30 August 2016

ITALY - 10/9/2015 - Day 1 - Part 2 - Florence - To Our Room

The trip between Tenuta Folsano and our hotel in Florence was like a ride at Disneyland--fun, but a little scary. Thank goodness for Giuseppe's expert driving. Back roads were narrow, and highways were crowded and bumper-to-bumper (literally). Lots of curves on both.

In the U.S. you often see signs for "deer crossing" and occasionally, in some states like Michigan, "bear crossing." Along the way here we saw wild boar, fox, wolf, and deer crossing signs. Didn't see any of those animals though.

We passed a lot of interesting scenery though--carvings in the mountain, unusual structures to keep the mountain from crumbling, rivers covered by old bridges. And we went through 42 tunnels through the Apennine mountains. Much road work going on, but didn't seem to hold things up too much. Also we saw lots of hand gestures, but no litter on the highway!

 We drove past the town of Maranello, home of Ferrari since the 1940s and the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One racing team. They also have the Museo Ferrari, displaying their race cars, trophies, and other racing memorabilia. Wish we could have stopped there.

Everything is an "eria" around here--yogurteria, hamburgeria, buffeteria, gelatoria, pasticceria (pastries), cafferia (coffee), orologeria (watches), and more. Had to to laugh at a few of these. I guess you can put "eria" on the end of anything meaning shop. We also saw an IKEA store.

When we got to the Arno river we saw rowers in long boats (like in the Olympics) and the famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).

Roads within central Florence were sooooo narrow. Filled with people, bicycles, carts, and delivery trucks. I just don't know how Giuseppe could maneuver without a mishap. But he brilliantly did, sometimes with only inches to spare between the van and a building or person or all manner of vehicles.

The Hotel Pitti Palace was our "home" in Florence. It was seven meters (or 22 feet) from the entrance to the Ponte Vecchio. Part of the hotel structure is the reconstructed medieval Torre dei Rossi-Cecchi (tower). It was originally built in the early 1200s and mostly destroyed by German troops in WW2.


Each room had photos on the door telling about the window views from that room. Our room faced onto a narrow alley, but it still had interesting sights. The street name was Borgo San Jacopo and it lays between the Ponte Vecchio and the smaller, less elaborate Ponte a Santa Trinita. From this second bridge you got a great view of the Ponte Vecchio.

We had just a peek of the Arno River from our room window. There was the Borgo San Jacopo (Michelin star) restaurant overlooking the Arno down the way and the Romanesque-style San Jacopo sopr'Arno Church (founded in the 10th century) across the way.

Apartments and a few shops also lined the alley. We could actually open the window and stick our heads out. We could smell the smells and hear conversations. It was fun watching the people and vehicles as they did their business. The street was vigorously cleaned each morning and there were lovely rooftop gardens. Pretty picturesque for an "alley."

This was our smallest room of the trip. No matter; we were not there much except for sleeping. There was a queen-size bed, a bathroom with tub/shower and bidet, a desk, and a small closet area. Certainly enough to be quite comfortable.




While we were there we had to have some clothes cleaned. It was near the end of our formal tour, but we still had plans for Lake Como and Venice before going home. It cost 120 US!!! to get all cleaned, but it came back with each piece neatly wrapped in individual clear plastic bags. Very elegant for mostly dirty underwear and socks.

We had breakfast in the top floor cafe. There was also a happy hour there, but we did not have time to take advantage of that. We took a quick peek though and here is the set up.











Breakfast was similar to what we had enjoyed all along--thin slices of cured meats, cheese, fruit, hard boiled eggs. and the ever wonderful cappuccino.



You either ate indoors or out on the roofed terrace. From either place the views were wonderful. Here you can see the apartments lining the other side of the Arno and the duomo tower in the background.

22 August 2016

ITALY - 10/9/2015 - Day 1 - Part 1 - Florence - Wine for Breakfast !?

Another 0830 departure. This time from Parma to Florence (or Firenze in Italian). There was one stop en route at the Folesano Colli Bolognese Winery, about 1-½ hours out of Parma.

Upon arrival, we hit the bottom of our van on a metal "ridge" on the way up the driveway. It scrapped off a plate that affected the entry stairs into the van. Giuseppe spent his time trying to repair it while we visited, but to no avail. After that we had a giant step in and out of the vehicle. No problem. Giuseppe was there to lend a a helping arm.

At Tenuta (estate) Folesano, Carla and her son Andrea are the owners. Carla was our host today and she was lovely, gracious, and full of vim and vigor. It was obvious that she was totally invested in every part of their operation and product. Although this was the smallest operation we were to see, we were impressed.
This land was first cultivated by Etruscans and then Romans. In the Middle Ages, the land was owned by the Counts of Panico, a powerful Italian family. Eventually it came to the Folesano family through Carla's grandfather and it continues to produce quality wines. Some of the vines are from the 19th century. First we took a stroll around the nine hectors of vineyards. The fields and vines were beautiful in this mountainous setting.
Carla pointed out that the vineyard is designated a sustainable and earth friendly agricultural operation. It was obvious that this is a source of great pride to the family. This bio-dynamic way of farming takes into consideration the soil, animals, insects, weather, and phases of the moon. Different parts of the vineyard are micro climates and are cared for in specific ways. No pesticides or chemicals are used. Grapes are picked by hand.
Even the wine stems are dried and recycled for future use.

Next we saw the small, but impressive operation. Lots of stainless steel and updated equipment.
Then we passed through the lower level of the winery where the barrels are aged.
Upstairs was the tasting room. We also got a taste of more delicious fresh parmigiana and cured pork shavings. I had a taste or two. We'd had a continental breakfast at the hotel, but not as good as this.


We had several wonderful wines including a white named Gariete, a merlot, a sangiovese (one of my very faves), a rosato, and a brute rosé. Carla pored from the bottle into a large wine glass shaped-decanter and then poured our individual glasses from here. Very elegant.


At the end of our tasting, John gave Carla a photo card from John's wife. She is a photographer and sent this thank you card with photos from the winery. Carla was touched and shed a few tears of fond memories from last year's visit.


Before our departure, Carla took us to the family home across the road from the winery. I'm not sure how old it is but certainly over 100 years. It overlooked the rolling hills and valley below. Herbs and flowers grow on the patio. A little bit of heaven.
We did not go inside the family quarters, but we saw the agritourism flat that is for rent to travelers. It is a mix of old and new. Living and bedroom are "old" with rock tiled floors, stone walls, wood beams, and homey furnishings. The kitchen is modern with the latest equipment. There was even an outdoor stone pizza oven. Chef John said he would love to cook here.

Finally we had to say our good-byes and head down the road to Florence. 

Here are Carla and Chef John. The winery's website is www.Folesano.it

17 August 2016

ITALY - 10/8/2015 - Parma - Day 3 - Part 4 - Balsamic, Pavarotti, and Ferrari


The city of Modena
(pronounced
like eenie-meanie-miney-MO ... MO-denna) is also located in the Po River Valley. It is home to the three things mentioned above. Nothing more to be said about balsamic.

I learned to love opera while listening to it at a green nursery in Half Moon Bay, California. It was so pleasant walking around the gardens with the tenors or sopranos singing in the background. And Luciano is one of my (well, everyone's) favorites.

We couldn't afford a Ferrari, but we love the look and love watching them in the Formula One races. One of Ferrari's cars, the 360 Modena, was named after this town. Other famous car companies with factories located here or nearby are (or were) DeTomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani, and Maserati.

This was our last stop before dinner. Bubbly Sabrina (born in Parma) was our guide. We met her in the city center near the Military Academy of Modena, founded in 1678. It is housed in the baroque style Palazzo Ducal (Duke's Palace) and is the first such military institution of its kind to be created in the world. Here is where future Italian army and carabinieri (police) officers are trained. A military library and museum are also located here.

One famous alumni of this school was Charles Cornwallis, the British army officer who surrendered at Yorktown (USA) during the American Revolution. Many other famous graduates were named from Italian and international ranks.
You couldn't go beyond the heavy main gate, but you could peek into the courtyard and see the elegant buildings surrounding it. Lots of young folks in uniform were passing to and fro. By the gate was a memorial to fallen soldiers, Italian and others, from WWII.

From there we meandered under the many colonnades. The interior ceilings were painted with colorful frescoes and framed in fancy archways built to protect shoppers from rain or sun.
Walkways were lined with one-of-a-kind stores like this meat shop filled with the culatello products we had seen being processed a day earlier.




Next was the Modena Duomo. There was a service going on at the time we arrived, so we were not able to get inside, but the outside was quite impressive. This Romanesque style cathedral was consecrated in 1184. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Geminianus (Modena's patron saint).
A side entrance was guarded by two lion statues. Lions seem to be a common theme in Italy and it is interesting to see the style of each. Some were elaborate and some quite primitive, depending on when they were sculpted. These by the duomo side door were quite primitive. At the front door they were bigger, standing tall, with massive mains, and bearing teeth.
Next we went to Modena Town Hall, which faces the Piazza Grande (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The edifice includes a connection of several buildings from as far back as 1046. It is a combination of government offices and museum. A wonderful clock tower designates the main entrance.

One room called "The Chamber of the Confirmed" houses an important symbol of the city. It is the Secchia Rapita (Stolen Bucket), a bucket kept in memory of the victorious Battle of Zappolini (or "War of the Oaken Bucket" in 1325) against Bologna. It seems a student from Bologna stole the bucket and the Modenese really wanted it back.
Another room displayed historical documents. Wish I could read Italian to tell you what this says.
More rooms had elegant wall and ceiling frescoes, Murano glass chandeliers, vintage paintings, musical instruments (17th century organ), tapestries and antique furniture.


Our last stop on this tour was the Mercato Albinelli food market. The market has been open since the Middle Ages. The current liberty style structure opened in 1931. It offers all kinds of fresh produce and fruit, fresh and cured meats, cheeses, fresh pasta, wine, honey, balsamic vinegar, chestnuts, macaroons, little cafes, and much more housed in one large building.

At the center of the market is a little fountain and statue of a child holding a fruit basket. It is a work by the famous sculptor Giuseppe Graziosi who also created the main foundations in the city. Unfortunately I did not get any photos here. My camera ran out of juice. But you can find photos and information at: http://www.mercatoalbinelli.it/la-storia/?lang=en  or  http://www.visitmodena.it/english/tourist-information/discover-the-area/art-and-culture/modern-architecture/mercato-coperto


An aside:
I just loved Sabrina's lime green shoes--comfy, fun, and stylish. She said she bought them in Milan. Darn! Not stopping there on this trip.

(Back at the bus, I got my other camera for these shots.) OK, after the Mercato we were really ready for dinner, mouths watering. Dal 1934 da Amerigo did not disappoint. This trattoria-osteria was opened in 1934 by grandpa Amerigo. It is a 1-star Michelin ristorante located about an hour away in the small town of Savigno. 



Owner and chef Alberto Bettini met us with a big smile and a big hug for John. He was a gracious host and helped serve or checked in with us at each course. He offered touching  family stories throughout the evening

The restaurant was on the cozy side. Dark woods and old Italian country decor. We all felt like we were having dinner with Chef's family.

The food was simple, but creative. Dinner included crisp fried veggie balls, polenta with LOTS of white truffle shavings (oh, so good and the only place on our trip where we got polenta), flat breads with chilled parmigiana cream and balsamic, creamy liver pate on brioche toast, meat filled tortellini, slow posted pork neck shoulder with baked onion torte, and more. As a pescatarian, I got some of the above, as well as noodles with shaved parmigiana and sautéed fish with stuffed pepper. All soooooo good.



We had five deserts to choose from--several cakes, grape sorbet, gelato with fudge topping, and more. The meal ended with meringues (from the egg whites left over from pasta making) and espresso. We also had a digestive of chestnut liquor.

After dinner we were invited into the family store. Grandpa Ameriga's childhood photo was proudly displayed on the wall.


It was filled with jams, vinegars, wines, sauces, the chestnut liquor, and other food delicacies. Many of the items were a product of Amerigo's kitchen.

It was dark and quite late when we left the ristorante. Some chatted about the meal. Some just watched the mesmerizing night lights as we traveled down the road. Some snoozed. Glad to be home this night. It was a long day.