Day 6 ~ Siena’s Black & White Cathedral

Unbeknownst to me, but knowst to everyone else, the second Saturday in August is the busiest travel day in the country. Luckily, I was about to drive for about 500km. Everybody likes traffic right? Ugh, but first, I stopped in shortly after sunrise at the Siena Cathedral, a marvelous black and white marble achievement. With some bad Italian I managed to get a look inside without waiting in line for a ticket at the closed office.

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The outside was intricate also.

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They were getting the Piazza del Campo ready for the Palio di Siena. It’s the rugged biannual race of ten men around a tiny courtyard on hyped up horses run for bragging rights to the local neighborhoods.

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I snapped a few more photos, then had to jet to my car for the long drive back to Trieste.

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This is the view of early morning in Siena. The church looms large over the city.

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I ate nothing but roadside food and espresso for the 9 hour trek back. I needed some quality for Sunday lunch and found Fratelli Da Bufala near the water at Piazza Ponte Rosso in Trieste. Meeting up with an old friend from high school and her husband made for a wonderful Sunday. I had a killer chicken salad, and pappardelle with meat ragu. Unfortunately, the sauce tasted less than homemade–more like poured from a jar.

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Day 5 ~ Toscana Springs and a Steak

After the mess of Day 4, I woke up in the morning hurting from too much wine and too much microwaved meat. I quickly got moving after an espresso. I was headed for Montalcino. One of the myriad mountain villages of Toscana. It was a lovely morning drive through the sun drenched expanse.

 

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I finally came across the organized bricks posing as the town of Montalcino.

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I found an empty restaurant Di Macchia (Via Soccorso Saloni). with a charming old man and was still a little sour stomached, so I needed something soothing and I got it. This is pici pasta with wild boar (cinghiale) ragu. It was great. I told the guy it was like a cow and a pig had melted together to make one delicious animal. I had a glass of the local specialty Brunello red wine, deep and full.

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Walked back to the car slowly as I enjoyed the town and the views…

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The next stop was the thermal pools. The Medici family used to frequent these places, and it seemed like a perfect way to feel even better. Plus, there was a smiling pup.

 

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The bottom pool was rather cool, but when you climbed up the sticky, sulfur coated rocks, the waterfall had a pleasantly heated temperature. Free swimming in healing waters.

I stayed as long as I could allow, for there was more to see, such as the famous grapes of Toscana.

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I didn’t dare pluck any off the vine as they were coated in a white dust, presumably not an organic compound of Tuscan dust and bee poop. It’s such a picturesque landscape…

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I wanted to stay near my hostel tonight as it would be an early morning to go visit the Siena Cathedral, so I found a cute white tablecloth place full of locals Fontebecci (Via Fiorentina 133). I wanted to go big, and needed a steak. But first, the guy recommended a walnut cream sauce ravioli.

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I was finally feeling better. My last day of the food tour ended well, and I was up at sunrise to go see the two toned Siena Cathedral.

Day 4 ~ You Can’t Win ‘Em All

Started the day off with a decent breakfast before heading to the beach. It was a quiet beach, with free chairs and umbrellas. The ocean was more of a pool, as a manmade rock barrier had been formed about 100m out to sea. The deepest water is only waist high.

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It was dreadfully boring, all drastically tan old people or piteously unhappy parents with their bouncing off the wall kids. I stayed about 2 hours for some Vitamin D and left. My friend had told me to try the flatbread sandwich here. I found a cute place run by LeLe and Elena on the main street. It’s tastes as basic as it looks, which isn’t really a bad thing.

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Nothing special about this, but a decent beach snack. Not quite up to par with some other lunches I’ve had. I took a slow walkabout to explore before leaving. It’s a classic beach town with lazy cats behind fences, pastel homes and a pleasant perfumed air.

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I was excited to get in the car and drive across the peaks of Umbria and Toscana.

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It did not disappoint. Beautiful driving weather and the miraculous landscapes combined with poppy tunes from the radio made me jump, jive and wail all along the meandering path through the mountains. The lack of tunnels, but plenty of cutbacks along the ridges make for exciting travel.

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Arriving in Siena late in the day and weary from my transport, I asked for a dinner recommendation from the staff of the outstanding Sienna Hostel Guidoricci. This place was brand new, and had done its homework regarding what a hostel should provide. It was top notch, top notch! The old man singing classical music in the lobby told me to visit his friends at Il Vinaio di Bobbe e Davide (Via Camollia 167). I was forced to sit at the bar, which for a solo traveler is frustrating but understandably acceptable. I ordered the pici pasta with pepper because it was recommended as typically Senese.

 

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Boring! The best part was the pepper…

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Then, after 40 minutes of waiting, drinking and nibbling bread, I got this microwaved gem.

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A sad plate of meat for sure, and not even good! To be fair, the employees were rushing around prepping for the party of 20 that had just sat down, but seriously, no vegetables? I asked the guy to try everything, and I don’t mind paying. I guess everything includes leftover ribs and dry meatballs. Whatever, my stomach feeling queasy already, they saved a bit of class for last.

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This is a Ribollita, a true Tuscan dish of day old bread, tomatoes and other veg. It was okay, but I’d had enough bread. I was done with today and headed home for a shower at my awesome hostel.

San Marino Sunset

A stonemason, running away from religious persecution, founded the smallest republic of the E.U. around 300 C.E. They were under constant threat from armies in the modern era, but with charming diplomacy, were granted the sovereignty of their small union of 24 sq. km. upon a mini-mountain overlooking the Adriatic Sea. I was driving down the winding roads from Ravenna and in the distance, many miles away, I could swear to see a castle on a hill, in the direction where San Marino should be. I was right, you can see this country from at least 100km away.

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This was the castle I saw. I had to run up the steep stairs leading to the city entrance to make it for sunset.

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I was proud of my quick hike and snapped a selfie.

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The town was empty, until I got to the top. Tourists of all shapes, colors and camera lenses were lining up for the opportunity to get this background.

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From the other side, you can see the winding streets and large houses of a very wealthy country.

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If you look in the distance, that is the Adriatic. I remembered being on top of a mountain in Pyeoncheong, Korea (about 1,000m), brutally shivering in the Siberian winds, and seeing a similar sight of an ocean in the distance. It feels so magical to me to look out upon a land from great heights. Maybe that’s why people climb Mt. Everest. This is far from the highest peak in the world. It is only about 700m high, but rewardingly expansive.

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These poor old-timey role players probably make the same smile all day. They were pleasant though. Cute country.

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Big Bologna Pranzo and Pizza in Rimini

It’s no surprise that Bologna cooks it up big. CIBO (Also: Culinary Institute of Bologna) is Italian for food, and this is the best eating city in Italy. I found a little place off the main street called Trattoria Del Rosso (Via Augusto Righi 30). I was learning that to make it from noon to the eight or nine o’clock dinner time for Italians, I’d need to order a primo and secondo piatto. First up: Tagliatelle con ragu.

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Perfect homemade sauce, fresh Parmigiano, bread to clean up the meat, and a deep red wine to match. Next was the biggest surprise of the trip for me. I asked for a meat recommendation, and he told me the unappetizing sounding “stinco.” It means shin. I said, “Si, grazie.” About 40 minutes later, this comes out…

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The two men next to me shared a plate of this, and they seemed very full afterwards. It was a delicious struggle to finish. The meat was outstanding; rosemary potatoes; lovely afternoon meal. I was loaded with food and made my way to Ravenna before darting off to San Marino for sunset.

Finally arriving in Rimini after dark, I asked the young lady at my cute hotel Hotel Fra i Pini for a place to eat. She told me to go to the Old American Bar (Viale Giuseppe Mazzini 25). I was surprised to find basically the most layered and delicately flavored pizza I’ve had yet. It was called barsciola? and had sausage, onion, truffle oil, rucola, garlic and mozzarella. I finally met a pizza I couldn’t finish.

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Ravenna’s Rorshachts and Mosaics

It’s the city of mosaics. It’s old, and like everywhere in Italy, has been ruled by many different hands: such as Etruscans, Byzantines, Frankish tribes, Lombardis, and Italians. It was touristy, but completely manageable. There’s not much to say as I stopped in late in the day after a long lunch in Bologna and basically ran through the main points of interest, jaw agape at the detail and colorful splendor before me. It’s best to check out the pics for yourself. But first, the marble columns, in the Basilica San Vitale…

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…reminded me of a Rorshact test…

 

You can see there are four stones fitted together to form the natural swirls of the marble. Elsewhere in the church was only more religious tiles glued intricately together.

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Next, is the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

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Finally, the tiny, and therefore approachable in size, Baptistry of Neon.

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All of these were constructed around the time of Emperor Justinian I (527-565 C.E.) or earlier.

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Day 2 ~ Getting “Cheesy” in Parma, Gelato Perfection in Modena, Branzino in Bologna

I stayed the night in the outskirts of Verona. One night at a random hotel in the city was 150 euro, so I drove past hookers standing on the roadside and made it to my little place, Hotel Gelmini. They had excellent wifi and served a real nice breakfast in the morning. Heading south now, I was surprised by the impressive entrance to Mantova.

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It was a nice causeway toward an ancient city where Romeo held out and mostly cried during his banishment from nearby Verona. Parma was my next stop and I was getting hungry. Traditionally, the Emilia-Romagna region holds the secrets of Italy’s best food. Lasagna, Bolognese sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, tortellini and prosciutto among others’ have their roots here. I used Google again, and it led me to Trattoria del Tribunale (Vicolo Politi 5). It was just off the main square. I ordered a plate of parmigiano, and anyone who has seen the famous Sunny “philanthropist” episode where Charlie eats cheese before meeting a woman, and Dennis replies that “Any amount of cheese before a date is too much cheese, Charlie!” Well, I ordered too much cheese.

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It was delicious and had a little crunch as you chewed. A few drops of balsamico only added to the flavor. I ate half and saved the rest for my pasta.

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It was Tagliolini with Culotello. Honestly, the noodles tasted like the best kind of Ramen. After a big lunch, I walked the streets and found many of these little stores, specializing in the quality food of the region. People ordering had the look of students computing calculus in their heads. Each choice of ham or cheese was a delicate decision that required much consideration.

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Back in the car and headed to the balsamic vinegar capital, Modena. I felt heavy with formaggi, and needed something light. I got real lucky finding this gem of a gelato place. One young guy, Gianluca, owns and operates it and told me he spends 14 hours a day there. His recipes are perfectly balanced and low in added sugar. The cones he shapes to look like a flower (ergo the name, BLOOM). This place set the new bar for gelato. It was among the best I’ve had, “the best Jerry.” I ordered a mango and blueberry. Then, it was so good, I got a raspberry and chocolate.

(Somehow, I lost all the photos of Modena and Bologna, so it’s just imagination from here.)

Now headed to Bologna for the night where I got a cheap price in a 4 star hotel. I still needed something light to eradicate my cheese-laden gullet, and found a nice local place, Fraiese (Via Emilia Ponente 22). The waiter with no neck recommended the branzino, which was excellent in Croatia, so let’s try it again. It was a nice salty fish with tender white flesh.

It came with the vegetables I picked from the buffet area. It’s so nice to pick apart a fish and be left with the bony body like a hungry cartoon cat.

Day 1 ~ Padova, Vicenza and Verona

My Lancia rental car pulls out onto the airport expressway, and the trip begins. I try the autostrada first, and yes, there are high speeds and extensive amounts of truckers, but the tailgating was insane! I could have picked the guy’s nose in the white car behind me. I felt like Ned Flanders trying to drive faster to escape the clingy Homer, but the car just can’t accelerate! “Daddy, drive faster!” “I can’t! It’s a Geo!”

First stop was Padova, (Padua) a university town and the setting for The Taming of the Shrew. It was a Monday in August, before noon and nobody was moving, not even a nun.

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I found a cool feature on Google maps, where I hit a button and it recommends different places based on location and time of day. It told me to go to Ai Porteghi (Via Cesare Battisti 105), and who am I to disagree with a computer? It was a delightful place with no customers on an early Monday afternoon.

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That bread is included because it was excellent. No day old stuff here. You didn’t need to tear it to bite through it, and the pasta was so al dente as to be almost crunchy, but still cooked. The meat sauce was typical Padovese–a mixture of poultry meat that was heavy with rosemary. The wine was a Cabernet from Padova.

Next stop was Vicenza, and it was after lunch, so the town was either asleep or gone away on August holidays. So my idea of a second lunch got erased. I went sightseeing instead.

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It was a great afternoon of gelato and walking. I got back on the road to head to those lovestruck punks Romeo and Juliet’s hometown, Verona. It was nighttime, so I just headed for dinner.

I went to Leon D’Oro (Via Pallone 10) and had a beautifully symmetrical and delicious pizza of sausage and onion and Montepulciano Superiore vino. It was an outdoor place with the typical crumbling walls and shuttered windows.

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And what better way to end the day in Verona than by catching some saucy and fashionable lady smoking on her balcony.

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Then off in the morning with espresso, buttery bread and salted meats in the belly.

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Another Day at the “Beach”

Although Trieste doesn’t have a sandy beach, they do have hard paved stones on which to lie. It’s always crowded, and most people hang the whole day, and smartly bring a lounge chair. But first, I needed lunch. My roommate Marco and I headed to the city. We were headed to a strictly pork restaurant, but as they were closed for August break, we were now lost and hungry. We found an abandoned place and decided it was fine due to the high concentration of meat on the menu.

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I ordered goulash with polenta. It was salty, but just what I wanted.

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Next, we headed to our local, and deservedly famous gelateria, Zampolli’s.

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I had the smaller one, tiramisu with chocolate truffle; he had a triple scoop of nero e bianco and his favorite–dark chocolate without milk…basically looks like tar, but tastes better.

He took a nap and did some work, I went to the “beach.”

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It’s a flesh party with little room to yourself, but once you jump past the jagged rocks that lead to the water, it’s perfect swimming conditions. Of course, you have the classic stereotypes, speedos…

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gelato from a truck…

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cool guys playing guitar and smoking…

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old people playing cards in the shade while admonishing the youngsters…

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and fat guys swimming in the fountain…

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It’s a helluva town. I walked the hour back to my apartment because the buses were chock-a-block. I bought a big beer for 1euro and sang the whole way home with the rhythm of my flip flops keeping time.

Peperino Pizza and The Daytona Gym

I joined a gym; it’s next to a pizza place…that works for me. When I say “next to” I mean they share a patio. You can be doing chest presses while seeing cheese pull away from a drooling mouth on the other side of a translucent piece of plastic curtain. The smell is wonderful, and it’s like a motivator–“work hard so you can enjoy that pizza another day.” The gym is cool, high ceilings, clean machines, naked pictures of hot chicks on the wall, Rocky Balboa posters and an open air patio with free-weights. And that open air patio is the shared space with Peperino Pizza (Via Del Coroneo 9). It’s a Neapolitan style place. Burnt sections of thick, chewy crust, large dollops of fresh bufala mozzarella, and ripe tomatoes. I’ve eaten here a few times (sure to grow into more, as I learned the pretty camariera’s name (Anita) and its proximity to my gym)), and its only disappointment is the lack of meat available on the pies. Despite the missing carne, I’ll be back.

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The first picture is the classic Margherita, second is a gem of truffle sauce with San Daniele prosciutto (one of the only meat offerings), and third is the jovial chef…

Via del Coroneo, 19, 34133