Friday, August 09, 2013

Viva l'Italia: Bologna & Milan

Since Bologna is known for its food, also called la grassa, Dan and I decided to spend a few days there during our trip. We took the fast train from Florence, which took less than an hour! And the train was on time. Unfortunately a heat wave hit the city that weekend. Our B&B was close to the train station, but we took a taxi because it was so hot out. Our host showed us some sights, gelaterias, and restaurants on the map, then recommended we stay in the room because of the heat. We ventured out in the late afternoon.

Neptune fountain
Piazza del Nettuno

Porticos
Porticos 

We had to get gelato right away. After the gelato, we got fruit granita for the walk. It was just too hot. The lady asked us how to say granita in English, when we realized there is no granita at home. We told her a slushy is the closest thing. Which is sad, when you think about it.

There is a movie festival in Piazza Maggiore in the summer. The Basilica of San Petronio was getting a makeover. We went inside Sala Borsa, the public library, and saw the Roman ruins underground. The Quadrilatero food market was closed as it was Saturday afternoon, it was closed on Sunday too. (Note: Visit Bologna during the week.) We visited Santa Maria della Vita and saw the Compianto sul Cristo Morto, terra cotta sculptures that are incredibly moving. The Oratorio is quite beautiful and features Transito della Vergine, another terra cotta sculpture. The gentleman working at the church was very kind and did his best explaining the scene to us. We wandered the streets and bought torrone and cookies for Dan's coworkers at Drogheria Gilberto, a cute little food shop. There are 24 leaning towers in the city. Apparently they were built as displays of wealth, not for protection.

Piazza Maggiore
Piazza Maggiore

Leaning towers of Bologna
Leaning towers 

We saw another Basset hound on our way to dinner! I said hello, and the owner said because I was talking in soft voices, "now he is waiting for your caresses." So I petted him. He was missing a tail, but still very cute. We had dinner at Trattoria La Montanara, which was filled with pretty antiques. We started with the antipasto misto, which included ham and mortadella mousse and a very tasty quiche Lorraine. The bread was very good too. Then I had pasta with tomatoes, basil, and cheese, and Dan had Bolognese Cotoletta, fried pork stuffed with ham and cheese. After dinner we walked to a spot to see the canal, then got another gelato for dessert, this time at Gelateria Gianni.


The next morning we were served a feast for breakfast. Homemade cakes, jams, and yogurt, fresh ricotta, fruit, prosciutto, mortadella, it was a crazy spread. Then we went on a walking tour that our host had arranged. We saw several weddings outside city hall, I was surprised because it was Sunday. Our guide was very informative, and did the tour in English and Italian. She pointed out the un-matching windows on City Hall, decorated during different time periods. We spoke into arches and heard each other, just like at the Exploratorium. We saw the meridian line inside Basilica of San Petronio and the purported first nativity at Santo Stefano. And I saw a beagle at Palazzo della Mercanzia.

Bologna City Hall
City Hall 

Windows in Bologna
San Petronio

Palazzo della Mercanzia
Palazzo della Mercanzia

Piazza San Stefano
Piazza San Stefano 

Brick pattern
Brick pattern at San Stefano 

After all that walking, it was time for gelato. And a nap to escape the midday heat. We went out again in the late afternoon. We saw an early sculpture by Michelangelo at the Basilica of San Domenico. A miniature, clothed precursor to the David, according to our guide in the morning. I wanted to go up to San Luca, but it was way too hot to walk the 666 porticos. So we waited for the bus, but it did not appear to run on Sunday. Instead we got gelato at La Sorbetteria, then attended mass at San Stefano. I was disappointed there was no music, but Dan says that is the case during evening mass. We walked through the former Jewish Ghetto to the university. On the way to dinner we saw a beagle! I got to pet him. His name was Winston. We had dinner at Trattoria Vicolo Colombina. We ordered the small cured meat plate to start, but it was huge. Dan had the slow-cooked pork shoulder, and I had tagliatelle with ragu. Another meaty dinner.

Gelateria Gianni
Gelateria Gianni 

Water fountain
Water fountain 

Della Robia
Della Robbia, perhaps

We were up early the next morning for the Italian Days food tour. The first stop was a Parmigiano Reggiano factory in Modena. After observing the cheese-making process, we sampled one and two-year old cheeses. With focaccia and mortadella sandwiches, and Lambrusco. I was drinking wine at 9 in the morning.
  
Giant vats of milk
Giant vats of milk 

Stirring the curd
Stirring the curd 

Scooping out the cheese
Scooping out the cheese 

Draining cheese
Draining cheese

Shaping the cheese
Shaping cheese

Salt bath for cheese
Salt bath 

Cheese brushing machine
Cheese-brushing and turning robot

Cheese cheese cheese
Cheese Gromit! Cheese!

Next stop: Villa San Donnino. We saw batteries of barrels aging and tasted 12 and 25 year samples, then some fresh ricotta with balsamic jam, and vanilla gelato with balsamic vinegar.

Black gold in the making (slowly)
Batteries of barrels

Next was the prosciutto factory, there were thousands of hams in various stages of aging. Dan really wanted to a buy a ham. He also wanted to buy the fancy meat slicer that apparently costs 8,000. We tasted prosciutto and drank more Lambrusco.

Fresh hams
Fresh hams 

Hanging hams
Hanging hams 

Finished hams
Finished hams 

Meat slicer
Meat slicer

Then it was off to Antica Trattoria Moretto for a "light lunch." We started with Pignoletto white wine and a few antipasti. There were three pasta courses, then some red wine "very young, easy to drink," and two meat courses. Then dessert, coffee, a digestiv, and grappa. (I skipped the grappa.) Alessandro says he is a professional "food pusher," and he is not kidding. It was time for a nap! Unfortunately later in the day I got sick. At first I thought I had eaten and drunk too much (which I had), but I had chills and then a fever. I could barely walk. I think a blister or mosquito bite on my foot got infected at the cheese factory, where the floor was wet. We had shoe covers, but they were not waterproof. I still would recommend the food tour, it was a lot of fun and very delicious. Lesson learned: Wear closed-toe shoes.

I felt a little better the next morning, and our host was so kind, she gave us a ride to the train station. We took the fast train to Milan, again super quick and on time. The B&B was near the subway, but we took a taxi there. We rested for bit, and I had an espresso. Then we explored Milan, after a gelato. Dan looked at the stained glass in the Duomo through his binoculars. I liked the 3D painted choir inside Santa Maria presso San Satiro, a tiny church near the Duomo. Dan spun his heel on the bull mosaic at the Galleria for good luck. Then we went to see da Vinci's Last Supper.

Naviglio Grande
Naviglio Grande 

Roman columns in Milan
Roman columns

Wedding cake duomo
Duomo 

Trompe l'oeil
Trompe l'oeil 

Galleria rooftop
Galleria 

My foot seemed worse, so we went to the hospital in the evening, it was not the best way to end our trip. The next day we made the long journey home. Despite a bumpy start and finish, we enjoyed Italy and hope to return someday!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Viva l'Italia: Florence

I've wanted to go to Italy, and Florence in particular, since I read A Room with a View and watched the movie as a teen. I may have written about Lucy Honeychurch on my AP English exam. I even made Dan watch the movie before our trip. So expectations were high, and I was worried Florence would disappoint. Happily, it did not. I loved Florence!

We arrived at Santa Maria Novella train station after two train changes from Cinque Terre, then took a taxi to our B&B in Oltarno, just beyond the Arno. Our room was huge, on the second floor of a charming old building. It was like staying in an apartment, but breakfast was ready each morning, then later in the day the dishes were cleaned and put away. Ah, vacation! After our host showed us around and pointed out places on the map, I made an espresso, ate some cookies, and we were ready to explore Florence. But first we had a gelato.

We crossed Ponte Vecchio and walked to Piazza della Signoria. Neptune! The Uffizi! Loggia dei Lanzi! It was all right there, and so many tourists. We went inside Palazzo Vecchio to buy the Firenze Card, and we saw several choir groups warming up...turns out there was an international choir festival happening. We learned the Firenze card price had gone up nearly 50% in just one month. I was shocked by how expensive it was, but since we did not have reservations for the Uffizi or Accademia, we paid up.

View from Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Santa Trinita

Neptune
Neptune

Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio 

We continued on to the Duomo, passing a group of young Italian children dressed in what appeared to be camp uniforms. Their teen counselors were trying to wrangle them altogether, just like at home! There was a long line at the Duomo, and the guard told us we had to go to another building for tickets to climb the cupola. And then we stood in line. The ladies in front of us didn't have tickets yet, and I told them you had to get tickets first. The lady who had climbed the cupola before thought I was mistaken, but then she decided to go buy tickets while the other lady waited in line. She didn't even say thank you when she returned! But the lady holding the spot in line did, so I guess that's something.

Duomo in Florence
Duomo

Door to climb the cupola
Door to climb the cupola

San Lorenzo & Santa Maria Novella
San Lorenzo & Santa Maria Novella 

Santa Croce
Santa Croce

Florence rooftops
Florence rooftops 

Campanile
Campanile 

Atop the Duomo
Atop the Duomo 

It took even longer to get down the stairs, because there were so many people going up. Then we went inside the Baptistry, which is stunning. The photo does not do it justice. Dan enjoyed looking at details of the scenes with binoculars, particularly the animals. I enjoyed the cool and quiet inside.

Inside the Baptistry
Inside the Baptistry

Next we went to the Duomo Museum to see Michelangelo's unfinished Pieta and Ghiberti's bronze doors, the Gates of Paradise. The details on the doors are impressive. We walked through Piazza della Repubblica and crossed Ponte Santa Trinita back to Oltarno. We had dinner at TamerĂ² on Piazza Santo Spirito...salumi and cheese, tomato with burrata, pici cacio e pepe...mmm. Dan said he was getting used to the unsalted bread in Tuscany. There were a few dogs playing on the square, and then we saw a beagle mix! Her name was Roxie and she was playing with a tennis ball, which I tossed for her a few times. Our first beagle sighting since Orvieto! After dinner we walked to the Piazza Pitti, where Dan was fascinated by a giant beetle. Then it was time for another gelato.

The next morning I had a cappuccino and an espresso at breakfast. Then we set off for the Uffizi. There was a line for tour groups, and one for individuals. We didn't have to wait long, and thankfully the museum was not nearly as crowded as the Vatican. We walked through long corridors filled with old sculptures and many portraits of the Medici family, saw Botticelli's Birth of Venus, da Vinci's Annunciation, and a surprising number of Dutch masters. Then it was time for lunch at Osteria il Buongustai...bruschetta with white beans and truffle cream, then pasta with tomato sauce for me, and tomatoes stuffed with tuna for Dan. Yum. After lunch we looked inside Orsanmichele, which used to be a grain market, then walked through the flower market onto Santa Maria Novella, but we were directed to another entrance for tickets. (A theme in Florence.) On the way we went inside the old pharmacy, a beautiful shop. The perfumes smelled divine, but I was put off by the staff.

Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella

Next we went to the Medici Chapel and marveled at the grandeur of the powerful family's mausoleum. The larger chapel was being restored, but we could tell it was very grand. We walked around the San Lorenzo market, then went inside the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, since it was close. I was underwhelmed by the palace. Then we climbed the bell tower of the Duomo. Unlike the cupola, there was no line for the Campanile.

Piazza della Republica
Palazzo Vecchio & Piazza della Republica 

Duomo cupola
Duomo cupola 

After all those stairs, we got gelato at Gelateria Vivoli. Then we went to Santa Croce, but it was closed. So we crossed Ponte alle Grazie and walked up to San Miniato. We were just in time for vespers, it was magical to hear the Benedictine monks chanting. One of the highlights of the trip for me. We walked to Piazzale Michelangelo, where there is a pretty view of Florence. Dan spotted a park, so we went to see if there were any dogs, it turned out to be the rose garden.

Santa Croce
Santa Croce

The Arno
The Arno 

Rose garden
Rose garden

We walked through Piazza San Niccolo on the way back to our place, it looked like a fun neighborhood. We had dinner at Osteria Santo Spirito, starting with a giant platter of meat and cheese. I had gnocchi with meat sauce. Very meaty.

Meat & cheese
Dan is happy, meat and cheese!

Gnocchi with meat sauce
Gnocchi with meat sauce

There was a tasty jam pie at breakfast the next morning, and I had another cappuccino and espresso. Then we were off to the Accademia. We passed so many tour groups on the way there, I lost count of the number. The line was not too bad, and we saw Michelangelo's David. The statue is enormous, and we were appropriately awe-stricken. We looked at some paintings, also saw a beautiful woven linen alter piece that had been at Santa Maria Novella. We walked over to San Marco and toured the monks' cloisters. It was so interesting to see where the monks lived and Fra Angelico's frescoes, some are really lovely. I wouldn't want the crucifixion scene though, would prefer something more cheerful. Next we headed to the Mercato Centrale, passing two construction workers posting (fake) US currency on an empty building. It was so strange.

Bills
Bills

We got some goodies at the market and had a picnic lunch in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi. Then Dan spotted a beagle named Margo! I petted her, and she rolled over for a belly rub. So cute. After gelato we went to Santa Croce, this time it was open. Many noted Italians are buried there...Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo...and the Pazzi chapel is a tranquil spot. We walked through the Scuola del Cuoio and saw many leather goods...quite a few Asian students there too. No leather sandals though, so we went to Francesco da Firenze in Oltarno, where I found a nice pair. The lady who helped me did not speak English and asked a gentleman next door to interpret for us. Dan thought she was Francesco's wife. When we left, Francesco was making shoes at the back of the shop. Dan still hasn't bought his Italian leather shoes, so we will have to return someday.

After a little rest and an espresso and cookies for me, we headed to the Palazzo Pitti, where I ran into a former coworker! It was a pleasant surprise, we hadn't seen each other in several years. The palace rooms are beautifully decorated and covered in paintings, and I liked that it was not crowded, but I would have benefited greatly from an audioguide. We walked around the Boboli Gardens, which I found disappointing. The view of Florence is nice though.

Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti

Kaffeehaus
Kaffeehouse

Boboli Gardens
Boboli Gardens

It was time for another gelato. I noticed these street signs while we were eating our gelato.

Graffiti in Florence
Graffiti in Florence 

Crucifixion
Crucifixion

After gelato we decided to go to the Palazzo Vecchio, since it was open late. On the walk over we stopped to listen to two violinists playing in front of Santa Trinita. It was really lovely.

Santa Trinita
Santa Trinita 

When we got to Piazza della Signoria, there was a performance under the Loggia. So we listened for awhile. I think my sister would have loved it.

Choir festival at Loggia dei Lanzi
Choir festival 

Then we went inside to see the Salone dei Cinquecento, a very grand room with frescoes showing Florence's victories over Siena and Pisa. (Note: I saw a lady with a Baedeker guide at Palazzo Vecchio. In Santa Croce with no Baedeker! I didn't know it was still published.) As we toured the rooms, Dan heard trumpets and drums. There was a procession outside, people were all dressed up, apparently for the feast of St. Anna. What an eventful evening!

Duomo
Inside Palazzo Vecchio

We were feeling tired, so after the procession we ordered an eggplant pizza from Gusta Pizza, across from our place. Pizza, wine, and leftovers for dinner on our last night in Florence. The next morning Dan spotted a beagle on the way to Museo Bargello! I don't remember her name, but she did not like my hat and barked at it. The Bargello was not crowded, we saw some early Michelangelo and Donatello pieces, a large collection of Islamic art, and a room full of intricate ivory carvings. We still had some time before the train to Bologna, so we decided to visit the Brancacci Chapel. We saw a wedding outside of Palazzo Vecchio, very sweet. Then near Santa Trinita we saw a Bassett hound named Junior. I asked if I could pet him, his owner said yes and dropped the leash. Dan reached to pick it up, but the owner said not to worry because Junior was too lazy to run off. Dan told him our beagle at home would follow her nose looking for food, and the owner said Junior was picky and only eats prosciutto crudo. It was very amusing.

Our time in Florence was jam-packed and went by very quickly. I think we made the most of the Firenze Card, despite the exorbitant cost. Next time, I want to wander more slowly and explore the neighborhoods. Hopefully, there will be a next time...