Adriatic Adventure Closure

It was a great trip. Thanks for traveling with us. Thank you for putting up with the missing words and typos. Writing a blog late at night after a big meal isn’t ideal for precise writing or careful editing.

Here are some of our random thoughts when we look back on our Adriatic Adventure. They are in no particular order.

  • After driving a Smart car for a week, it may look tiny from the outside, but we found the car to be shockingly roomy on the inside, very maneuverable, and great when parking is tight. Our Prius will feel like a bus for a while.
  • In Croatia and Slovenia, waiters need to speak a minimum of four languages. In Italy they can get away with only speaking three in most places. German is needed much more than French. We saw lots and lots of German tourists. Perhaps the French just stay home and visit other parts of France.
  • The Germans have grown in height in the past generation or two. They are very tall!
  • We were told that the water we were always served for free in Slovenia was an unusual custom. That proved very true. Thanks for the free water, Slovenia.
  • English was spoken everywhere. Even people who said they didn’t speak much English, spoke enough to help us out.
  • Gelato is a perfectly acceptable meal substitute.
  • Signage in Italy is “budgeted.” They may give you one sign, but don’t count on another one.
  • Don’t try eating at U.S. “early bird special” time. 7:00 is as early as dinner is served. Even then, you’ll be eating with other North Americans.
  • The Idiots Guide to Religious Art—
    • Mary wears blue or blue and pink. That’s it. Don’t even think of any other colors.
    • There are many more saints than you ever read about in the Bible and every church has a favorite.
    • Paintings are categorized as having triangular or diagonal lines. In the case of Titian, think layers. If you walk around and say, “Ah, triangular,” “Hmm, diagonal,” or “Obvious layers” people might think you know something. It’s the art version of Radar O’Reilly’s, “Ah, Bach” approach to classical music.
  • Italy doesn’t charge enough for driving on its toll roads. It is no wonder they have financial issues. We took one highway with at least five beautiful tunnels and at least as many high curved bridges. After being on the road for almost an hour, the toll was 2.30 euros. In France it would have been over twenty, but there would have been lots of signs in France.
  • France charges too much for shoes, especially Italian shoes. The Italian shoes in Italy were not a bad deal. We didn’t buy any, but we did notice the prices.
  • Slovenia deservers more time than we gave it. It will require another trip.
  • In France we have always felt somewhat underdressed. That was not the case anywhere on this trip. Casual dress was common on tourists and locals alike. That isn’t to say that stylish clothes weren’t shown in the store windows. We just don’t know who was buying them or where they were wearing them.
  • Traveling with a GPS from home that you know how to work easily, is a must for driving in Europe. It isn’t worth renting one with the car. Buy one at home and become familiar with how to do what you need to do. We are very partial to Stephen Fry’s voice on ours.
  • The vineyards in Italy are taller, less trained, and regulations are more relaxed. They are allowed to irrigate. They are more Type B. The opposite is true in France, which is certainly Type A in wine production. We think there may be some broader generalizations to extrapolate from there about the people of the country as well, but we’ll leave that to others.
  • France gives prizes for the beauty of small towns. Italy seems to love the more rustic looks. Peeling paint can be seen as charming.
  • We leave for our trip to Bordeaux, the Dordogne, and Bilbao in 365 days, 18 hours, and 27 minutes. The next countdown begins.

Treviso and Surrounds

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Breakfast provided ample fuel before heading out.

Jim read that Treviso is a lovely city on the banks of a river with the friendliest people in Italy. Today, we went to fact-check. Well, it is lovely, and it does have a largish stream running through it, and the guy in the gelato shop was indeed friendly.

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The river splits and goes around the town.
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This is known as the men’s square. We never found the women’s square. Hmm.

We did have a little issue with the tourist information office though. There are two signs in the city that direct you to the tourist information office and one of them is on the door. We found the office pretty much by accident after “touring” for an hour on our own. Here’s the part that got us. They don’t have maps of the city to provide information to tourists, which seemed to us to be the point of having tourist information. They did let us take a photo of the one map they had. When asked about how to get to the weekly market, the answer was, “Go right until you see it.” What she really meant was, “Go away until you find it.” We wandered for another long stretch and did indeed find it by accident.

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We walked along the walls of the city until we saw the weekly market.

Anyway, the town was pretty, and folks were out and about. The gelato shop was an A+.

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Treviso says they invented tiramisu. We don’t know how many other towns claim the same thing.
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A gelato shop that has been in business since 1947 has to be doing many things right.

Fueled with gelato, we drove to another Palladian villa. We got our first clear (but distant) view of the snow-capped Dolomites on the way.

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There was a wedding at the villa today and the setting was lovely with no additional decorations needed. The walls of the villa are painted with gods involved in various deeds of derring-do or debauchery.

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A lovely peacock mosaic on the porch
A lovely peacock mosaic on the porch
You may be able to make out a small robot lawn mower. Poor little, determined thing.
You may be able to make out a small robot lawn mower. Poor, little, determined thing.
The view the bride and groom have
The view enjoyed by the bride and groom.

For our final dinner of the trip, we went to La Loggia in Vitterio Veneto for some pasta. Oh my. We had a salad with bacon, shrimp, green olives, tomatoes, and creamy hunks of gorgonzola. Cindy had pasta with mushrooms, speck, and cream that would make a person feel like singing. Jim had pasts with sausage, black olives, tomatoes, and pecorino. Both were awesome. A little panna cotta with chocolate and strawberries topped it off nicely. We had a bit of prosecco in honor of this lovely part of the world.img_1718 img_1719 img_1717

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It has been great. This is the image of the Veneto we’ll hold in our heads as we think back. We’ll mentally sit down in these chairs, exhale, and try to hear the church bells again.

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The Dynamite Dolomites

Cindy took an early morning stroll around our inn and managed to take a couple of photos of the area before the buzz of the day began.

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Another day, another breakfast on another terrace overlooking the countryside. We are celebrating every moment of it. Italy mean lots of things to lots of people, but chocolate hazelnut spread on tables rather than salt or pepper is as good a generalization as any. We love that.

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Enough frescos for a while—today we headed up into the mountains to visit Mother Nature. The song running as the backdrop for much of the morning was Barbra Streisand singing, “On a Clear Day.” Today wasn’t. I bet on a clear day you can see forever, but today we could just see what was in front of us for a rather short distance. We walked around the mountain town of Belluno for a while this morning and realized that if we wanted to see the mountains, we’d need to get closer to them.

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Belluno is a sister city of a place we like a lot—Bend, Oregon.

We drove to the Dolomite National Park. We stopped at a Kanguro (that’s how it is spelled) grocery to pick up picnic supplies and just wander around the grocery looking at what they sell versus what we can find at home. Some of the major differences are the meats, cheeses, chocolates, and juices. Cindy really wanted some goat cheese and we finally found some fresh goat cheese that was sitting looking lonely among the aisles of cow cheeses.

We headed into the national park and managed to find the perfect lunch spot. I trust that the scenery made every bite taste better. It was hard to focus on our bread, cheese, fruit, and peach juice with such beauty around. We kept stopping to take pictures of the clouds dancing among the rocks on mountains you could almost touch. I was reminded of a favorite hymn.

This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

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At breakfast we asked our innkeeper about a type of prosecco that Chef Isa had suggested. It is called cartizze. We have since learned that it is the “grand cru” of prosecco and comes from one hill near the V-town we visited yesterday. We plugged in the GPS and headed out on our quest. After many twists and turns, we ended at Garbara Winery and met the owner/winemaker. An early birthday gift is coming home with us to be tasted with the Webers in the near future.

The former town of Serravale got a good bit of our attention this afternoon. I say “former” because Serravale and the nearby town of Ceneda were combined in 1866 to create the city of Vittorio Veneto (to mark the inclusion of Veneto in the Kingdom of Italy). We have to assume King Vittorio Emmanuel II liked the new name.

In Serravale there are the ruins of a 1st century B.C. wall.

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The arched walkways were perfect for a walk on an afternoon with a bit of a drizzle. img_1679

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We are certain there is a great story that goes with the canal, but we do not know what it is yet.

We stepped into a church with a Titian alterpiece. Serravale also has a tree-lined boulevard with beaux arts versions of McMansions on both sides of the street. This town had, and still has, some serious money. At one point, the sun broke through and sent shafts of light onto the mountains. It was magical.

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Rather than a lavish feast for dinner, we stopped at a local shop and picked up some marinated artichokes, marinated mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes, and small meatballs to enjoy with a glass of our innkeeper’s wine for dinner. What a lovely way to cap off a full day.

Driving in the Veneto

For many months Cindy has been thinking about waking up at La Scuola and sitting out on the terrace to watch the world wake up. It happened this morning. Ahhhhh.

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When the rest of the world did wake up, we were treated to a breakfast of warm pear tarts, granola, yogurt, breads, local apple juice, and a cappuccino for Jim (he’s getting very used to cappuccino each morning). We don’t remember breakfasts at school being like this when we were kids.

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Local cheese and speck
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Pear tarts
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Can you tell that the host has a graphics design background?

We then headed down the mountain, past several dozen hairpin turns (we are so glad that we have a tiny Smart car — primarily for maneuverability). After driving the better part of an hour, we located another Palladio villa. The Villa di Maser (http://www.villadimaser.it/en), also called the Villa Barbaro, is another pleasure palace built by Palladio. Here he broke away a bit from the Roman temple format and created more of a country estate, complete with a grotto behind the building. They didn’t allow pictures at this villa either, so we can’t show you the lovely frescoes that adorned the interior. They were quite playful, showing family members, dogs, and creating a not-too-stuffy trompe-l’oeil effect that was enjoyable to peruse. A family lives in the home today. Imagine.

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Curb appeal? Indeed.
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The two horses help with the mowing.
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Isn’t the fence cool?

As we pulled away, the heavens opened for the first time this trip. It’s been warm and humid for much the time we’ve been in Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy, so today’s clouds and rain were actually quite welcome.

We pointed the car to Prosecco country, starting in its capital — Valdobbiadene (hard to pronounce, so we call it V-town). We had lunch there, which included a salad (something green!) and a glass of a variety of Prosecco called Cartizze, which we found out later is grown on a special hill near to V-town.

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A little porchetta lunch
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At last, a green salad!
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Valdobbiadene sits at the base of some impressive hills. This is their war memorial.

We left V-town and started driving toward the number two Processo town — Conegliano. The countryside around V-town was stunningly beautiful, even in the rain. Unlike France’s Champagne region, which has fields of champagne grapes one after the other in a monoculture, the Prosecco region is very hilly, with forests, fields of very tall grapes, little villages, and a much less formal feeling than France. A great bottle of Prosecco costs $20, while the best Champagne is four or five figures a bottle. And frankly, our untrained palates can’t detect differences that would justify paying more than $20.

We stopped at one winery to see if they had a special type of Prosecco creation called Passito — they pick the grapes late, after they’ve shriveled up on the vine and basically become raisins. When pressed, they produce a sweet, raisin-y, amber liquid that’s great as an after-dinner drink. In the States, it would be hard to find, but it’s readily available here and cheap. Add another bottle to the suitcase.

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For the next few nights we’re staying at a small inn near Vittorio Veneto. The owners also have a vineyard and produce lovely wine.  http://www.alice-relais.com/en/index.html

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The view from my chair on the terrace
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A glass of the owner’s wine with some nibbles as we watch the sky clear and the sun shut down for the day

img_1634  We had dinner at a very local spot, Al Larin, where grilled meat is the specialty. The meat is grilled on a open hearth in the dining room. We enjoyed perfectly cooked steaks.

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Nothing makes a place cozy like a roaring fire.
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Vegetable terrine with a sauce of local cheese
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Potato gnocchi with duck ragu
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Perhaps not a great place for vegetarians

Time for School and the Best Lasagna in the Universe

We bid a fond farewell to Vicenza and to our home in Portico Rosso. We could not have asked for a finer place to call home or for a hostess who could have made us feel more welcome.

We started our day’s touring at La Rotunda. This Palladian home/villa/suburban palazzo, was one of the buildings that gave Jefferson his idea for Monticello. Unfortunately they don’t let you take photos inside the villa, so you’ll need to look here. http://www.villalarotonda.it/en/homepage.htm

I thought it would be non-homey inside, but it was oddly comfortable. Okay, there were frescoes of gods and such everywhere you turned, but the rooms seemed human-scaled and there was beautiful light and airflow in every room. It really was impressive without being overpowering.

Palladio influenced the “vocabulary” of architecture in the late 1500s by writing four books — I quattro libri dell’architettura (The Four Books of Architecture). He studied Roman buildings and created a “pattern book” of sorts for other architects to follow. Much of the formal, civic architecture in Europe and North America in the centuries that followed used aspects of Palladian design. We’ll see another one of his villas tomorrow.

img_5120 img_5132 With Stephen Fry and our little Smart car, we headed toward our next stop­—Asiago. You know how much we love cheese. We had to make a pilgrimage. Stephen and his GPS brain kept trying to send us one way and we were determined to go a different way into the hills. We knew we were on the route we needed to be on when every single billboard was about cheese or butter. When in doubt, go in the direction of cheese and butter. Asiago felt very Alpine compared to the stucco of Venice, Padua, and Verona. We felt like we were back in the mountains of Slovenia.

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We purchased some aged Asiago, speck (ham) from Asiago, and little pastries from a cute little shop. These came together for a lovely picnic lunch.

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Dessert wrapped as a present with care

Our next stop was Bassano del Grappa. Grappa? Yes, that grappa.

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Bassano del Grappa has a covered wooden bridge that crosses the river and there are grappa tasting rooms at both ends. Jim had a little taste and is still alive to tell of it.

Hemingway spent time in Bassano as part of his service in World War I (parts of A Farewell to Arms take place around Bassano), and Fitzgerald and Dos Passos also served there. The wooden bridge has been destroyed numerous times in wars over the centuries, and there are still bullet holes in the buildings at one end. It has special significance for the Alpini — the Alpine units of Italy’s military. After a walk around the old town, we stopped for some — wait for it — gelato.

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Note the bullet holes in the wall
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An old photo of cod fishermen
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View from the bridge
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Alpine soldier

We plugged in the GPS and headed over the hills, around the hairpin turns, past the bikers who need their heads examined, and toward our most unusual B&B. La Scuola is located in an old school high in the mountains, with wonderful views over the Veneto plain. Each room is themed to relate to a content area and we are in the Science room. The hosts have a very refined eye for design. You’ll enjoy seeing the photographs on her Web site. http://www.locandalascuola.com

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Osteria Sciessere is a quick drive from the La Scuola. Sit back and let us wax poetic about our meal. Chef Vittorio came out to greet us and by the smile on his face and his warm welcome, we knew we were in good hands. He told us about the menu and we just suggested that he choose for us and give us tastes of whatever he thought we would like. The first course provided tastes of pasta with speck and cherry tomatoes. It was so flavorful! Then there was mushroom lasagna that was the best lasagna I’d had until I tasted the meat lasagna. Let me just say that I may never make lasagna again because there is no way it would come close to the first course of the gods that this lasagna was. It was not layers upon layers. It was perhaps two layers of cloud-like pasta with just the best mixture of meat, cheese, and stardust. I’m starting to get emotional just writing about it. The second course was a sample of thin chicken, polenta, spinach, green beans, fried cheese, and sausage that will live on in folklore. We each had semifreddo for dessert. Without a single question, this was the best meal of the trip. Other meals need not apply. If you are ever within a day’s drive of Lusiana, make a point of checking out Osteria Sciessere. This is why we travel.

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Lasagna of the Gods
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Mushroom Lasagna of the Arch Angels
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A tasting of sausage, chicken, cheese, and vegetables
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Chocolate hazelnut semifreddo
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Semifreddo of blue fruits

Two Gentle People in Verona

It would be easy to get used to having breakfast served to you in a walled garden by a charming hostess. We’ll choose to ignore reality for a while longer.

We walked to the train station after breakfast to hop on a train to Verona. I know that many Americans believe in American exceptionalism in all things, but we’re here to tell you that the trains are just plain better here. After a perfectly restful forty-minute ride, we arrived at the station in Verona.

Verona has a large, intact Roman arena that was built fifty years before the Colosseum in Rome. Verona’s Arena is still being used today. Bocelli did two concerts here last week and a big opera festival begins tomorrow. After checking out the Arena we walked around the old city for a while.

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I have a theory about Italians and the French when it comes to signage. The French put up lots of directional signs so tourists don’t need to ask the locals for directions. The French win. The tourists win. The Italians rarely put up directional signs so tourists will walk around getting tired and will then need to stop for aperitifs or gelatos. The Italians win. The tourists win. According to my FitBit, we over walked eleven miles today.

While wandering in Verona, we found the Castelvecchio (old castle),

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The view from the castle walls

the famous Piazza Erbe,

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The market in Piazza Erbe was in full swing today.
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This whale bone has hung under the arch for centuries.

the tombs of the Scaligere family,

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and the St. Zeno church.

The church was first renovated in the 14th century. It was built in the 900s.
The church was first renovated in the 14th century. It was built in the 900s.
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Saint Zeno
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A fresco of the Last Supper with scorpions on the table as a symbol for betrayal
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The artist of the huge bronze doors included himself in one of the scenes
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One of the sixty or so scenes on the doors
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The writing in graffiti from centuries ago

Perhaps the best find of the day was our lunch spot. We had researched several places before we left home. There was one that we picked in large part because of its name. We hunted down, and finally found, La Bottega della Gina. (Thanks, Gina, for the inspiration!) Gina makes — among other things — tortelloni, and we had the sample plate of all eight of today’s flavors. These aren’t tiny tortelloni that you buy in a box. Today’s flavors included 1) olive, 2) burrata and porcini, 3) polenta and taleggio, 4) mozzarella and oregano with spinach pasta, 5) potato, 6) spicy calabrese salami, 7) radicchio and speck, and 8) pepperoni and cheese. Gina cooks your pasta while you wait, then removes them from the water to toss them in a pan with butter, then covers them generously with parmesan. Yup — all were amazing.

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Is your mouth watering?
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A fine, fine lunch

When we returned to Vicenza, we walked around some more and went to the Olympic Theater. It was built by local architectural legend Palladio in 1585 (Vicenza and its surroundings are a treasure trove of Palladio’s buildings, including several of his villas). It is amazing that it is still standing because much of it is wooden. The stage has an extremely foreshortened backdrop — a bit of trompe l’oeil that was way ahead of its time.

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The stage has three openings that are scenes from a town.

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We returned to Portico Rosso to cool off a bit before dinner. We then walked to a self-service restaurant in the old part of the city. We read up on what to do so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. You choose a table and set the table yourself as a way of claiming it. You then go inside and pour your drink into whatever size container you want from the taps that include water, wine, beer, and who knows what else. Then you go to the cooks and tell them what you want. They hand you your food and you take it back to your table. You can go back to the cooks as often as you’d like. When you are finished, you go to the cashier and tell her what you had. We took pictures of our food and just showed her the pictures.

 

Somehow we found a gelato shop between the restaurant and the B&B. Go figure.

 

Chefs for a Day

Our day started with a beautiful breakfast in the back courtyard of our B&B in Vicenza, Italy (between Padua and Verona). The garden is restful and includes a pomegranate tree with at least fifty green fruit ripening on its branches. Our hostess also has hibiscus the size of dinner plates. She is so warm and interested in helping us with our plans and making great suggestions. If you’re ever in the area, look up Portico Rosso http://www.porticorosso.it.

 

After breakfast we hopped in our baby Smart car and headed to Mama Isa’s in Padua. When we first started thinking about this trip everything was up for discussion until we found Mama Isa’s Cooking School. That formed the cornerstone of our trip planning and we contacted her before we made any other reservations. Today was the day our dreams came true.

Chef Isa and her husband met us at the door and I think after all these months they were as interested to meet us as we were to meet them. Let me kill the suspense by saying that the class exceeded any expectations we had all those months ago. http://isacookinpadua.altervista.org/

We started by making dessert because it needed time to chill. We made a classic tiramisu and a limoncello tiramisu. The cookies (that form some of the layers) were special to the area, the espresso was special Italian espresso powder, the cocoa powder was special (Perugina!), and so was the type of limoncello. The ingredients are the magic. I say that to lower any expectations our future dinner guests may have as we try to replicate these recipes. Chef Isa has such an easy way of conveying information and making you feel successful.

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Ready to chill
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The completed tiramisu with white chocolate on top because we can
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Classic tiramisu

We then we made a focaccia with cherry tomatoes, salami from the family’s farm, and fresh mozzarella. We used fresh, live yeast. I don’t know where you can buy fresh yeast at home. We’re going to find a grocery store on our last day and see what we can fit into our carry-on luggage.

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Pre
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Post

Once the focaccia was in the oven we started on the fresh pasta. Pasta making was such fun! We ended up creating spinach ravioli. We aren’t going to make it every day, but the process was therapeutic. Did you know that there are special eggs that Italians use for making fresh pasta? We used three different types of flour today and each had its own purpose. Our suitcases may not be liftable after the grocery store visit.

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From scratch

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Rolling it thinner and thinner
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Filled and ready to cut
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All of the little pillows of goodness in the pot
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Spinach ravioli with sage cream sauce

The tasting was proof that we were good students. Hurrah for the cooks and extra hurrahs for our outstanding teachers.

We would have loved to have stayed longer to linger and visit, but we had tickets for the 3:30 tour of the Scrovegni Chapel. They only allow 25 people in at any one time, and before you can enter the chapel you have to sit in a room to adjust the humidity. Following that they open the glass partition and you have 15 minutes to view the frescoes — created in 1305. Jim said he had dreamed of getting to see this amazing cycle of frescoes. Giotto was the first painter to move beyond the flat, emotionless painting style — he ushered in Renaissance art in Italy and could be considered the first “modern” painter.

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Chess, Anyone?

For some days writing these daily reviews is just simply reliving the day in sequence. But on a day like today, I just want to jump to the highlight of the day, which happened this evening.

I’ll give a very brief overview of our morning and early afternoon. We left Venice on a water bus (boat) and got to the airport to pick up our rental car. We rented a Smart car that could be considered carry-on luggage with some airlines. It is tiny. It took some spatial skills to fit our small luggage into the tiny car, but we did it.

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Isn’t it cute?

We then drove to Vicenza with the help of Stephen Fry as our navigator. We walked around Vicenza a bit, but I’ll save that description for Tuesday or Wednesday.

We had lunch at Il Ceppo  which we would never have know about or found without our friends at TripAdvisor. It is in the basement of a deli. Jim had a bacalla (cod) four ways. It was boiled and made into a salad, fried into little balls, blended to make a spread, and finally used with pasta.

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Cindy had the local pasta (a very thick, almost worm-sized spaghetti) with duck ragu. There were no tomatoes, just ground duck. Everything was delicious. The restaurant is very popular with the locals and it seemed that we ordered the right things because the locals were having what we had.

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We checked into Portico Rosso, our B&B in Vicenza, and met our charming and helpful hostess. We’re looking forward to talking with her more in the morning.

Now, for the highlight. When we were planning this trip, the B&B where we will be staying on Wednesday night posted a link on her Facebook page. I was curious and clicked on it.  It seems that the town of Marostica (20 miles from Vicenza) puts on a medieval chess match every two years for three days. One of those days was today. I bought tickets back in November. We almost didn’t go because Vicenza was interesting and we could have just walked around town. We are SO glad we went. The town sits in the foothills of the Dolomites. We turned a corner and looked up to see walls on the ridges of a hill. We’ve never seen anything like it.

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The chess match is a reenactment of a match in 1454. Today’s pageant is a mix of a non-cheesy Medieval Times, Renaissance Fair, and town Christmas pageant if the Christmas pageant had four hundred people in it. You could just imagine the little boy who was a page this year, graduating to drummer in a few years, a pawn in the chess match a few years later, a flag thrower in his prime, and perhaps the king or a priest in his golden years. The tradition was thick enough to spread with a knife, or perhaps a sword. There were horses, jesters, peddlers, dancers, drummers, lords and ladies, and a living chess match with real horses for the knights. Our favorite parts were the flag throwers. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Our Colonial Williamsburg friends will see the connections.

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Everybody needs flag throwers!

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There was a white chess team and a black chess team. Note the pages holding the trains of the king and queen.

Here is a link to see more. Marositica https://vimeo.com/15183578

 

Settling Into Venetian Life

Today was an “on our own” day. No tours or classes. Our only planned activities involved going to two of Venice’s great art museums — the Peggy Guggenheim collection and the Accademia.

We bypassed breakfast at the B&B this morning, and instead pointed ourselves to the market at Rialto Bridge. We grabbed a few chocolate croissants on the way, and purchased some fragolina grapes at the market. We munched on these while sitting beside the Grand Canal, with a pigeon and a seagull unsuccessfully begging for scraps. The scenery was a bit different from our usual Saturday biscuit breakfasts in Grayslake!

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We then meandered across town to the Dorsoduro neighborhood. It’s the artsy part of town (and elegant), where Elton John has a home and both of our museum destinations could be found. The Guggenheim Museum is in the foundation of an old Venetian palace. Evidently, the foundation (ground floor) was constructed several hundred years ago, but it caused damage to nearby structures and the building was discontinued. So when Ms. Guggenheim purchased it, it was only one story tall — and so it has remained.

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Jim’s panorama shot of Peggy’s house

It was her home, and she lived in it for thirty years. The rooms have all been turned into exhibition spaces, but there are photographs in each room showing how they were used and what art they contained. Highlights for us included several Kandinskys, Mondrians, a Morris Louis painting, some of Jackson Pollock’s works, and Brancusi’s “Bird in Space.” It’s an amazing collection, although some of it is more than a little esoteric.

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We needed refreshment, so it was off to our favorite ciccheteria, Gia Schiari, in Dorsoduro (We’ve been here three days and already have a favorite cicceteria.) for several plates of superb cicchetti with a glass of house white and then prosecco. The pesto ricotta and the pumpkin cicchetti were standouts today.

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More art awaited. Our next stop was the Accademia — a museum specializing in Venetian art from its glory days, which were the 1300s and 1400s. There were a few gems, for sure — The Tempest by Giorgione was splendid,

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and Tintoretto’s Feast in the House of Levi impressed.

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But there were a lot of paintings of religious processions from Venice’s past, and a little of that can go a long way. A lot of that can go even further. We both felt a bit comatose by the end.

We relaxed in the hotel room for a bit this afternoon, listening to the crowds below and the occasional gondolier singing as he drifted past. Accordion music is starting to grow on us.

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Looking down at a gondola from our window.

Tonight we celebrated our 15th anniversary. It isn’t our anniversary, but we celebrated it tonight. We dined at Ostaria Boccadoro. We ate outside and enjoyed the sounds of the kids playing and riding bikes in what was their “backyard” — the neighborhood square. May I just say that any dinner that begins with a drink made of fresh strawberry puree and prosecco is going to make the grade.

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We started with a mixed seafood platter that included crab, shrimp on polenta, baby octopus, and several other delicacies.

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Jim then had some spaghetti with clams. The broth for that dish could be sold for home cooks or as perfume. A little put behind each ear would get lots of admiring sniffs.

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For the main dishes we had veal cheeks and John Dory. Both were tender, flavorful, and perfect for a farewell to Venice dinner. The chocolate mousse and panna cotta with strawberries were just a final goodbye wave.

 

 

Art with More Art

Today was Jim’s belated Christmas present. Last year, Cindy gave Jim a guided “art walk” of Venice for Christmas. For those who don’t know, Jim was a Fine Arts major as an undergraduate, and he took a full load of art history courses. While we’ve enjoyed a bit of art on our trips to France over the past few years, Venice has quite a concentration of art and architecture that’s worth a look, so that’s what we did today.

Our guide, Luisella, is a native of Venice. She met us at our B&B, and we walked the entire route of the tour.

http://www.seevenice.it/seevenice/tour_guide_in_Venice.html

First, we stopped by the Rialto Market — no art there, but beautifully arranged fruits, vegetables, and an abundanza of fresh seafood.

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Luisella also showed us some hidden shops near the market. The kitschy shops are the ones that are seen by all tourists tromping the well-worn paths, but if you know where to look, you can find real artisans, such as a pair of brothers who use antique glass beads that were made on the island of Murano to create exquisite jewelry.

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A glass cuttlefish, perhaps?

Then it was on to the San Polo sestier, or neighborhood. This used to be the entertainment district of Venice back in the day (we’re talking 1400s and 1500s) — it was the gambling district and the red-light district rolled into one. As time passed, some of the ladies of the night began to educate themselves and assume roles as courtesans, taking the neighborhood a bit more upscale. The “Ponte de le Tette” is a bridge where all was revealed to passersby who might be interested in having a go. Oh my!

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We’re getting to the art. The next thing we saw was the medieval equivalent of the Elks or the Lions, a benevolent society. Since only a few big shots ran Venice back in the day—it was a true oligarchy—the middle class merchants wanted to flex their influence a bit, since they were shut out of politics. So they formed scuola—societies that provided their little neighborhoods with social services. If you got sick, lost your job, or a family member died, you turned to your local scuola to help you get back on your feet. They charged dues and were a real power in the city.

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Then it was on to the main attractions—the churches housing some really great art in situ. Seeing masterworks in museums is fine, but viewing art in the places for which it was created is more intimate. We saw Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, a couple of works by Giovanni Bellini, and some wonderful frescoes by Tintoretto and Veronese.

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All in all, it was a great day of art appreciation (which Jim loved and through which Cindy persevered). Venice may be crowded and a bit dingy, but if you get away from the major sites and into the neighborhoods, there are treasures to be discovered.

Lunch and dinner today were a combination of Venetian tapas, called cicchetti, and, of course, gelato.

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Today’s winning gelato flavors were fragolino (a local grape that has sort of a strawberry flavor to it) and a biscotti cookie gelato. We went to the neighborhoods of Dorsoduro for lunch and Cannaregio for dinner. One of the better ciccihetti was a serving of large, flat beans with onions.

Walking through this city, dodging fellow travelers, and burning calories (it’s been sunny and humid this week) has given us license to indulge in some tasty food. We’re currently sitting in our room listening to gondolas drifting by. Some have singers. Some have accordion players. It’s all quite festive and evocative.

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