Tuscany.

I had always thought that those glorious views of Tuscany you see in travel magazines were all taken from only one or two spots. Well after our three days of driving to, through and from Tuscany, let me tell you the whole place looks likes those pictures (well except for a few industrial areas). It was just beautiful even though we were in and out of sprinkling rain for most of the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Modena on Saturday morning (boy driving in a city in daylight and on a weekend is MUCH easier than at night at weekday rush hour!) headed for Lucca. The non toll routing provided by the car’s navigation system took us up and down and up and around some teeny tiny roads through the mountains. While beautiful, it was a hoot when we hit some tiny village and had to do a 12 point turn to make a right turn in the middle of the town. We stopped at one place along the way and bought some 40 month old Parmesan-omg, so good and only 7 bucks or so a pound. Wish we could fit a wheel in the suitcase!

At the top of the mountains we stopped at a ski resort for a break and a hot chocolate and saw snow!

In the drive down the other side we came across the medieval footbridge, Pont de Magdalena. I’m still trying to figure out what was being brought down the river from the mountains that needed such a high arch.

From there we arrived shortly in Lucca to find some sort of Comic-Con or Halloween festival going on. We drive around this walled city but the nearest parking was a mile away so we decided it wasn’t going to be possible to do a quick stop for lunch and elected to head on.

While being in Italy on a long holiday weekend had its advantages (chocolate festival!), it also impacted our trip. Places that typically wouldn’t have been crowded on a Thursday or Friday were (Sirmione) and I think the crowds were bigger at the villages in Tuscany over the weekend that they would have been otherwise.

We stopped for a quick sandwich in a suburb of Lucca and then continued to San Gimignano. This walled town is a wonderful memory from my time in graduate school in Genova. After spending a rushed two days in Florence trying to see everything an architectural student should see, our group of 9 spent a night in this village of towers in 1981. Rather than having to see things, we were able to just “be”. When we exited the only really nice Hotel we stayed in that semester on that Sunday morning, we walked onto the Piazza Cisterna (water well) to find a very blonde (Finnish?) brass quartet sitting around the well playing. Other than the four of them and the nine of us, it was like we had the whole town to ourselves. Over his objections, we all told our professor we weren’t leaving quite yet and pulled out our sketchbooks so he wouldn’t keep complaining and enjoyed an extra hour in what was then a magical place.

Unfortunately like all places, tourists are now all over town and we arrived to find a market taking place everywhere because of the holiday weekend. Needless to say it wasn’t peaceful but it was picturesque. We had a jarra (pitcher) of the local white wine and shared a cheese plate while people watching in the piazza before leaving for Staggia our home for the final two nights in Italy.

Our Airbnb in Staggia was in a renovated fortress and in addition to a wonderful loggia was at the ground floor so no toting of bags up stairs! Our only complaint was the bed was really really low-it was like they had taken the typical low IKEA bed we have had in a number of places and cut the legs off!

None of us were overly hungry so Mike and I ate the salad we had bought in Milan and been carrying around with us. After dinner Mike and I went exploring around our place and came across a bakery with the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen. We should have bought one to share for breakfast but didn’t so I can say whether it’s taste was as grand as it’s size.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sienna. It was a raining on and off so we elected to only do a quick walk through the Campo, Sienna’s major piazza and have a cup of coffee under an almost rainproof awning before heading back to the parking lot outside the walls (and down five escalators!).

This grand space is the location of the Palio horse race. While it would be incredible to see this 90 second race (3 times around) I don’t think I could deal with the claustrophobia of being one of the 50,000 spectators!

The square is dominated by the tower on the City Hall. Across from it, is the fountain where running water was first brought into the city. I was amazed that the drain at the bottom of the plaza wasn’t larger given how much water it must handle.

From Sienna we headed towards Montalcino, one of many wine villages. This walled town was the location today if some sort of scavenger hunt so there were lots and lots of runners climbing up and down the steps and hills getting their cards stamped. We enjoyed walking through the town and had a light lunch of a shared wine, meat and cheese tasting.

Afterwards we headed off to Montepulciano another wine town. It was the first town in days without a festival! Like the others the interior and exterior views were great. Mike and I agreed that next time we are in Tuscany, we want to spend two or three weeks in one of these small towns and really get to know them.

We returned to the apartment and finished up the two bottles of wine we had purchased in San Gimignano before heading half a block down the street for our final Italian dinner.

We had a great time with Roberto our host, waiter and son of the chef and chefess. We were the only non Italians in the 24 seat restaurant and were made to feel right at home. Before long the place was full and it was obvious that both the staff and the guests believed in having s good time.

Peggy had chicken liver pate with onions and anchovies as her starter along with her bottle of white wine. The pate was good even for this non liver lover.

Lowell had pici (a local pasta that is like a twisted spaghetti-each piece is made by hand – with tomato and LOTS of garlic. Very tasty!

Mike and I split a bowl of pappardelle in Mom’s meat sauce. Delicious!

For her dinner, Peggy had pici with anchovies and breadcrumbs. She loves her anchovies. It was great though we don’t have a picture.

Lowell, Mike and I split a Steak Florentine-1.3 kilos (46 ounces) of deliciousness.

Along with the steak we had a salad and a platter of the best potatoes ever. The were thinly (but obviously hand done) sliced and fried with garlic, sage and lots of salt. The picture below is after we had all eaten a handful. So so good!

Peggy is celebrating her 39th birthday (we don’t ask what anniversary of her 39th!) later in the cruise and after much wine (we were intrigued with how Roberto left the cork attached to the bottle) Lowell told Roberto about it and he brought out a birthday dessert and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday in Italian to Peggy.

As you can see in the picture above, guests sign the restaurant’s wall which we did and Lowell gave Roberto a $2 bill to paste on the wall with his.

Roberto brought us all grappa to end our dinner. None of us needed it and given we had to wake P&L up the next morning (they typically are very early risers) methinks they may have been overserved!

Our trip to Cittivechia the next day was uneventful and we boarded the ship by 1 pm.

Advertisements

Modena. (Or is there ever too much chocolate?)

not sure why (bad Spanish Internet? But all the pictures in this post aren’t loading. So sorry but here is the text.

We left Milan early in the morning and headed towards Modena our next resting spot. But first we had a hilltop town, two more lakes and a castle to see.

Our first stop was Bergamo. Mike and I had visited here last June so when we arrived and found parking near the upper city (Alta Citta) impossible, I dropped Mike, Lowell and Peggy (hereafter M,P&L) off at the upper gate and I drove to the lower gate of this walled city and sat in the car while M,P&L walked through town. They went into the Duomo but otherwise basically did a quick walk through.

From there we headed to Iseo ( on Lake Iseo) for a quick stop on our way to Lake Garda.

Peggy had selected Sirmione as our next stop. This town is on a peninsula that extends into Lake Garda. At the midpoint is the peninsula is Castello Scaligero which was built in the 14th century.

The medieval town and lake surrounding the castle are beautiful and could easily be used for a Disney movie.

We had a delicious lunch. Mike and I halfed and halfed lasagne and a local cod dish with polenta. While tasty I was disappointed that the polenta was grilled and not more liquid. Unfortunately we were both apparently too busy eating to take any pictures. sorry.

After lunch we continued onto Modena. Due to parking issues in Sirmione we needed up leaving later than planned which meant it was after dark when we got to Modena. We had difficulty locating our airbnb (the holiday festival and one way streets only raised my frustration level) but after a couple of phone calls to the host we finally found the right address and checked into our lovely home for the next two nights.

The apartment was located within the historic center which made driving difficult and after that stress of the previous night my passengers suggested and I readily agreed to trashing our plans to visit Verona and some other nearby towns and instead spend the next day in Modena.

Of course, after we discovered that there was a chocolate festival literally at our doorstep with vendors’ stalls for the next eight or ten blocks we knew we made the right decision! For dinner that night we basically had chocolate albeit not shoes or handcuffs!

The next morning we visited the Grande Plaza with the Duomo and the City Hall. We also went inside to the the “historic rooms” of the City Hall. Including a very old organ.

From the main square it was only half a block to the city market. As usual incredible sights, smells and tastes-including porcetta and prosciutto!

It had started sprinkling as we left the market so we headed towards the Ferrari Museum. Along the way we passed the Ducal Palace which was covered in scaffolding-but here it is as well a the view from it across its piazza towards Duomo.

Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena and started his empire in the building below which houses a display about his life and various engines.

The old garage is surrounded by a modern building which was inspired by the boot of a Ferrari.

The main display has cars from all eras. The space itself is very interesting-sloped floor from top to bottom in a curve and with a huge projection system where they show a film on Ferrari’s life and the history of the brand and team.

Of course there is a gift shop and Cafe which was in the curved part of the building looking out on the historic garage.

As always I love the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary:

After a wet walk in the rain Back to the apartment we called it a day and ate our market purchases for supper.

I am posting this from the Barcelona cruise terminal after a beautiful day. I’ll do a full Barcelona post in the future but here is a teaser of the inside of Sagrada Famila. OMG it’s astounding. What a change from when we were here in the mid 1990s and it didn’t have a roof or windows or full height columns! (Oh, no filter used!)

They had the hole in the ship repaired when we got off this morning and were in the process of painting it but Mike just texted from onboard and the rumor is we may not be leaving until tomorrow. No biggie-what else do I have to do?

Milano and Lake Como.

After our haircuts yesterday, Mike & I rode the train into Milano to meet P&L who were seeing the Last Supper, the Duomo, etc. all places we had visited last Spring. We arrived earlier than we had to and took the opportunity to visit the Sforza Castle seen at the top of this post. This castle built by Duke Sforza in the 15th century (on 14th century foundations) was enlarged in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of Europe’s largest forts. Despite being heavily damaged during bombing in WWII it now serves as a museum and a great outdoor space. We arrived just as the exterior lighting was coming on which added to it’s impressiveness.

Our original plan had been to meet P&L and go to I navigl (Milan’s canal district) for apertivo as our supper. However, they both decided that they had “hit the wall” which given they had been going not stop (well except for a couple of hours of napping on their short flight from JFK) for 28 or more hours was not unreasonable. So we decided to pick up some salad and wine to go with the pasta and sauce Cinzia, our Airbnb host had left for us and eat dinner at home.

This morning we left the apartment about 8 and drove towards Lake Como for our circumnavigation of the lake (shown in red on the map). I had hoped we would avoid rush hour traffic but it appears that like all major cities, that’s not possible. We left the blue dot following the red line to Lecco. We made one stop quick there for the first siting of the lake and then continued on to Varenna.

After parking (easy peasy in the fall! We can only imagine what it’s like in the summer) we had coffee and hot chocolate to warm us up on this dreary and chilly day-thankfully no rain but we could see clouds and what we presumed was snow falling on the Alps in the Swiss distance. (And you know what snow becomes when it’s not in the mountains 😢 but I’m getting ahead of myself).

After our coffee we walked from the ferry station along a lakeside walkway to the real Varenna-fishing boats and restaurants and stairs of course. It is a lovely town and in our opinion just as picturesque as Bellagio and not as touristy.

From Varrena we confined north towards Switzerland but came short of it by 21 miles by road and less than 10 as a bird flies. We crossed over the River Mera which joins Lake Mezzola (off the top of the map above) and then started down the western side of Como.

We left the lake road at Gravedona and started climbing up incredible narrow and winding streets (mirrors at all the switchbacks) to reach a restaurant that I found on Trip Advisor.

On the way up Peggy said I sure hope this meal is worth you having to drive these streets. Thankfully on the way down she said it was…to which Mike replied, “wait till we get down with the car undamaged before you say that!”

We entered the restaurant as the only guests as they were decorating for their special Halloween dinner.

Halloween is relatively new in Italy and appears to mostly be about having a special dinner out or perhaps a small party. From what I can gather kids don’t Trick or Treat house to house. We did see a few shops and restaurants that had what appeared to be bags prepared and we saw a group of simply costumed kids going into one of the stores.

I had selected this restaurant because they serve Pizzocheri-the buckwheat pasta, potato, cabbage and cheese dish of this region.

Cinizia had made it for us in the Spring (she is from the mountains). Hers was better but I still enjoyed this.

In addition to this and numerous other pasta dishes, meat entrees and sides they also offered two set menus-one meat focused and the other based on fish. Peggy got tagliatelle with mushrooms (yummy!-probably the best dish of the day).

Mike and I halfed and halfed bresaola (dried beef-here served like capacio with Parmesan and arugula), insalda caprese, gnocchi with Gorgonzola and the pizzocheri pictures earlier.

Lowell ordered the set fish menu and had fried smelts, followed by trout with rice (really tasty) and then trout with butter and lemon and vegetables described as in pastry but in fact were the best fried veggies ever!

He ended up being so full after his first two courses (who knew they would all be so huge) that he took the last one home which along with Peggy’s leftover pasta became their dinner tonight-Mike and I didn’t have leftovers (no surprise there) so we had the pasta leftover from last night.

We all shared Lowell’s lemon sorbet dessert and then we were gifted with Lemoncello all around!

The views of the lake and the Alps from the restaurant in this little village were beautiful. It would be great to eat on their terrace.

After successfully making it back down to the lake (the route line changes from red to blue on the map above) we continued towards Como. The original plan had been for us to drop P&L at one of the villages and they take the ferry to a village further south where we would pick them up. This was mostly so Peggy could wave at the George, Amal and the twins. However, that Swiss snow we had seen earlier had become Italian rain and she decided she would have to live with seeing the gate on the road to Villa Oleandra rather than it’s beautiful side that faces the lake.

The drive along the lake was lovely but scary as hell. The road is waaay to narrow for opposing lanes of traffic. In several places they have stops lights to stop traffic in one direction so that the cars from the other direction can drive-sorta like a signal person on a road under construction. In some places the road is so narrow you can see scrape marks on the stone buildings on one side or the other Thank goodness for electrically retractable side mirrors! But we made it back unscathed except for our nerves.

We saw several beautiful villas and wonderful little towns-I wish the weather had of been conducive to exploring some of them. Oh well, next trip!

We had planned on apertivo in Como but without the ferry portion (nor the alternate visit to Villa Carlotta’s beautiful gardens due to the rain) we arrived there right at rush hour.

After a stressful drive around the edges of the pedestrian only historic center of Como (including the dreaded “Clay you are going up a wrong way street” from Mike) unsuccessfully looking for a place to park in the rain, we headed back towards home after Peggy said, ” I can see the Church’s dome-that’s good enough”.

The ride home wasn’t much better than the drive down towards Como. The car has onboard navigation but it apparently hasn’t been updated in a while, so it didn’t tell me to bear left so we ended up accidentally getting onto a new toll road (all electronic -no toll booths) so who knows what that is going to cost when the bill gets to Hertz (hey Gregor can you help a brother out? 😢). We realized it when suddenly on the GPS map we were driving across a field while the road was “over there”.

Anyway, after quickly exiting the toll road at the first availability, we continued on home through heavy traffic and a couple of more oops from the GPS system…”turn left back there”, go straight through the now concrete barricaded entry onto the highway, etc.

But made it back safe and sound and everyone is asleep except me (it’s 9:45 pm). Tomorrow we are headed to Modena (vinegar anyone?) via Bergamo, Lake Iseo and hopefully Gorgonzola!

They’re here!

Peggy and Lowell arrived (early!) in Milan after an awful day of delayed, canceled and changed connections (before they got to JFK). I met them at the airport, we picked up our rental minivan and went back to the hotel, picked up Mike and headed o our Airbnb in Paderno Dugnano.

This is our second time staying with Cinzia. It was great to see her smiling face again. After a short rest, we walked with Peggy & Lowell (hereafter P&L) to the train station (where the selfie above was taken) and they headed into downtown Milan for their Last Supper/Duomo/La Scala tour. We will meet them at 5:30 downtown for apertivo 🍷🍸🍹

Mike and I then had a delicious plate of carbonara and are now at our favorite Italian barber for a trim-Mike is getting head and beard, just beard for me, my head hair is almost long enough to tie back….finally!

Milano Week 3

We’ve been heading downhill all week!

Downhill (sadly) towards our departure from Italy and walking downhill(s) during our death marches in Genova and Florence.

As you may know, during graduate school I spent the Fall of 1981 at Clemson’s Charles E. Daniel Center in Genova.

Last Tuesday, I went back for only the 2nd time since then and Mike’s first visit to this historic seaport.

At one point, Genova and Venice ruled the Mediterranean and often fought each other. Remnants of Genova’s walls remain and it’s former palaces are now museums or commercial buildings. Above on the left is the Palazzo Bianco (white) and across the street Palazzo Rosso (red). Originally these were private houses of the wealthy.

They and their neighbors have incredible courtyards, gardens, and terraces as well as intricate decoration on both the interior and exterior.

Even the entry court for the carriages were decorated like crazy-below is an example of another former Palazzo that is now a bank!

After wandering to the main piazza (town square) – Piazza Ferrari (yes THAT Ferrari)

we grabbed a taxi and headed uphill to the Villa. We discussed walking since it was only a mile but as you will see later, it’s quite the mile!

Not much has changed, the view from the villa’s garden of this tower is the same as in that class portrait from 1981. There must be a thousand sketches of it amongst Clemson Architectural Alumni.

At the Villa we had a delicious lunch prepared by Angela, the cook who was there when I was! She is now retired but was back for a few days filling in for the current cook. It was so good to see her and have one of her wonderful hugs. I think she was almost as excited as me to see each other again. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen that fall. Other than her hair she doesn’t appear to have aged a bit! We reminisced in broken English/Italian (her English has been much improved after 30 years) and when it was time to go, she remembered that the last time we said goodbye we had both cried. We didn’t this time…though it was close!

After saying our goodbyes, we started our downhill death march. The second set of steps is at the top of this post, that was preceded by a long, long, Long curved stepped ramp and followed by over a mile of steep streets, stepped alleys, and stepped ramped sidewalks until we again reached the old historic port city.

After a beer and thigh (they was burnin!) break we wandered towards what used to be the docks (and the part of town no one went to) which has been developed into a pedestrian area with a market area, skating rink/event space, an Eataly, and a long pedestrian promenade. We walked along it and then back through the narrow streets to the train station (with a gelato stop along the way!). The European flower show was taking place in Genova so there were umbrellas over some of the streets-not sure how they are connected.

We made it back to the apartment a little after 10 pm WORN out. According to our iPhones we had walked about 6.5miles and almost 20,000 steps. For two fat boys it felt more like 20 million!

After a day of rest (I think my phone showed I walked 42 steps on Wednesday!), we got up really early on Thursday and headed to Florence. For long time followers you may recall that during Mike’s 50th birthday trip we had a great meal in Florence and since this is as close as we are going to be for the foreseeable future we wanted to go back and have another.

Since it was outside our allotted budget, and since it looks like Mike is going to spend his birthday in the Copenhagen airport (have to wait until June to hear how all that goes down) we decided this was Mike’s birthday celebration. I mean come on Queen Elizabeth gets two birthdays so why not Mike?

We arrived in Florence a little after 10 and took the City bus up to Piazzale Michelangelo where apparently every tourist within a thousand miles had also decided to visit. This terraced area across the river and up the hill gives a view to all of Florence including the iconic clay tiled dome of the Duomo (cathedral).

After fighting our way past the souvenir stand (oh come on, the Last Supper isn’t even in Florence) and the hoard of Asian tourist all watching each of the hoard have their picture taken individually and then with their spouse and then with their BFF and then with their BFF and their spouses and then with…..we started downhill back into the historic center. It was tough but not Genova tough thankfully!

We wandered through the historic streets until time for our reservation at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori. This tiny (24 chairs) restaurant is always packed.

It is family run- Mom in the kitchen, Dad (that’s him in the picture above) in the center of the room pouring wine, making salads, and our favorite – hand carving prosciutto-(it tastes different than when carved on a machine) all while son Tomosino greets, explains the menu and takes orders.

Well either due to age or popularity, it appears Dad now supervises a younger guy at the carving station and Tomosino doesn’t have to work quite as hard as unlike five years ago they now make copies of the handwritten menu and the back side is in English. Sorta took some of the charm out of it but who can blame them!

After being seated at the exact same table and chairs as last time we immediately ordered the ham. Yummy!

We were joined at our table (only 24 seats remember) by a nice couple from Maine who spend three weeks a year in Italy. They were up from Rome for the day. We had a great time discussing our favorite travel spots.

For our Primi (first course), we ordered ravioli with butter & sage and a bowl of tomato and bread soup. Both were very tasty!

While we were tempted to order the Parpadelle with duck that we had before for our Secondi we went with new dishes. Veal with tuna sauce (a very traditional dish of cold slices of veal covered with a sauce made of tuna and mayonnaise) and the fried chicken with squash blossoms. This was Mike’s introduction to the veal dish and he really likes it. The other was tasty but we both think the pasta would have been a better choice.

For dessert Mike had Tiramisu with razberries and I had Panama cotta. Both were great! We didn’t know about different types of Tiramisu (remember Mike doesn’t like coffee) until Angela made it with strawberries and no coffee. Sorta like rum spiked strawberry shortcake!

Lunch was delicious and while we enjoyed it immensely it was not the knock it out of the park that we experienced the first time. But is anyone’s second time ever as memorable as your first? But when we are back in Florence we will definitely be going back!

After lunch we rolled ourselves across the river and wandered the Oltro Arno neighborhood which is a little less touristy than the historic center.

There are lots of leather, furniture and art shops as well as beautiful old streets with my favorite old Italian people!

There is of course at least one church worth seeing -in this case Santo Spirito. It was designed by Brunelleschi who designed that big ol dome on the Duomo. It is full on Renaissance architecture on the interior. He died just as the first columns were being installed and hadn’t designed the facade so it was left plain. His students oversaw the completion of the interior based on his completed drawings.

After making our way back to the other side of the river again, we went through the outside market near San Lorenzo and then into the central market. The main floor of the market closes after lunch but since the last time we were last here, they have created a food hall on the upper level where each of the stalls on the perimeter is a different local-ish vendor. And no Jane we didn’t go because we were hungry, but to buy a little something for our train ride back to Milano. They have prepared meals-chicken, pasta, steak, seafood as well as other specialty products. In the center are tables and a big bar with beers, wine and soft drinks.

I bought a cheese tray from a new stall-it was their first day. They specialize in Mozzarella-two farmers had gone together. One raised cows the other buffalo. While I was waiting the buffalo farmer struck up a conversation and invited us to his farm! Next trip I hope. He also gave us a taste of their frozen UNSWEETENED yougurt. Tasted like cold cheese-really good.

Mike bought some prosciutto style (it wasn’t from Parma) ham. We then killed a little time having a beer and then headed to the train station only to find out that our train was 65 minutes late. Ugh.

When it finally left we did high tail it back-top speed was 300 kmh (186 mph) and most of the trip we were at 260-280 kmh.

We walked back in the apartment at 11:30 so another long but fun day. We had walked over 7 miles/20,000 steps. Again we were beat!

I had intended to finish this post out with details of our last two days here in Italy I rambled way too much so I am going to stop here and will post again while killing time in the airport on Tuesday morning before our flight to Santorini.

Milano Week 2

Since our rainy day at the Duomo, we have had nothing but beautiful weather and we have tried to take advantage of it…..well at least until the last couple of days…we have had a lazy weekend!

As noted in my last post, we were on the train to Bergamo, a city about an hour from here.  There is the lower city which is more modern and then up a hill – we rode the bus up and the funiculare down (no shame, we still got in 5 miles of walking!) is the historic village. The hardline picture was taken looking up to it.

Some long time readers may recall that originally we were going to stay in a village outside Bergamo (we couldn’t find an Airbnb in our price range in Bergamo proper) but when we realized that our Ryan Air flights were flying in and out of Milano’s main airport (Malpensa) and not the secondary one near Bergamo, we changed our apartment.  After visiting Bergamo we wish we had of left well enough alone….trust me, we like the apartment here and Cinzia our host is the BEST – we are up to four dishes of pasta from her…but we both said we think Bergamo could be on the list if we decide to live in Europe long term and that Italy is where we want to live.  But that is getting the cart way in front of the horse.

After taking the bus from the lower city railway station to its end at the Citi Alta (upper city), we then took a funicular up to the very highest part of town.  Not much there, a couple of restaurants, a pretty park and what must be high end houses given the cars parked in their driveways – we saw a Tesla and an Audi 8 among others. But the views were incredible.

We then took the funiculare back down to the Citta Alta where we wandered to lunch at a TripAdvisor recommended restaurant. Our dishes were tasty and it was a lovely day in their garden-although we wished we had of gotten the table in the shade but we were beat to it.  Most of the other guests appeared to be workers and Italian so I think we weren’t in a tourist trap.

We half and halfed a penne pasta with ragu and ravioli with butter and sage for our first course and then we both had polenta (Italian grits) which is one of the traditional dishes here.  It was the side to pork cutlets.

We didn’t have dessert at the restaurant but instead bought the specialty pastry here, called..wait for it…Polenta!  It is actually a small cake covered with something to make it look like polenta and then has marizpan decorations supposedly representing the pork that is typically on top of the polenta.  The one we bought was chocolate and orange and was very tasty!

After lunch we headed generally downhill through the upper city’s main square, by both it’s cathedral and basicillca and wandered the narrow picturesque streets.

I was most intrigued by the many decorative tapestries. They were everywhere there wasn’t a painting or gold leaf!

We ended up at the Funiculare which we rode down to the lower city.  From there we walked down the main street back towards the train station where we caught our ride back home.

It was a lovely day and I certainly hope we get to revisit Bergamo and spend more than just a day there.

As mentioned previously, Cinzia our Airbnb hostess (and her helper Isabella) have been great.  Isabella is always available via WhatsApp to answer a question (she is half english and half italian so speaks both beautifully) and Cinzia has brought us dinner a total of four times (so far-fingers crossed).  In addition to the pasta pomodorro the arrival night, she has made us penne with ragu, risotto milanese (saffron) and our favorite, Pizzocheri.

This traditional dish of the mountains is made with buckwheat pasta, potatoes and cabbage.  After they are almost cooked, they are removed from the boiling water and layered in the serving dish with Valapaian cheese – Cessera is the one Cinzia used and placed over the still hot water pot to stay warm/melt the cheese.  While that is happening, you sautee’ a couple of smashed gloves of garlic in butter.  When the butter is almost brown, you take out the garlic and pour the butter over the pasta and serve. OMG, is it ever good….not necessarily pretty but so damn tasty!

Anyway, we talked about cooking dinner or lunch for Cinzia but after discussing with Isabella, elected to take her to lunch in a restaurant here in town.  We had a great meal and great conversation in English, Italian and even a little bit of french at one point! LOL.  The food was delicious.  Traditional with a twist.  Very fresh ingredients.  Mike and I hope to go back before we leave next week.

A salad of roasted root vegetables, asparagus on a smear of goat cheese

Clay’s Pork cheek tagliatelle

Mike’s risotto with chicken ah jus

Mike’s “bbq” sausages and roasted potatoes

Tiramisu

After this day of rest, if hosting a lunch out and if doing laundry is rest (actually it isn’t so bad, throw them in the machine, hang them on the drying rack on the balcony and within a few hours they are dry…..not sure why we have dryers in the US….I swear it doesn’t take that much longer…as long as it’s not raining!) we headed to Lake Como the next day for lunch with Amal and George (the twins were being fully nannied -as it should be, so we didn’t meet them).

It takes about an hour on the train to reach the City of Como which is at one end of the upside down Y shaped lake of the same name.  From there we took a slow ferry (not sure why George didn’t pick us up in his speedboat) to Bellagio the village that is located at the intersection of the two legs of the aforementioned Y.  The ferry stops at many villages along the way.  It wasn’t until we got to Bellagio and were buying our return tickets that we saw the sign (we both swear there wasn’t one in Como) for the day pass which allows you to get on and off.  Oh well, next time.

We arrived at Bellagio and death marched (uphill!) to another TripAdvisor recommended restaurant.  Mike and I split a salad, Mike had a delicious wood fired pizza with schmorza cheese and I had gnocci (tiny potato dumplings – should be cloudlike, these unfortunately weren’t) in a gorgonzola (blue cheese) sauce.  For dessert I had panna cotta…yummy.

We then walked back into Bellagio and wandered through town to La Punta (the very tip of the Y where the two legs of the lake come together.

The views everywhere  (on the ferry, in the village, on the shore) are incredible – The beautiful clear lake surrounded by steep hills leading up to the snow covered Alps.  It is amazing to be sitting having lunch and being warm in the sun and feeling like in just a few minutes you could be in the snow….you can’t, I know, but it feels like they are “right there”.

That’s Amal’s and George’s place on the left

After walking back uphill from La Punta into Bellagio, we caught the ferry back to Como (and the other 14 stops it made).  We arrived there and wandered the older part of the city.  It is lovely.

As it was getting late, we decided to have Apertivo.  This is the Italian version of Happy Hour – around 6 or so, the cafes and bars, offer either a buffet of  small dishes or in the case of the one in Como, bring them to your table.  This is included in the price of your cocktail…in the case of Como, each of our drinks were 5 euro.  So for less than $15 we each had a drink and all that food and got to people watch for as long as we could before we had to catch the train back!

On Saturday we took the train into Milan and explored the canal district – Navigli for a bit.  It has become the young and happening trendy part of Milan.  Lots of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

My planning didn’t work out quite right so we got there a little too early for Apertivo so we ended up having two drinks a piece…..no harm no foul except to the budget!  Drinks here were 9 euros but the ambiance and people watching was probably better than in Como so it all evens out I guess.

One day…I forget when..oh wait, it was after our restaurant lunch, Mike and took the long (long) way home and discovered a lovely walk along the canal that runs east west through Palazzolo (the village where we are) that intersects another walk along the river that runs north south.  Amazingly, they cross, but do not combine.  Anyway, unlike Valencia where the parks are maintained like crazy, these here are a bit overgrown but still a nice respite from the hard concrete and tall buildings.

We had big plans on Sunday to go to the local Bieriera (beer hall) but low and behold, it isn’t open after 3 on Sunday….unlike the US where a Sunday afternoon if beer drinking is a great way to spend a beautiful day.  Anyway, we both have truly enjoyed relaxing, reading and NOT having to hate Sundays anymore because they are the day before Monday.

Tomorrow we are headed to Genova (1.5 hours by train) to have lunch at Clemson’s Villa where I spent the fall of 1981 (jeez I am old).  The now retired cook, Angela and housekeeper, Andriena are going to come back for lunch so it should be a fun time.  We also are planning a day trip to Firenze (Florence) on Thursday to have lunch at our favorite restaurant in Italy…hopefully it will live up to our memory from Mike’s 50th birthday trip five years ago.  Stay tuned to find out!

ps. Apparently hover-rounds have arrived here too!