19 December 2016

ITALY 2015 - Wrap Up

We are sorry it took over a year to finish the blog on our Italy 2015 trip. But life is busy and it was fun coming back to it every now and then. We had to do some research to make sure our facts were straight and proofing my own work was a bit sketchy. Hey, if you see errors, let us know and we'll fix. We enjoyed fond memories by checking our notes (pretty scrawly) and seeing the photos from that trip.

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I felt bad for the dogs in Venice. There is no grass for them to romp on. We didn't seen one blade of the green stuff. Just cobblestone walkways. Miniature trash cans are occasionally along the sidewalks for the public to place their poop bags!! And we did not see many cats wandering in Venice. Just one on a rooftop.

To get into our hotel in Venice, we had an old skeleton key!


It seemed weird to come home and not have a bidet. Every room in every hotel has one. Wonder if individual residences also have a bidet.


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This was a culinary tour and Chef John (previously with Zazios restaurant in Kalamazoo and currently Director for Culinary Education at Kalamazoo Valley Community College) was the perfect guide. Most of the winery and production (cheese, cured meats, etc.) owners had connected with him in the past and welcomed him (and the group) with open arms. It often felt like old home week.

Chef says there is no such thing as Italian food. We all were taken aback by that. He clarified by saying each region of Italy has its own "signature" foods.

Among other things, Turin and Alba in Piedmonte enjoy beef and veal, the tajarin egg noodles, and grizzini (breadsticks we tasted in Barolo).

Parma in Emilia-Romagna has its parmagiano cheese and cured meats.

Florence in Tuscany has its pork, in every conceivable form.

Venice in the Veneto region has seafood.

Other regions also have their specialties. Although we did not go there, we learned on a TV show that even Sicily has culinary regions within the island.


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About a month after we got home, we had another treat. Although Chef John works for KVCC now, he was invited to be a guest chef at Zazios. He developed a menu inspired by the food of our trip and suggestions from the group that had traveled.
Here is the menu and wine pairings inspired by the trip. Mike and I suggested the buttery, eggy tajarin noodles from Alba, and Chef did a fine job in recreating that dish.
This is the Uovo in Cocotte with shaved truffles.
 This was served with the Tajarin al Ragu.

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Another fun thing happened this summer. Do you remember when we visited the Antica Corte Pallavicina restaurant in Emelia-Romagna and the culatella caves there? We saw a culatello with Anthony Bourdain's name on it.  Well, Travel Channel played a rerun of No Reservations and one segment showed Anthony picking out his personal culatello...the very one we saw aging on our visit there.

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Basically, we LOVE Italy, but had not planned to revisit for a while. So many other countries to explore. As it turned out Chef John planned another tour from Rome heading south to Amalfi. Guess, what? We signed up for the September 2016 trip. And I have lots to say about that one, too.

But first I'll write a little about "what we did on our 2016 summer vacation." 

17 December 2016

ITALY - 10/18/2015 - Home is Where the Heart Is

We had a recommendation from Kalamazoo friends T&L and California friends J&S on how best to get from the hotel on the islands to the mainland airport. Options were the land taxi (30-40 euros) or the water taxi (110+ euros). We also discussed this with the house manager Sunil. They all advised the water taxi (even with its high price) was the way to go. It is much quicker and picked us up only a half block away.

We had seen taxies on the canal. These were in the form of speedboats, either white fiberglass with no character or sleek polished wood. Riding the wood style was on Mike's bucket list and seemed the height of luxury. Sunil booked the boat. He did not know which type we would get. Fingers crossed--wood, wood, wood.

Sunil thankfully helped us get the heavy luggage down the 73 stone steps and we said our good-byes. We walked the half block to the canal's edge and waited with anticipation to see what our ride would be. Several boats, mostly fiberglass, stopped to pick of various passengers. We held our breath each time hoping we would get a lovely wooden one.

Finally it was our turn and, YAY, we got the slick wooden version of a taxi ... and we were the only passengers. It was gorgeous inside and out. Mike was in heaven. We loaded our luggage and ourselves. We sat in the open air back seat, while our "chauffeur" sat in the front. It was a spectacular ride. We were at the end of our money, but we felt like a rich and famous couple. What fun!
We meandered through the Grand Canal for a last look at the lovely palazzos along the way.
When we hit the open waters of the Venice Lagoon, we had about a 20 minute race across to Marco Polo Airport on the mainland. It was a bit misty, but you absolutely could not wipe the smile off Mike's face. He was having the thrill of his life, with the wind in his face and a rooster tail behind us.

As we approached the airport you could see the planes taking off and landing, reminding us of our old jobs before we retired. Glad to be traveling as full fare passengers with no fear of being bumped off the flight.

The taxi stand was packed, boats streaming in and out with passenger drop offs and pick ups. There was quite a walk between here and the terminal, but it was covered so we did not get wet from the mist. Lots of people to follow to get to the right place without getting lost.
There was confusion on our part once we got in the terminal, as signage was not the best. We were in the wrong line at first, but asked questions and got pointed in the right direction. Check-in and boarding was smooth after that.

As we waited on the plane for take-off, we looked at the open air roof of the terminal. To our surprise people were crowded along the building top to watch the airplanes come and go. How strange in this age of super security. There was also a full-size KLM aircraft (727, we think) displayed behind them on the roof. Hmmm!

Here was our flight schedule: 
        Venice 11:40 to Amsterdam 13:40
        Amsterdam 15:00 to Detroit 17:58
We flew above the snowy Alps and through the clouds on our way home. Our connection in Amsterdam was a breeze and everything was on time. We took a cab from the Detroit airport to our traveling partners' home (Lynn & Sandy, who we had parted ways with in Florence). There we had a glass of wine to wind down, reviewed our fun times, and then headed down the road to Kalamazoo in our car.
Back in Kalamazoo, we took a van from the airport to home. How mundane!!! Bella was so happy to see us, meowing and circling between our legs. The feeling was mutual. She quickly found a spot on Mike's shoulder and they took a nap in front of the fireplace. Aah, home, sweet home!

14 December 2016

ITALY - 10/17/2015 - Part 4 - Afternoon Delight.


Upon my descent I found Mike and we just started walking. Our goal was that beautiful point on the other side of the canal. So we had to find a bridge.

We headed out the "front door" of Venice turning right along the Grand Canal and behind the New Procuratie. There were lots of little eateries and souvenir shops to our right on land and every kind of water vehicle to our left on water.

We felt we could not get too lost because we were on an island or at least a family of close knit islands. The thing about walking here is you can't really walk along the water's edge for very long, as all the primo palazzos and homes and business are snugged up to the water. You have to walk inland a bit and look down the alleyways and canals to keep your bearings with the water.

We had our map, but we still were confused most of the time. That was OK with us. We've managed this before and usually end up discovering wonderful and exciting things along the way.

The first thing we came across was the outdoor flea and antique market. Lots of vintage and designer treasures here. On this last afternoon of our trip, however, we were sorry our suitcases were already filled to the brim for the trip home. So many things for sale that would have looked fabulous in our Mediterranean-style loft were left behind.



After that we wandered though neighborhoods until we came to the Ponte de l'Academia (bridge) over the canal to our "destination." Instead of auto garages, each home had a little motor boat parked along side. This lovely home also had a very nice shaded garden attached, rare in these parts.
The bridge was very simple compared to the Rialto. Just wood steps taking you up and over and a simple handrail. As we crossed there was a nice view up and down the canal.
Once over the bridge we wandered our way to the left to see the grand Santa Maria della Salute (our lady of health) Church. In 1630, Venice endured a devastating outbreak of plague. In 14 months it killed one-third of the population. The church was built as a votive offering to deliver the city from the pestilence. The church was not open at this time, but the tall doors were impressive.

The outside is richly decorated with statues of the four apostles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). It has two domes and two bell towers. The interior is octagonal in shape with eight radiating chapels around the outside walls. See more info at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_della_Salute.

The church  sits on the end of the point, just a few feet from the water's edge. I hope climate change is vigorously addressed soon by all nations or this and all of Venice will soon be tragically under water.
At this point, across the Grand Canal, you can see the "front porch" of Venice between the two white buildings (the lacy Doge's Palazzo and the Bibliotech Marciana), where we had visited earlier. Also see St. Mark's tower where I had taken photos. St. Mark's Cathedral domes are in the left background.
We started our journey back to the hotel at a slow pace. There was sooooo much to see and hear and experience. We passed the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Museum (of NYC museum family fame). She moved here as a retirement home in 1948 and started collecting the work of modern artists of her era such as Picasso, Georges Braque, Max Ernst, and Jackson Pollack. Works include the genres of cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism.



We enjoy that kind of art and thought we might go in to see the only "modern" (built in the 18th century) palazzo in Venice with its modern art. Through the artistic gates we saw a lovely garden and a long line waiting to enter. We were not in the mood for lines at that moment, so we continued down the passageway.

By then we were a bit hungry and needed to rest our feet, so we stopped at a little hidden cafe. It had a gorgeous copper caffè maker (talk about steam punk) inside the tiny crowded room. We chose outdoor seats instead and got a bonus of people watching while we waited for service.
Mike had proscuitto over melon and I had a caprese salad with the freshest mozzarella you can imagine. And wine, of course. Don''t these photos just make your mouth water!?!
Glad we had more walking to do after that meal. Lots of things to view along the way. Lovers along the canal.
From the looks of the laundry hanging from buildings and windows, we finally came across some actual homes and everyday life.
Lots of buildings are decorated with art and religious nooks.

Ruins and finished architecture are mixed to make an interesting cityscape.

Back balconies along the canals. Even a tiny window would be a pleasure to have here.
 We were lost most of the time, but every once in a while would see something we recognized on the map. When we found La Zucca (the restaurant from our second night) and knew our way home from there.

Here is a semblance of your wanderings while in Venice. Left red arrow is the train station. We took the top most orange line by vaporatto to the center red arrow which was our hotel. Take the orange line left from there just a bit to the perpendicular corner and see a small lighter red dot. That was the great restaurant we went to on our second night, La Zucca. The top black arrow is the Rialto Bridge. The light blue arrow is San Marco Square. The lower black arrow is the Ponte de l'Academia. Beyond the initial boat ride to our hotel, we walked the rest of the orange line. Hope this is not too complicated, but basically we walked all the orange line at least once.
I have no idea how far we actually traveled, but I wish we could have walked miles more. We missed seeing the Bridge of Sighs (kind of behind the Doge's Palace), named for it being the walkway from the courts to the prison. Would like to have seen the area where they make the gondolas. And inside the St Mark's, Basilica and Our Lady of Health Church and the Doge's Palace and Guggenheim Palazzo, and eaten in every trattoria. But you just can't have it all or do it all or see it all or eat it all. At least we can say we have been to Venice.

We had started our trek at 09:30 and returned to the hotel at 16:30--a total of seven hours of exploring by foot. We weren't really pooped, but our feet were sorely aching. We had to pack and get organized for an early start to the airport.

We showered, shaved, packed (no easy task with all our little souvenirs), set out clothes for the morning, and reminisced. We passed on dinner, but I ran out for a last helping of gelato. I got Mike a mango and myself a pistachio. I also picked up a small bottle of limoncello to toast the end of a fabulous, fabulous trip to Italy.