Italy

My trip through Northern Italy

Final Thoughts

The trip has come to an end and now I need to get back to work and reality, so to speak. I can see my future in a Tuscan villa, making olive oil and running my restaurant. Some tips for anyone traveling to Italy:

•Don’t expect to do much after 12pm until 3 or 4, that’s nap and espresso time. A lot of retail spaces close during this time and some restaurants do too.
•When getting coffee, most people just stand at the bar for a couple of minutes and sip their espresso or cappuccino.
•Dinner is usually at 8pm, which is early for most Italians. After work, everyone goes out for a drink and apps at the local bars, then they go home before going back out for dinner.
•When you are finished with your meal, don’t expect a check to be dropped.  You usually pay at the counter and they will let you sit at your table all night if you want to.
•If you drive, take the back roads, the autostrade is very expensive, and not as scenic.
•In Tuscany, order the house wine.  They usually make it or get it from their friends who have vineyards.
•Eat lots of cured meat and Parmesan!

All in all, the trip was very successful and we wouldn’t have done much of anything differently. Not planning any of our hotels except for the first two nights gave us the freedom to go where we needed. I would not recommend this in the summer/high season though because of all the tourism, but during the fall, the hotels are nowhere near full capacity. Next time I will get a villa in Tuscany and use that as home base, so I can do more cooking with the great food that Italy has to offer.

Last Minute Adventure

I wasn’t going to write anything about our last night in Mestre, just outside of Venice, because we were going to find the best panini, have a beer and go to bed. Obviously that didn’t happen….

After wandering for an hour, we finally found a place near our hotel to grab a drink, and since it was too early to eat, by Italian standards, we just had a drink. We noticed during our trip that a great thing about the bars here is that they all put out food for everyone to grab from and eat and then you pay later. We ate a few meat and cheese stuffed fried pizza dough things that were great with our beers and devised a plan for the rest of the night.

This is when the night got exciting; two Italian women, old enough to be my grandmother, inquired as to where we were from and we explained that we were from Oregon.  Both of these ladies had just met for the first time a 30 minutes earlier and only one of them spoke English.  The ladies had though that we were from Australia but that conversation was interrupted when a gentleman with cheap jewelry approached us and, with the help of the two ladies translating, tried to sell us some goods. That sparked a conversation that got us an invitation to one of the lady’s apartments for dinner.

We couldn’t refuse the offer of Italian hospitality since everything that I have read about Italian culture is how welcoming they are. Before we went to dinner, we were introduced to a traditional Italian spritzer that contained Campari, soda water, white wine, and one other ingredient that I couldn’t understand. Shortly after that, we headed out to have a dinner of spaghetti and fish sauce at Elena’s apartment with her new friend and translator, Maja (pronounced Maya). We enjoyed a great meal and learned about numerous cultural things like how oregano doesn’t go into bolognese but cloves do. Dinner started with fresh reggiano cheese and a bottle of cabernet franc. The entree was served shortly after, which included spaghetti, fish stock, fresh tomatoes, and bay leaves. Once we finished our portions they force more onto our plates, which I didn’t argue with. After dinner I asked them about a fruit I had seen in the market called kaki.  After looking at it, I realized it was a persimmon, and of course after asking about it, they insisted that I eat one. After the persimmon, Elena brought out a liquor made from dried fruit and a citrus resembling a tangerine. The tangerine looking citrus was actually a cross between grapes and mandarin oranges.  I didn’t believe them at first but once I bit into it, there was in fact a remarkable resemblance to grapes and oranges. This, to me, was Italian hospitality at its finest and was one of the best nights of our trip.

Greve/San Polo/Panzano (Tuscany)

11/8

“The Making of Olive Oil”
We decided to make an early side trip and go see a new aged olive oil producer that is good friends with our hotel owners. Pruneti has been making olive oil for generations and until recently they have been making it in the traditional way with a stone mill.

Dario “The Butcher”
He has been talked about a lot since we have been here so we decided to take a visit to one of his two restaurants. With one long table you sit with people you don’t know, but it’s off season so we were the only ones there for half the meal. We ordered the “Dario DOC” which was a ground beef burger with fried potatoes, sautéed onions, and homemade condiments. Service was very quick and friendly, and the food was some of the best that I have had. The burger was recommended rare so that is how I got mine and it was so full of flavor and the condiments complemented everything. The next time I come back to Italy I am making a point to come here for dinner.

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Dario’s community table.

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Da burger!

Our next stop was Villa Vignamaggio. This is one of the oldest wineries in the Tuscany region and have been making wine for close to 600 years. Dario, a different one from the butcher, gave us a fantastic tour of their facility and explained their history. After the tour, we sat down for wine and more cured meat!!!! We also had the opportunity to purchase their olive oil that was pressed less than a week ago. The views were spectacular and the staff was very knowledgable and fun.

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View from the villa.

Florence (Tuscany)

Our adventure to Florence began with a bus ride from Greve in Chianti. For 8€ round trip it was a great deal and I wouldn’t need to worry about navigating through the city. Once we arrived we headed straight for the duomo, that sticks out like a sore thumb, in a good way. The outside of the cathedral was just as beautiful as the one in Siena. The biggest difference was the inside, not as many paintings and statues, but the dome was beautifully painted. We climbed the 436 stairs to get to the top of the dome to overlook the city of Florence.

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Front of the duomo in Florence.
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A quarter of the paintings in the dome of the duomo.

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View of Florence.

After the duomo we wandered until we found the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, littered with jewelry shops, but beautiful. The next stop was the Ufizzi, which was by far the best museum we have seen. Full of sculptures and stone work from the first century, and paintings from some of the most famous artists from the 1400’s to the 1600’s.

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Last stop in Florence was the Galleria del Academia, home of David. The gallery is full of sculptures, some that Michelangelo started and never finished, and rooms full of bust from other sculptors. The most impressive was David, sitting under a bright light like he was a god. The size alone is enough to leave you speechless. Unfortunately pictures weren’t aloud so you will need to go see it yourself.
Aside from running around the train/bus station to find our bus and missing the first one, it was a great trip.

Siena (Tuscany)

11/7

We are staying in Greve for a few days so we made a side trip to Siena. Siena is another city full of history and has battled with Florence numerous times. The best part of Siena was the Duomo (Cathedral); it is just so massive and the amount of detail that went into building it is unreal. Its beautifully carved marble statues, massive paintings from the floor all the way up to the center of the ceiling, and intricate images set into the floor just blew me away.

On the drive back from Siena we stopped off in a little town called Panzano which is home to Dario the Butcher, whom you can Google and learn all about. Today his shop was closed so we will make the short trip again tomorrow to hopefully see it.

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Duomo in Siena.

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Front of the Duomo.

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Library room in cathedral.

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Tuscan estates and vineyards.

We returned to Greve in the evening to prepare for a wine tasting at Villa Vignamaggio. We also booked a tour about olive oil since the family that owns the hotel that we are staying at in Greve also produces it. Dinner tonight was at Ristorante Il Portico, the next door down from our hotel, and it was one of the better meals we’ve had on the trip so far. The service was great, as usual, the house wine was made by their family, and the olive oil was from a vineyard up the road. Here were a few of the highlights:

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Panzanella

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Grilled pear and pecorino bruschetta.

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Porchetta with potatoes.

Greve (Tuscany)

11/6

I had heard a lot about this little town, Greve, so we decided to make the trek, making a few stops along the way. The drive through the Tuscany region is very similar to the napa region of California. There are steeper hills but acres of vineyards and olive orchards; it seems that every winery also produces olive oil. San Gimignano was a stop on our list. The little town of San Gimignano was beautiful, sitting atop the hills of Tuscany. Once we got within the walls though it brought me back to where I used to work, in Vail and Aspen, Colorado. The great little town but very “touristy”; the surroundings were breathtaking but when it came down to what’s important to me- the food- I felt that it was lost and was stuck catering to tourists. In my own personal career I couldn’t do that, I strive to keep learning and to use new techniques and to bring back old, classic ones.

Our last stop for the day was Greve; the drive was breathtaking and we made a few stops at some beautiful estates to pick up some cheap wine and olive oil. Greve is not big at all, I think we saw everything that we needed to. There was a great wineshop that does tastings of everything the they have; we tasted Chianti’s, Borolos and even olive oils!

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OMG!!!!! Hanging meat!!!!

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OMG! They have cheese aging in their cellar too!!!!!! I’m in love!

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Cured meat and cheese platter with fry bread.

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Lardo foccace! So good!