Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mom and Dad's trip to Italy PART V

 All excerpts and photos credited to G.F. Waters unless otherwise specified

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...

Dario's "boucherie" that pile of white stuff is Chianti Butter

May 18

We are an hour away from Venice. Our train tickets have been verified electronically, the bus plan worked well, and so far I am pretty impressed with the way the transportation system has worked for us. The train station in Florence was a little bit on the frazzled side but it has over 400 departures a day so understandable. We are past Bologna now and nearing Padua. The terrain has changed - it is much flatter.

We should have looked at a map of Venice before setting off. It is a labyrinth of alleyways, canals, and squares. There are no cars, no scooters, not even a bicycle - all transportation is on the waters. The Santa Lucia train station is reached by a causeway purposely built to take the train up to the old city.

There are two choices to get to our hotel - vaporetto or water-taxi. We choose vaporetto to Piazza San Marco and then we start the search for the hotel - it really is only a couple of minutes from the boat landing but it took us about ten minutes as we had to back track. It was slightly confusing but we are not disappointed by the Hotel Luna Baglioni.

To say that it is ornate would not be doing it justice. Our bedroom has padded brocade-silk wall panels, a brocade-silk canopy over the bed, a marble clad bathroom, and every public area of the hotel is an art gallery and exhibition area for Murano glass. It has Venetian Carnival costumes on display on some of the landings.

We hadn't eaten so we left our luggage in the room and ran out to get something to eat and we discovered that Venice is much more expensive than Florence. It cost €64 for two glasses of OK wine, a bottle of flat water, two ordinary sandwiches, and a basket of potato chips - but oh, what a setting.

We were in the arcade of Piazza San Marco with a small orchestra playing music from Venetian glory years. The waiters had white jackets, gold buttons, and white bow ties and were marvelously arrogant - they left us with no doubts on the Italian quandary - to tip or not to tip.

I don't think that I can describe the grandeur - if the Medici were all about content with substantive form the Doges were all about form over substantive content. You are going to have to rely on the pictures to get some understanding of how worthwhile and important it is to visit Venice. It took a lot of imagination and some engineering genius to build the city.

There are Murano glass stores everywhere and even the simplest shop or restaurant has something in Murano glass; there are all of the big fashion names but in smaller stores in more locations than Florence; and, the gondoliers are everywhere and really get busy as the sun starts to set - good business at €80 for 30 minutes. The gondoliers no longer seem to sing but you can pay another €80 for a musician and then some more for a bottle of Prosecco.

You can see that I am closing in on what makes Venice less of a place to stay than Florence - it is so commercial - and Florence does know how to make a tourist buck. There are more vendors of knock off handbags and tourist junk than in New York City on Christmas Day. They seem to have a dance worked out with the police - they have a look out who comes running as the police approach and the vendors just scoop the merchandise and run to the next location. The police are really funny - many are built like Arnie but their main duties seem to be acting like tourists but with a snarl, and, smoking.

Tonight we ate at our hotel - the general quality of the trattoria was not up Tuscan standards. It was fun even if a little over the top. The head waiter looked like how we imagined Inspector Brunetti from the Donna Leone novels. We wandered back to Piazza San Marco after dinner and listened to the orchestras play.

Eating at Dario's

May 19

We slept well in our luxurious room. We decided to go to breakfast in the Marco Polo room and really, I should have brought my camera. The wall painting matched that of the cathedral in Sienna. We then made our way back to Piazza San Marco for a final walk around our little part of Venice. We then checked out of our hotel at around noon to make our way back to the Santa Lucia train station - by water taxi.

I think that this 20 minute ride up the Canale della Giudecca and through many little canals covered much more ground than a gondola, and, we were alone in a beautiful antique varnished wood craft that carries about 12 passengers. It is in Canale della Giudecca that Venice's ancient history rubs up against its modern vocation as a seaport and an oil refinery city. It is also in this area that we get a sense of how the city works - garbage scows instead of garbage trucks; delivery boats instead of the ubiquitous white van; everything moves by water and then foot-propelled hand cart.

We made the train in plenty of time and we have just stopped at Bologna to drop off and pick up passengers. This quite often turns into quite a dance as people jockey suitcases that are far too big to their seats. As entry is from both ends of the wagon and seat numbering is confusing in pattern, quite often two immovable objects (or should it be two irresistible forces) meet in passageway. It is really pretty funny. We get to Florence in 30 minutes.
The bus station is just two minutes from the train station and we opt to take the 4:30 and beat in the 5:00 by 20 minutes. It was a real local run that hit all the farms and the bus ran into mechanical problems but made it to a place where the driver could exchange one coach for another. We still beat the 5:00 but only by 10 minutes. We ate in Panzano and now we are back at Querceto.
We will be getting back to Montreal in about exactly two weeks from right now.

Lots of love and kisses,
Mom and Dad

May 20

Today is our last at Querceto, we went to Volterra - an ancient Etruscan settlement and later another Tuscan hillside town. It is the centre for Tuscan alabaster production - lamps, statues in many little shops - the best pieces are very art-deco and very expensive. We are getting a little frustrated because the things we would like to buy are in the thousands of euros - I am just going to have to work hard and well when I get back.

I am getting weary of trying to get across how beautiful everything is but today brings a special treat. There is thunder and lighting over the distant hills - magnificent jagged lighting bolts, dark purple clouds, navy blue hills with patches of sunlight in places. We found out today that some of the vineyards were hit by hail - not good news for their wine production. We get back with very little exposure to rain but we can tell that it really came down in Querceto.

May 21

Transition day is always a bit troublesome - for six hours there is no home base. We drove to Monteriggione - a walled town that was on the route from London to Rome. Henry VIII's messengers went through this town on their way to negotiate with the pope. It was really a tiny village so we were back on the road within an hour.

We have been meaning to eat at Dario+ for about a week now so we head to Panzano. We are seated at a communal table and order the Welcome menu for two - we should have ordered for one. We got raw garden vegetables to eat with olive oil, steak tartar, pulled pork Tuscan style, meat loaf, and roast pork with the best crackling ever. We were also served water, the restaurants chianti,  and Tuscan bread.

This restaurant and two others are owned by a Dario Cecchini, a celebrity butcher. He also owns two other restaurants - Officina Della Bistecca and Solo Ciccia - and a butcher shop - Antica Macelleria Cecchini and all are within about fifty metres of each other. He is a character - he races from venue to venue dressed in red and white - red crocs, red pants, white shirt, red apron.

We stepped out of the restaurant where we had just eaten too much and walked around to the butcher shop where he greeted us with a glass of his homemade wine - a full glass - and a crostini topped with Chianti "butter" - essentially pure white fat renderings from organic Senta pigs mixed with herbs. Dario controls all of his raw ingredients- his beef is raised in Catylunya, Spain and in Panzano in Chianti from very special white beef cattle fed biologically; biologically raised Senta pigs,  and the vegetables, olive oil, wine, and herbs come from his farm that is less than 3 km away.

We bought two huge slices of porcheta to eat later - but not today. Fruit and herb tea is about all we can manage at this moment. At the restaurant we sat next to two Canadian kids - one a graduate and one a second year student from the Prince Edward Island Culinary Institute. They are both working for another Canadian, Susan McKenna Grant at Petraia They gave us the names of a couple of other places to try. La Petraia is also full on organic.

We then headed for our new digs and Porta del Chianti is definitely the most upscale and modern of all the places we have stayed. We are settled in now and will be going for a walk to explore the surroundings. We still need to digest the meat we ate this afternoon. For sustenance we have grapes, cantaloupe, and strawberries tonight. Tomorrow we are going to Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini.

Love to all,
Only 12 more sleeps.

Mom and Dad

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