopped overnight in the breathtaking ancient town of Civita di Bagnoregio, perched precariously on a small mountain.

The trek up to Civita di Bagnoregio

At last we found ourselves in Naples, a city which gives new meaning to the word “chaos." Naples feels like an immense hive: Vespas fly through crowds, locals are everywhere moving industriously, cars park on the sidewalk every which way, and there are huge crowds out late at night partying and eating. For all the unemployment and desperation in Southern Italy, the city has an infectious energy and is teeming with life. And the food ain’t so bad, either.

Newsstands are emblematic of a general level of chaos
in the glorious Southern Italian capital
Via Tribunali in Spaccanapoli, Naples
You can understand entire conversations just by watching hands.
Neapolitan ethnographer Canon Andrea de Jorio (1769 – 1851)
documented this language in a famous book.
Above (clockwise from top left): hunger, to mock, weariness, stupid, squint
Pizza Margherita, invented in Naples in 1889

Eliana’s concerts completed, we had a leisurely drive up to Rome. En route we visited the Abbey of Monte Cassino, rebuilt after being destroyed in the Battle of Cassino in 1944 (75,000 casualties). Despite a family history of military service – my father (Army), both uncles (Army and Air Force), and grandfathers (US Army Air Force and Chinese Army Medical Corps in WWII) –, I’d never been to a military cemetery before. Seeing thousands of graves of young men was deeply sobering and incredibly sad.

Cassino: Commonwealth War Cemetery
The Abbey of Montecassino, sacked by the Lombards in the 6th century,
Saracens in the 9th, destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th,
and wiped off the mountain by allied bombing raids in the mid-20th
The Abbey today, rebuilt in 1949 by Pope Pio XII.
Dov’era, com’era (“where it was, as it was”)
Cassino: Tonnarelli cacio e pepe, a Roman classic
(Romano cheese and ground pepper over square-shaped spaghetti)

With a morning flight home, we stayed close to Fiumicino airport in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s medieval summer residence.

Sunset over Lake Albano from Castel Gandolfo
Castel Gandolfo: Bucatini amatriciana, another Roman specialty
(spicy tomato sauce with guanciale)

A record of the journey would be incomplete without mentioning our intrepid pianist, Simon Lane, who travelled separately from England on his motorcycle.

Simon + his Austrian-made KTM 1190 Adventure

After 1,800 miles of driving and two months away (including other traveling before the European tour), it was time to come home.

David Yang, Artistic Director

Napoli: content, but ready to be home
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