Fun in Florence

We had a great time in Florence!  Katharine, our new friend from Amalfi was again our guide for part of our time in Florence – it was great seeing her again.

Katharine and Beth

The Duomo is most prominent site in Florence – we climbed the 463 stairs to the top.  It was worth the view!

The Duomo in Florence

The Duomo Is A Massive Structure

Giotto’s Bell Tower And Part Of Florence As seen From Atop The Duomo

The Ponte Vecchio ( “old bridge” in Italian) is truly that.  Originally built by the Romans, it was the only bridge in Florence not destroyed by bombings during WWII because Hitler gave orders not to bomb it.

The Ponte Vecchio Bridge

Another View of the Ponte Vecchio

A Replica Of Michelangelo’s David

They don’t allow pictures of the real masterpiece of David while inside the museum, so the above will have to suffice.

Winery Pics

As I shared on an earlier post, I am WAY behind in posting entries compared to where we are currently at in our itinerary, so I am just going to post some pictures from some of our winery visits…

Bottle Aging

A BIG Barrel of Wine!

Barrels of Fun!

Aging Barrels

Man Made Tunnel Into A Mountain

Bathroom Door Covered With Corks

Nice Barrel Aging Room at Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia (Millions of $)

Veneto Region

In the Veneto region of Italy just north of Verona, we begin our wine tours!  This region grows grapes for making Valpolicella and Amarone wines.

One of our visits was at Valentina Cubi Winery.  There we met a family run operation that produced some delicious wines.  One of fun things (besides drinking their great wines) of the visit there was going out to lunch with the owner in his expensive Maserati.

Beth And I At Valentia Cubi Winery

Vineyards at Valentina Cubi 

Giancarlo’s Maserati at Valentina Cubi Winery

Besides the great Amarones that we tasted, one of the memories from this area are the people. The people here making wines are very, very nice and they have a lot of passion and pride in the wines they produce.

The Marco Cottini Family

Giancarlo and Valentina

We stayed at an Agriturismo while in the Veneto region.  Think of an “Agriturismo” as a Bed & Breakfast on a farm.

We Stayed At This Agriturismo Completely Surrounded By Vineyards 

Technology In Italy

It seemed like a good idea to blog during this trip and share experiences “as I go” while the memories, thoughts, and feelings are still fresh rather than try to reconstruct the trip at a later time.  Unfortunately, like many ideas, there is some factor or item that can negate the idea.  In my case, the unaccounted for factor was “Technology In Italy”; or lack thereof.

When planning the itinerary, I made sure that the hotels we choose offered Internet and Wi-Fi service so that I could blog freely when time presented itself while we were in our hotel room.  What I hadn’t planned on, was how limited or non-available those services would actually be.  At one hotel, the only Wi-Fi that would work was if I was no more than 6 ft from the front desk.  In another, it never worked the entire time during our stay.  “The Internet does not work” the hotel clerk would calmly stated.  “Try again tomorrow”.  Of course, I received the same response the next day.  When I finally was able to translate “Have you called Technical Support?”, the response I received was “It does this often, we just keep trying”.  Now, to someone who flies at 35,000 ft every week and utilizes the airplane Wi-Fi (and expects it to work) this was somewhat frustrating.  

Here was a observation of Italians.  They have more of a laid back attitude toward life, and if something does not work, it is not the end of the world to them.  So, I had no choice but to do the same…

At this point in the trip, Beth and I have arrived in Cinque Terre and I am so far behind (from an itinerary perspective) in blogging that I don’t have the time to get current.  What I haven’t blogged about has been the last week+ of the fantastic wine tours we have had in Northern Italy.  So, for the rest of the trip I am going to try and just post pictures with some captions and hope that will work.  If not, we will “Try again tomorrow”.  :-))))

 

 

Gastronomic Delights in Modena

The fourth stop of our journey takes us to Modena, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Modena is known as “the capital of engines”, since the factories of the famous Italian sports car makers Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati are, or were, located here and all except Lamborghini, have headquarters in the city or nearby.

Our reason for staying here is not necessarily because of Modena itself, but rather for its central location for us to experience exceptional fine food and restaurants here; as well as in nearby Parma and Bologna. Our time in Modena was also intended for us to have some time to ourselves (we had no guides or tours) and relax some during our vacation.  We just needed to get there first!

After using trains to travel from city to city, now we rented a car (a BMW X1) in Venice and drove the slightly less than 2 hrs to Modena.  This was quite an experience as driving the autostrada is quite different than driving on highways at home.  While there are posted speed limits here, they do not appear to be enforced all the time as cars were constantly passing me at high speeds (even when I was going 140 kmh).  We actually made it direct to the hotel without getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

Our BMW X1

Once in Modena, we spent the majority of our time relaxing as well as walking around the city. We found a great little cafe right on the main piazza that served some good food, so we would stop there for a couple of glasses of wine and a light lunch.

Lunch At The Piazza In Modena

After walking around some more after lunch, the afternoon became hot, and so we needed something to cool us down.   In Italy, Gelato that can be found everywhere, so “When in Rome…”

Beth Was Happy Every Day At “Gelato Time”

While our dining experiences in Modena were fantastic, none of them would be the most memorable gastronomic delight of our stay.  Instead, it was a last minute “tasting” that we scheduled that opened new doors for us.  Our “tasting” this time was not a traditional wine tasting.  This tasting still consisted of wine, but wine that had turned to vinegar; intentionally.

Aside from being known as the Italian “motor city”, it is also the only place in the world where certified balsamic vinegar is made.  Our educational tasting at Acetaia di Giorgio was beneficial because learned how true balsamic vinegar is made and were actually able to taste multiple different vinegars aged in different types of barrels (oak, cherry, juniper) and of different lengths of time.  Certified Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) is not the same as the stuff that sits on our grocery shelves back home, it is of unique flavor and its characteristics are strictly controlled by the body in Modena that governs what can be labeled as real Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.

Balsamic Vinegars in Modena

The planned dinner highlight of this stay was not what we had expected.  We did dine at our third Michelin 3 star restaurant  Osteria Francescana, but were sadly disappointed that the entire experience did not meet our expectations.  The service was the best yet and the food was delicious , but we both felt that the wine pairings presented with our tasting menu served to detract, rather than enhance each course.  Normally, I wouldn’t be so critical, but this restaurant, in addition to being a Michelin 3 star, is also #3 of the Top 50 Restaurants In The World.  Oh well, I guess Beth and I have different criteria than the critics.

We did however have a great dinner at another local ristorànte, Antica Moka.  It was another small and elegant place that was comfortable and welcoming.

At Ristorante Antica Moka

We had a spectacular meal here – with of course some good wine.  Of course, given the size of their wine list, it took a while to make a decision:

The Wine List At Antica Moka

The food was superb and the Sagrantino wine I ended up choosing was also delicious.

Next:  On to Verona

A Visit To Venice

The third stay of our vacation took us to Venice, where we enjoyed the sites and history of the city of Venicia.  Of course, Venice is a city built on top of a lagoon, so the most significant feature of the city are its canals.

Canal Grande

We did the things most tourists do while in Venice, plus some that maybe others don’t because our guide Sebastiano is a native Venetian and knows the city like the back of his hand.

Beth With Our Guide Sebastiano at Piazzo San Marco

We started our tour of the city by visiting the impressive Piazzo San Marco (St. Marks Square) and neighboring sites, and the it was off to some of the nearby islands of Burano, Murano, and Torcello.  We had lunch at a quaint restaurant in Burano and had some of the freshest and most delicious seafood!

Fresh Seafood Lunch On The Island Of Burano

After Beth purchased some lace (for which the island of Burano is known for), it was then off to the island of Murano to see what that island is known for around the world – glass.  We watched a glass blowing demonstration, toured several studios and Beth again shopped while Sebastiano and I drank wine and compared our wine notes and experiences.

One Of The Beautiful $40K Murano Glass Chandeliers

Of course, being hand made, some of the end products made from Murano glass can be very expensive.

While in Venice, we also took a gondola ride, which was fun and interesting.  Sebastiano purchased a bottle of Prosecco for us, and we drank it while our gondolier navigated the canals and traffic (we were caught in a traffic jam at one point – almost as bad as Rome’s traffic, but just on water).

A View During Our Gondola Ride  

We again had some more great food during our stay in Venice.  One dinner was at a place call Al Covo, and the zuccini flowers, mussels, and softshell crab were delicious.

However, the gourmet highlight during Venice was when we took a train to nearby Padova and dined at our 2nd Michelin 3 star restaurant, Le Calandre.  The food here was spectacular!  Chef Massimiliano Alajmo (Max) welcomed us personally after we were seated and he and his staff prepared the best meal of the trip so far.  Our menu consisted of:

  • Al Aimo (a dish prepared with tomato, oil, ricotta, fava beans Sardinian flat bread, green beans basil and chili pepper)
  • Cuttlefish cappuccino
  • Crispy buffalo ricotta and mozzarella cannelloni with tomato sauce
  • Saffron risotto with liquorice powder
  • Hand-chopped raw Piemontese beef with black truffle
  • Roast suckling pig with mustard sauce, coffee powder and sautéed chicorie

Dessert was as good as the rest of the meal and so were the wine pairings!

Dinner At Le Calandre

Eccellente!!!

Some New Friends In Amalfi

As I shared in an earlier post, the guide that picked us up from the train station in Naples and drove us to Amalfi was an Italian named Salvatore.  During the one and half hour drive he educated us on the sights along the way, taught us how to correctly pronounce some of the little Italian that we knew, as well as teaching us some new Italian words and phrases.  He also serenaded us like a gondolier in Venice!  During this time we began to connect with him and feel very comfortable around this “stranger”.  It is funny describing him that way now after just three days of being around him, because both Beth and I now consider he and his lovely wife Katharine to be friends.

Salvatore was our guide for our first day in Amalfi, but his wife Katharine was our guide on the second day.  Katharine grew up in California, but has lived in Italy more than half of her life, so she is bilingual was able to and help us even more with our Italian.  After spending a day with Katharine, it was easy to see why her and Salvatore are together.  For starters, they are what I call “good people” – they are kind and caring in a true way.  And they also compliment each other.

Our day with Katherine was as enjoyable as our time with Salvatore and as the day continued on, we were feeling connected to her as we had done with Salvatore.  While the sights she took us to that day were gorgeous, the highlight of the day was being invited to their beautiful hillside home overlooking the Amalfi Coast for a lunch cooked by Salvatore (along with some of his home made wine of course).

Beth at Katharine and Salvatore’s – What a view!

It was a delicious lunch, but the view and the company of Katharine and Salvatore made it even better.

Salvatore and Katharine

Day three of our stay in Amalfi was to be a fullday private boat charter, but some rainy weather forced us to cancel that.  Instead, we had Salvatore back as our guide.  He took us to the Reale winery in Tramonti and drove us through the mountain city of Ravello.  During this drive we learned that it was his birthday.  We asked him how he was going to celebrate, and he just shrugged and said nothing special.  Well, somehow between that moment and before the end of our day we were invited to dinner with he, Katherine, and his nephew, also named Salvatore.

Salvatore’s Birthday Dinner At A Local Trattoria

What a treat this was for us!  Dining in an Italian trattoria with Italians who didn’t even look at the menu to order.  We had a pizza bruschetta, seafood appetizers (with more of the delicious fresh local anchovies – not the terrible sardine-like things we get in the States), two huge bowls of pasta and after all of that, three pizzas to share!  I thought I was going to explode!  During the feast we had lots of fun and laughter at our table, and our bonding with our new friends continued.

Sadly, this was the last that we would see of Salvatore, but we did get to see Katharine the next day as she drove us from Amalfi back to the train station in Naples where we we off to Venice to start the next chapter of our trip.