Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Mom and Dad's trip to Italy. PART I

My parents are in Italy right now! My father retired just a couple of weeks ago and he and my mother planned a trip to Italy. I thought we wouldn't hear from them for a while but thanks to technology it doesn't matter where you are my dad has been writing to us on his ipad. I look forward to his emails SO MUCH. They are beautifully written and every day he sends us a "picture of the day". They only began last Friday but because my dad is a wonderful writer (much to my surprise) and he spoils me with a "picture of the day" I asked him if it would be possible to spoil you too and share some excerpts with you and he said: "YES" so here goes...

Property of G.F. Waters: "one of the pictures I took from the balcony in our hotel room"

G.F. Waters email excerpts:

April 30 - May 1

Vacations are always tough at the beginning. Air Transat left on time, landed on time but we sat right at the main galley and had to crew coming and going the whole flight. They were, however, a lovely crew and we enjoyed the service. Car pick up went well but the directions to the service station were terrible. 

Now the bonehead part - when we finally got to the service station I screwed up - gasoline in a diesel engine - 200 kilometers and the car  wouldn't restart. Arranging for towing service on French "autoroutes" is controlled by the Prefecture , there are set rates, and it's a  paper heavy process. 

We were fortunate in our misfortune - really nice people at the aire-de-service, the tow truck operator assisted by his son  were very kind - he arranged hotels and next day service. He came into the dealership and you could see in the body language exchanged between him and the person in charge that he wanted us treated well. 

The hotel was not what was waiting for us in Lyon but it was clean, comfortable, and had a marvelous Chablis by the glass. After all the breakdown happened 10 minutes from Chablis. It was, however, May 1st and their restaurant was closed and we ended up in a roadside travesty of a restaurant. Their vegetarian trio for Mum consisted of a baked potato, a bad pasta, and French fries - I probably should say New Brunswick fries as they were  McCain Frozen. I tossed and turned all night thinking about possible delays, ridiculous car repair costs, and anything else bad that I could imagine.

May 2

The quality of breakfast waiting for us was an omen of better things to come - our little hotel / motel is full organic and there was a wide selection of things to choose from. The Renault dealer in Auxerre was fabulous - from the supervising mechanic to the mechanic who did the work -  I did mention previously that the tow truck operator helped smooth the way. We were lucky - they drained the tank and the fuel lines, changed the fuel filter, made a few computer adjustments and we were on the road by 11 am.

We had an un-eventful drive to Lyon and walked around the city for about 2 hours. I am now sitting in my beautiful hotel room waiting to go to dinner at Paul Bocuse. The vacation seems back on track.

Just back from Bocuse. The great man himself was in the restaurant talking to every guest - us included. The food was, well, simply spectacular. We were lucky in that we were one of a group of four tables of two - all obviously there for the experience. We examined what each of us ate,  wowed at the cheese selection, ooohed at the deserts, and we were astounded by the extras. The wine suggestion was inspired - so many aromatics. Your Mum had the lobster salad, I had Norwegian marinated salmon, and we shared a spit roasted Bresse chicken. We had a pot de chocolat and mignardises before I had a Baba-au-Rhum with St-James  rum poured on top. On to Parma tomorrow. Now I feel I am on vacation.

May 3

We ate 25% of a massive room service breakfast in Lyon and then hit the road for Parma. It was a bit of a strange drive - over 500 km with a lot of beautiful scenery interrupted with kilometers of tunnels and then when we hit Italy there were miles and miles of trucks. The amazing choice on an Italian "autoroute" - sit behind a truck doing 80 kph or pull into the passing lane and get hunted down by an Alfa Romeo doing 180 kph. This is a nerve racking exercise when it is done for three hours non stop. 

Parma - this stop is 100 pc motivated by the John Grisham book - " Playing for Pizza". I will not give you a Notes version - you will have to read the book. Suffice to say it is about an American who finds himself in Parma to play American football and who fell in love with Italy. We walked Boulevard Garibaldi, Strada della Republica, and many little side streets. As aggressive as the Italians are on the highway, they respect crosswalks in the city. Parma is also a city of bicycles - thousands of them everywhere.

Tonight we ate at the Gallo d'Oro - the food was delicious - Parma ham, bruschetta, pasta, and a meat dish with salad all with a good bottle of red wine. We tried to give extra for service, were refused, and effectively we were tipped with a grappa and a lemoncello - it bore little resemblance to what we buy by the bottle in Canada. It was fresh and delicious. We had a gelato on the walk back to our hotel. We head to Florence tomorrow.

May 4

Back to the Italian "autoroutes" - experienced more of the same, still miles and miles of trucks, never ending tunnels and today more curves in the road than in an alphabet of S's. Thankfully we were only on the road for two hours.

We are in a beautiful hotel with a room on the Arno river (when I get back to Montreal I will insert some pictures). Florence is overwhelming. The streets are strewn with artistic masterpieces by some of the greatest artists in the history of man - Michelangelo and others. It is a paradise for shoppers of all kinds - there is fashion, leather, food (oh, the food), shoes.... And. Gelato!!!

We walked for several hours, rested up, and then went out for supper at Giorgion - 26€ for 50 cl of wine, two pastas, two main courses, and two salads - we could have had dessert included but chose to skip. Everything was delicious. We walked for another couple of hours, had a dessert, a lemon cello, and now time to rest.

May 5

We met our tour guide for the day in the hotel lobby at 9:30. She was a graduate in art history from University in Florence. She took painstaking care of us for the next 7 hours. She  talked about the Sforzi, the Medici, and the other Florentine banker families but she was most in here element talking about art. 

We visited many things with her including the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Medici palace, but the highlight was the David at the Accademia. She talked almost nonstop and if I can remember just 10% of what she told us I will be happy.

We meandered back to the hotel window shopping with stops for wine with crostini (chicken livers, cheese and ham, and bruschetta) and gelato. It is now 7 in the evening and we plan to go out at about 8 for a pizza and a salad. Tomorrow we have a reservation for Uffizi at 10am.

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