Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 3

A new day and the threat of more rain later in the day. No matter though, as we will be inside the Uffizi Gallery today.

We had our breakfast: Sue enjoying her yogurt and me finishing up the biscotti. Our time slot at the Uffizi Gallery is at 11:30am, so we kept ourselves moving.

We arrived early and had a chance to walk around the courtyard and then took a look at the Arno River. With all the rain lately, the Arno has water in it again, though it is really muddy looking. For a while in late summer, the river was practically dry.

From where we were standing, we had a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio. We’re probably staying on this side of the river with the threat of rain, but I guess we’ll see how things go later in the day.

Ponte Vecchio

Our time arrived and we entered the museum. The typical tour starts on the upper floor, which meant lots of stairs. Like…eight flights of stairs! When we got up to the main gallery floors, we needed a brief rest to catch our breath.

We skipped ahead and went right to the Botticelli Rooms. Here we find another of my favorite art pieces – “The Birth of Venus”.

Botticelli – The Birth of Venus

We’re not art heathens, but while some people spend a full day going through the gallery, an hour is about right for us. For those who know me, remember PPS – pretty picture syndrome.

While some will be critical, Renaissance art is not my favorite. The subject is basically the same by every artist – that’s just what was expected of them. The church was powerful and deviating from the norm was frowned upon. That’s why I like Botticelli so much – colorful paintings and different subjects.

We zipped through many of the other rooms. Many of the famous artists’ best works are not on display, so we just skimmed through them.

We had a little chuckle over the bottom left sculpture. Being us, Sue murmured to me: “Snakes…why did it have to be snakes?” A woman next to us didn’t get the Indiana Jones reference and started explaining to us about the use of snakes in art. Then it hit her. She laughed and slowly moved away.

Time to move along. We headed for the exit and when we got downstairs, it was pouring rain. We did have a small umbrella, but it was useless against the torrential downpour.

We strategized and made a dash across the street to the Palazzo Vecchia. A little unplanned visit, but perfect for a rainy day.

While the book and movie frenzy is over, Sue and I still managed a self-guided “Inferno” tour. Without the threat of population extinction, we were able to go at a more leisurely pace than Robert Langdon did. Not having people chasing and trying to kill you helped too!

When we finished, it was still raining pretty hard. We decided to stop for an early dinner at the place we went to yesterday. It was just up the street, so Sue had the umbrella and I stayed close to the walls. They remembered us from yesterday and ushered us in. It was much busier as others had dodged the rain by coming in too.

We sat near the back and there was a tour group from Viet Nam that took up most of the tables. We were just happy to be out of the rain and getting fed, which is the same thing that they were thinking.

I was thinking that with the group it would take a while and maybe not be as good as the day before – but I was wrong. Everything was once again delicious. Their specialty is there steak, especially the big Florentine bistecca. We might have to consider giving it a try before we leave.

After our meal it was back to the apartment, with just a quick stop at the market to grab some more water and biscotti. I told him how much I enjoyed them and he seemed happy for the compliment.

Tomorrow, we’re hoping for a little sunshine.

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 2

We woke up to a little more rain. It will likely rain on and off all day, so we’ll definitely be taking our jackets and umbrella with us.

We ate breakfast, cleaned up and got ready to go. Today we are going to see a huge naked guy named Dave. Per Sue, we are going to the Accademia to see the Statue of David. Always with the details…

It’s a bit of a walk to the Galleria Della Accademia, but though it’s been years, we remembered the route. Once you get close to the Duomo area, you can just follow the crowds.

Our tickets are for a 1:30 entry time, so we have a little over forty-five minutes to wait. We exchanged our voucher for our tickets, which included entry for the Uffizi tomorrow. About fifteen minutes before our time, they line everyone up. That simple little step keeps the pushing and jostling down to a minimum.

They have changed things a little bit inside. They have added some additional artworks in a section that leads to the main gallery.

As soon as you turn the corner, you can see David at the far end. Along the way, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s other works: ‘The Prisoners’ guide you.

At the end of the hall, in its place of honor stands ‘David’.

We’ve been lucky and privileged to have seen some wonderful art pieces throughout the years. David is one of my favorites.

Next on our agenda was leaving the gallery and getting wet. It was once again lightly raining off and on, so we made our way back towards the apartment.

Italy and France have something that you don’t find in other countries – Accordionists. And there is nothing that I enjoy more than coming across a good one. And once again today, I found one.

🎶 O Sole Mio 🎶

On the street leading home, we checked out a couple of restaurant menus. We were a bit hungry and some places smelled so good!

With a little coaxing from a waitress out front, we popped into the Tavernetta Della Signoria. We thought it would be for a little nosh, but it ended up being an early dinner. Everything was delicious, the portions were plentiful and the cost was very reasonable. Oh yes, and their pastas were all homemade.

Tavernetta Della Signoria

With full tummies, we made our way back to the apartment. We made one quick stop at the shop across the street to get some water, yogurt, milk and snacks. The gentleman at the shop remembered us and was so nice. He had a fresh tray of homemade biscotti and seemed delighted that I was eyeing them and actually bought four. What a great breakfast they would make – if only I had some Vin Santo.

Once back in the apartment, we changed and got comfortable for the evening. Lots of pictures needed reviewing and cataloging and this would be a perfect evening to catch up.

Tomorrow we visit the Uffizi Gallery.

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 1

Moving away from the coastline, our next location is the Renaissance city of Florence – Firenze to the Italians. We have five days to enjoy ourselves and explore the city.

We rented an apartment in Florence that is located just two blocks away from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. In the other direction is the Church of Santa Croce. The apartment is really comfortable and clean, and the location is hard to beat. We’re in a somewhat residential area with many places to eat and drink nearby. Silvia, the apartment manager, pointed out the nearby Gelateria as having some of the best gelato around – we’ll be checking it out!

It was located in an ancient building that was restored. There were pictures throughout the building showing what it looked like before and during construction. They did a terrific job of saving the building.

Right across the street from the apartment is a small shop, that just happens to make some delicious food items. Since it was raining, we scooted over to pick up a few items – including lunch.

Our in-house picnic lunch

So our picnic lunch was pasta with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms with a side of artichokes. We opened our last bottle of wine that we brought from Alba and with a little music – we partied!

For the remainder of the afternoon, we organized our paperwork, reviewed our plans. It looks like we’ll be dodging raindrops, so best to know our directions.

We planned ahead of time knowing that Florence would be our art city. We bought our tickets while home to be able to avoid the lines and to make sure we would get in to the galleries. Our big three were the Uffizi Gallery, The Accademia and the Palazzo Vecchio. In addition, we had entry to the Duomo. That would be more than enough to squeeze in without being overwhelmed.

The rain let up before dinner time, but we looked like Fred and Ginger dancing around puddles on the way to the restaurant. For our first dinner, we chose Trattoria Antico Fattore. It was just five minutes away, right around the corner from the Uffizi Gallery.

Very good and very filling. My one little gripe was that it was warm in the restaurant, but no complaints about the meal at all.

The good news is that it stopped raining and we were able to walk back at a more leisurely pace. Unfortunately, Sue realized she had forgotten her sweater, so we had to make a faster paced return trip to retrieve it. Then we got to walk back leisurely again.

All in all it was a good day. The rain is annoying, but “they need it”. We’re looking forward to our visits starting tomorrow.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre to Florence

Time to move on from the Cinque Terre. After our previous experiences with them, we decided to alter our plans a little bit and go with the Daytrip folks once again. This time it was just a non-stop drive from Monterosso Al Mare to Florence.

Our pickup point would be at the roundabout since our hotel is in a no-drive zone. Quite frankly, it was sure easier when we arrived. This time we had to navigate our way uphill. When we neared the roundabout, we could see our driver coming towards us. After confirming he was our driver, he took Sue’s bag and led the way. By the time we reached the car, all three of us were breathing a little heavier.

Our driver for this trip was Elvis, like the singer. 😎

Unlike the last two trips, this time we would be going directly from Cinque Terre to Florence. The two popular stops many others choose are Pisa and Lucca, but we’ve been to both before.

Elvis was fun to ride with, as he was very personable. We talked about sports, work, Covid and he and Sue even discussed the secret to making good pasta carbonara.

The ride took about two and a half hours and was very comfortable. In comparison, the train would have taken almost four hours with one change in Pisa.

We hit patches of rain along the way, including a pretty good downpour as we approached Florence.

When we arrived to the outskirts of Florence, I remembered why I said I would never drive here. Thank goodness we had a professional driver. There were so many narrow streets and tight turns, not to mention throngs of people near the more touristy areas – yikes!

When we arrived at the apartment, Elvis helped us with our bags before having to pick someone up nearby for a ride back to Genoa. No time for a picture, but another safe and comfortable ride.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 5

Hard to believe this was our final day in the Cinque Terre. Tomorrow we move on to Florence, but today we’ll enjoy Monterosso Al Mare.

The surf was rocking again this morning. The waves rolling in and crashing against the rocks were drawing out many people with cameras. Our balcony vantage point was nice, but I too wanted to get closer.

Wave watchers

We had breakfast and then set out for a day of exploring. We walked over to the rocky area to see some up-close nature and we weren’t disappointed.

The frothy sea

There was a small restaurant nearby that looked good, so we made a dinner reservation before heading into town. Seafood by the sea seemed appropriate for our last evening.

We could hear children, so we headed in that direction. There was a school bus picking kids up from school, along with parents finding their bambino.

The town hall was in the same area, as well as a few residential streets. Dora the Explorer would have been proud of us today.

Town hall
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Candles for our loved ones and friends
Casually enjoying the day
Releasing the Kraken
The castle on the hill

We even decided to go up the hill before going back home. When we reached the summit (not exactly Mt. Everest), we thought we might enjoy the views better with a glass of wine.

It just so happened that the Torre Aurora was a mere ten feet from where we were standing, so up we went. We were seated in a perfect location to enjoy the sunshine and views.

As a reminder that we might have been enjoying ourselves a little too much, I was stung by a bee on my finger while shushing it away from my glass. I got the stinger out right away, but it still hurt like heck. Luckily, I’m ambidextrous and could safely finish my wine.

We headed back to the hotel – thankfully it was downhill. I soaked my finger in cold water and took an aspirin tablet, as my finger was swelling. We relaxed for a bit before getting changed for dinner.

It was a nice night, but a little breezy, so the owner was nice enough to put the windscreen down for us. The meal was simple, but delicious. After yesterday’s dinner, a light meal was just perfect.

A nice stroll back to the hotel with the sounds of the sea was a perfect end to the evening and our stay in Monterosso Al Mare.

When the morning arrived, we woke, showered and packed our bags. Our driver would be picking us up at 11:00 am.

A little bit after 10:00 am, the phone rang. Uh, oh!

It was the front desk. They wanted to make sure we were ok, since we hadn’t come down for breakfast. I thanked them for calling and explained we were getting ready to leave.

When we went down to check out, it was very touching. We paid the bill, letting them know how much we enjoyed our stay. Mama gave Sue a potholder with a Pesto recipe on it. In the meantime, Sue asked Emanuela if she could take a photo of her and she was so cute primping and then posing.

Emanuela was the hostess, server, and Jill of all trades. She would be hustling around, but always stopped over to chat.

We got hugs from Emanuela and then Mama came around and we got more hugs. It was such a nice send off.

Somebody told us that: “You’re paying for those smiles in the tourist areas”. I think the way to get genuine smiles is through respect and kindness.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 4

When we woke up, the skies were partly cloudy, but the winds were blowing from the west – which had the surf really pounding the shoreline. The red flags were flying, meaning no swimming. It also meant no boats would be sailing today, so the trains were coming in full.

Goodbye gentle surf; hello crashing waves

To get to the new part of town, you have three choices. You can walk through the tunnel, walk up and over the hill or I suppose you can swim. I wanted to swim, but Sue reminded me that it was a red flag day.

Since the tunnel is just beyond our hotel, that became our choice.

What lies at the end of the tunnel?

On the other side of the tunnel, your sight line is to the north. While it was still windy, the view was brighter with a touch of sun.

As you walk, the feeling is like strolling down a boardwalk. The sea on one side and shops, hotels, bars and restaurants on the other. A short ways down, you’ll also find the train station. When a train comes in, there is a surge of people so move along!

We walked along until we reached the Restaurant Miky. While others were waiting for them to open for lunch, we waited to make a dinner reservation. The only opening they had was at 9:00 pm and we took it.

It was actually getting warm in the sun, so we headed back to our side of the tunnel to relax for a while. By now you all know that means we found a place for a glass of wine. Today also included a small bite to eat.

Just under the train overpass is a small bar that always has people there. We grabbed a table in the shade and did some people watching with a glass or two of Rosé Spumante and slices of focaccia. It was a lovely way to enjoy some afternoon time.

Then we went back to the hotel to really relax for a couple hours before dinner. I had read about Restaurant Miky before we left home and hoped we might be able to go. People have said that the food is wonderful, the service is great and the prices are reasonable. We shall see.

It was a nice walk over – this time without the hot sun. All the restaurants and bars we passed were busy and the street was brightly lit. When we arrived, the place was abuzz.

We were seated and then the fun began. We started with water and a glass of prosecco to ease into the meal. The menus and wine list were presented and everything sounded great. They had some different choices from what we had been eating recently so we were looking forward to the change.

Amuse Bouche served on a warm stone
Raviolis with shrimp filling
Seared scallops
Braised beef cheeks
Roast duck breast
Tiramisu

Well, how this is not a Michelin starred restaurant is beyond me. The food was incredible, the service was outstanding and when the check arrived, I honestly thought they forgot to charge for something.

It was around 11:00 pm when we finished, so we took a slow, hand-in-hand walk back to the hotel. We had to go in quietly, as reception was closed for the evening and we managed to get to our room without a ruckus.

It was a perfect day and evening.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 3

They have been calling for rain every day, and today it arrived. We were pretty sure today would be the day as the skies were gray and the sea was churning.

Ominous skies

I don’t think I mentioned it previously, but breakfast is included at the Hotel Pasquale. You can choose what you’d like off the menu and they will prepare it for you. We really enjoy going down each morning for breakfast and interacting with the staff. Besides a delicious breakfast, there is always a friendly smile and if needed, a mini Italian lesson.

The torta di giorna or cake of the day was not to be missed. Different each day and always delicious. My favorite was the coconut cake.

We took a little walk after breakfast and while out, we managed to make dinner reservations at a place close to the hotel.

It was getting windier, so we high-tailed it back to the hotel and got there just before it started to rain. You could see some flashes of lightning over the mountains and at times there were some downpours. Feeling safe and comfy, we ordered a glass of wine and rode it out.

Dinner time was approaching and the rain had mostly stopped, but everything was quite wet. We made our way over to the Ristorante Ciak and they were in a bit of disarray.

With the rain, they lost about six tables and ours was just at the edge of the covered area. Occasionally, a drop of water would hit my back, so we kept edging the table in a little more.

We enjoyed the evening and our meals. I had a little coaching from a local woman when ordering my grilled anchovies. I shall always think of anchovies when I sneeze – “achoo – ga”. So they were my appetizer while Sue had a caprese salad. For our main courses, we both had Gnocchi. Sue’s was with pesto, while mine was in a bolognese. And of course, we had to finish with tiramisu. The wine was a Ligurian red called Buranca.

The breeze was picking up again, so we scampered back to the hotel. The storms out over the sea were sending much rougher surf our way.

Tomorrow, we’ll try and visit the new part of town.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 2

Upon arrival and after check-in, our first task was to go out on the balcony and enjoy the beautiful view of the bay. We accomplished that task and enjoyed the fresh air and sea breeze.

Room View – notice how calm and peaceful.

From the balcony we could see that there was an abundance of activity in town. We could see the tour boat coming in fully loaded and each time a train came by, there seemed to be a surge of people.

Byeth train or byeth boat – they just keep coming!

Since it was already late afternoon, it was time to find a place to eat dinner tonight. We arrived after lunch, so most of the restaurants were closed for siesta. We did catch one guy, who said the best they could do was 9:00 pm.

We passed and wandered on. Not having any luck, we decided to come back when the restaurants were open again. But we did enjoy taking a look around town. Though crowded, it was still quaint.

The Breadman
Late afternoon refreshment

We left the room about 7:30 and I felt like Oliver Twist searching out a bowl of gruel. It seemed like all the restaurants were full and busy. We finally found a place that could accommodate us – Osteria La Cambusa.

With it being dinner time for the mosquitoes too, we decided to sit on the inside. The restaurant appeared to be family run and while not in line for any Michelin stars, we had a nice first night’s dinner.

Update: Turns out the mini crowds were due to a Rick Steves tour in town).

After dinner, we took a nice walk back to the hotel, stopping by the sea wall to listen to the surf lapping at the shore. That sound is very soothing to me.

For our second day, since the weather was nice, we took a boat ride.

Here comes our boat

The boat stops at each town in the Cinque Terre except Coniglia, since they don’t have a waterfront. In my opinion, the towns look great from the water as you approach them.

Monterosso Al Mare
Vernazza
Corniglia
Manarola
Riomaggiore

Once in the towns, their charm is somewhat tainted by all the tourists, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. Ironic that the very things needed to support tourism, diminish the tourist destination.

We stayed on until the last town – Riomaggiore. We walked around town for a while and then found a place to have a little lunch.

Trattoria LaGrotta was a friendly little place with very good food. We thought we’d be sharing a pizza and ended up with a delicious meal.

It turned out to be a very nice lunch – so much so, that we chose to skip dinner that evening. Instead, we bought some breadsticks and popped open a bottle of wine that we just happened to have with us from Alba.

There were a few flashes of lightning over the mountains. Bright enough to light up the sky, but no thunder booms. Tomorrow they are calling for rain, so we’re going to wait and see what the weather is like before making plans.

For tonight, it’s just pass me another breadstick, per favore. 🍷🥖

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 1

From Alba, we’ll be traveling south as we head to the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre. We’ll have five days to explore the towns and hopefully enjoy the beautiful azure waters along the coast.

The Cinque Terre consists of five villages which are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular summer time tourist spot. Luckily, we’re here in September, so it’s not as crowded as it could be.

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are (from South to North):

Riomaggiore – The southern most village which was built in the valley of the Rivus Maior which still runs under the town streets. People like to watch the sunset from the harbor.

Manarola – Often said to be the most picturesque of the five villages due to the colorful houses that sit perched on the cliffs just above the harbor.

Corniglia – The smallest and quietest of the Cinque Terre villages, Corniglia sits high in the cliffs and it is the only one without direct access to the sea, unless you count the 200 stairs.

Vernazza – Probably the most popular of the villages. Many hikers like to walk here from Monterosso as the distance is short.

Monterosso al Mare – The largest of the villages with the only long sandy beach. There is a new town and old town with a tunnel connecting the two and the train station in the middle.

Since we’ll be here for five days, the plan is to visit and explore each of the towns. No room in the luggage for hiking boots, so we’ll just take the train or boat to get around.

Our hotel is the Hotel Pasquale and it is located in the northernmost town of Monterosso al Mare. It’s a small family run hotel in a perfect location.

Hotel Pasquale

The rooms are small, but have everything needed, plus an awesome view out over the beach and the sea.

Though we arrived in the sunshine, the weather looks like it might be a factor over the next few days. It’s a bit chilly and a lot overcast with rain predicted. We’ll just go with the flow and see what happens.

La Vita è Bella!

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Italy 2022 – From Alba to Monterosso Al Mare

Today we are traveling from our Airbnb in Alba to Monterosso Al Mare in the Cinque Terre. We once again engaged the services of Daytrip to comfortably get us there. Along the way, we will be stopping in the resort town of Portofino for a short visit.

Our driver was Ivano and he arrived at the apartment right on time. The vehicle was a Mercedes Van and was very comfortable. We loaded in our bags and we were on our way. The total travel time, including the stop, is about 5 hours. The distance is just over 250 kilometers.

Comfortable and roomy

The route took us from Alba towards Asti, then over to Alessandria and down towards Genoa. From Genoa we continued south, clinging to the coastline. We then veered off and passed through Ripallo before arriving at Portofino. After Portofino, we continued along the coastline heading up and down the mountains until we reached Monterosso Al Mare.

Though the skies were overcast, the sun did peek out periodically while we cruised along. We could see the beginnings of autumn as there were patches of color in the trees – green being replaced by orange and yellow.

Once we got as far as Genoa, there were long stretches of road that were inside tunnels carved through the coastal mountains. In fact, I’d guess that about 50% or more of the road was through tunnels.

When we arrived in the area of Portofino, the road became narrow and winding as we made our way towards the Bay Area. There were a couple of times where we closed our eyes and hoped that Ivano would squeeze our way through – and he did.

When we arrived at Portofino, we made plans for him to return and pick us up in an hour rather than trying to coordinate a call for him to come back for us.

Portofino was really beautiful. Lots of high end shops, restaurants and souvenir kiosks, plus boats. There were actually lots of boats, including two large yachts that were moored.

Portofino

We strolled down along the shoreline before heading back to our meeting point. Within a few minutes, Ivano returned and we were on our way to Monterosso Al Mare.

The remaining drive was up and down the mountain sides, across valleys and then down towards the sea. The scenery was incredibly beautiful. I was expecting a picturesque ride, but I never imagined it being as nice as it was.

When we reached Monterosso Al Mare, Ivano left us off with just a short walk down to our hotel. We thanked him for the great ride and made our way down through the town to our hotel.

Being a Friday afternoon, there were many tourists wandering through the streets. Our hotel, the Hotel Pasquale, was located at the end of the main street right near the beachfront. The location is exactly what I was hoping for.

Ivano

Another successful trip with Daytrip. Our driver was very nice, professional and accommodating. The vehicle was extremely comfortable and the ride was vastly better than having to schlep our bags through train stations and on and off trains.

We truly thought it was worth the price to get from place to place, and we’ll definitely use them again.

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Italy 2022 – Piedmont – Wine and more: Pt 4

Our last day of tastings and Fall have arrived. However, those blue skies we had grown accustomed to have returned and the day is beautiful. Luca will once again be our guide and we are going to two wineries and visiting the town of Neive to have lunch.

Our first stop was at the winery of Orlando Abrigo. It is a beautiful property with the winery facilities built into the ground. They generate their own electricity using solar panels to accommodate the winery, offices and guest rooms.

For our breakfast wines, we tasted their Chardonnay blend, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Barbaresco. The wines were all good, but not a good fit for our palettes. We enjoyed the tasting, and the young man who led us around (also named Luca) but left without a purchase.

We next headed to Neive. I have read that it is a charming little town that definitely should be seen. We walked through town and loved it. Neive has that certain charm that just makes you smile to be there.

We stopped along the way at a small enoteca for a glass of wine and it was wonderful. First of all, the wine was delicious. They brought us out a small platter of nibbles to go along with the wine that consisted of one-bite salami sandwiches, cheese and warm breadstick ends – yum!

Sitting at a table behind us were five older gentlemen who were holding court. Just drinking their wine and giving a shout-out to other passersby. They may have been a touch loud, but it sure made the scene real and fun.

When we finished, I went in to pay and the folks at the counter were playing some AC-DC. It was a good time and we were “Thunderstruck”.

We continued our walk around town before heading to the restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was called “Umano” and was a delight. The menu of the day was posted and was a porcini mushroom salad, followed by grilled beef, sliced thin and served with roasted potatoes. We had a very nice bottle of Nebbiolo to go along. Luca shared in on the wine, but had a bowl of plin pasta to eat.

Another great lunch, capped off with a platter of desserts – chocolate cookies, jellied candies and chocolate truffles.

Our final tasting was a special one. We went to Azienda Agricolo Nadia Curto.

Nadia’s Winery

Nadia makes some fabulous wines and makes them her way. There’s a little story that explains things a bit…

Nadia learned the art of wine from both her father and her uncle. Her father was more traditional in style, while her uncle was not. Her uncle was one of, and probably the most influential of the “Barolo Boys”.

The Barolo Boys were a group of ‘renegades’, who wanted Barolo to be better and more well known. Her uncle ventured to France and asked “How do you make your wines better?” And “How do you get people to buy them?”. He came back with new ideas and techniques and rocked the more traditional winemakers. The wines were successful and the techniques are widely used even today.

So Nadia has a little traditional and a little renegade approach to her wines – and they are really great.

When we arrived, they were busy harvesting the grapes. We met our tasting guide – Alesa – and before we walked on, we met Nadia too. We chit-chatted for a few minutes, letting her know how we came to know of her wines and how much we liked them.

Alesa then led us into the vineyard, where we were able to see the luscious grape clusters hanging ready on the vines. You could almost hear them calling out – “Pick Me”!

Their vineyards are planted with Nebbiolo, Barbera and Freisa, plus a little bit of Dolcetto. They were harvesting, so there was a beehive of activity. The forecast was calling for rain, so everyone was trying to get the grapes in before it started over the weekend.

We then went into the tasting room to taste some wine. Alesa led us through the wines and from the first Dolcetto to the last Barolo, every wine was awesome! Each sip was a delight. It was fun not only tasting the wines, but also talking about them. While we were sitting talking, Nadia came in with other guests.

The wines of Nadia Curto
Alesa, Luca and Me

We were like groupies, gushing about how much we were enjoying the wines, her style of winemaking and her taste profile. Unbeknownst to us, one of the other guests was a wine journalist from San Francisco and she commented on our discussion and descriptions of the wine.

We told her of our tastings and suggested she talk to Valerie, hoping she would send a few customers to Piedmont.

Nadia was such a nice person, besides being a fantastic winemaker. We came as tasters and left feeling like friends. And yes, there will be another wine delivery. We bid them arrivederci, which came with hugs.

Sue and Nadia Curto

Our journey through Piedmont has been a delight. We walked through vineyards while grapes were being harvested, watched grapes being crushed, talked with winemakers and drank some wonderful wines.

We’ve also had some delicious meals, seen the beauty of the region beyond the vineyards and also met some very nice people.

Thanks to Luca for guiding the way and providing his insights. Thanks to Valerie for a perfect itinerary. And thanks to the wineries for graciously accepting visitors at such a busy time. Good luck with the harvest!

Once we returned to Alba, we bid goodbye to Luca and headed in to rest for a little while. Dinner would be pizza tonight at the neighborhood pizzeria that we went to on our first trip here.

We are happy to report that Nonna and Nonno are still there and still play a role. Our pizzas were good, as was the Pio Cesare Barbera D’Alba.

We strolled back to the apartment, gathered up our ‘stuff’ and prepared for the final packing.

Tomorrow we leave Piedmont and head to the Cinque Terre. The fun continues…

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Italy 2022 – Piedmont – Wine and more: Pt 3

Wednesday proved to be a nice relaxing day after the two previous tasting days. We slept in a bit and then just hung around the apartment.

For the first time since we arrived, it was overcast and a little bit chilly this morning, and actually all day. Sue decided to do a little bit of laundry, while I downloaded pictures and worked on the blog.

In the afternoon, we opened a bottle of the Deltetto Arneis that we had purchased at the winery. It tasted just as good here as it did there – whew!

While we needed the day of rest, we are looking forward to this evening. We are going to dinner at Ristorante Marc Lanteri Al Castello Grinzane. The restaurant is located a short distance from Alba in the town of Grinzane Cavour and is fabulous.

We were actually there when we visited in 2019 to celebrate friend David’s 70th birthday and it was memorable. It was the first place we wrote down during our Piedmont planning for this trip.

Our driver didn’t arrive at 7:00 pm as planned and when he wasn’t there at 7:10 pm, we started to worry. We had to make some quick calls to Valerie to straighten things out. Seems the driver was given bad info from his company on where to pick us up. He did get over to the train station where we were waiting and we were off. We assured him all was fine and it wasn’t his fault they gave him the wrong pickup spot.

Once we got going, Guido said he’d get us there quickly and he did. As it turned out, we were less than fifteen minutes late. Since the restaurant was in the loop, they knew we were delayed and it didn’t cause a problem at all.

When we arrived, night was falling, but the views were still beautiful. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered the restaurant. We were greeted warmly and reassured that the delay didn’t cause any problems. We were seated and the meal began.

We started with glasses of Spumante and then some pre-appetizers. Each one hit a different set of taste buds to prepare us for the dinner ahead.

Looked great and tasted even better.

Next came an amuse bouche from the chef. It was a “fish and chips” take-off, complete with parchment newspaper wrap. The fun part was the battered fish was actually local mushrooms. It was different, playful and delicious.

We then ordered a glass of white wine to pair with our seared scallop appetizer. The sommelier chose an Italian Riesling which not only tasted good but paired up perfectly with the scallops.

For our main dishes, Sue went with the roast pigeon, while I had the roast lamb. Both were cooked perfectly and we paired them with a bottle of 2015 Domilano Cannubi Barolo.

For dessert Sue had Zabaione infused with Moscato and served with corn meal cookies, while I had baked peaches topped with cocoa and amaretto served with a peach sorbet. Sue’s was paired with a glass of moscato, while I had a glass of Pedro Ximenez Montilla-Moriles.

This was one meal that we had planned out ahead and we were so happy that we made it happen. Everything about the evening was perfect .

We even had a chance to chat with the chef and his wife, who graciously took a somewhat blurry picture with us – but it was still special. It will be a great memory, since they are moving on from the castello to a new venture. We wish them all the best and promise to visit their new place when we return in the future.

Sue, Marc Lanteri, Amy and me.

Our driver had arrived (in fact it was he who took the picture) so it was time to head back to Alba. We squared up the paperwork, bid him goodnight and then headed back to the apartment. What a great evening!

Tomorrow we hook back up with Luca for two wine tastings and lunch in Nieve.

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Italy 2022 – Piedmont – Wine and more: Pt 2

After Monday’s day of touring, we were looking forward to today. We once again had a morning and afternoon wine tasting plus a stop for lunch in the town of La Morra.

We would be joined today by two couples hailing from Michigan – Julie and Paul and Cheri and Shane. Very nice people – wine lovers and travelers, so the conversations all throughout the day were fun and interesting.

We were picked up first in Alba and Luca did indeed bring my beloved camera. Our driver Paolo was set to deliver us to the various destinations allowing Luca to not only chat with us, but also to enjoy the wines during the day. Since there were six of us, we traveled in a van.

The other couples were staying in La Morra, so we headed in that direction from Alba. After brief introductions, we were on our way to our first tasting.

Just to set the day, we had beautiful clear, blue skies and the temperature was in the mid 70’s. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be out tasting wines.

This is what the skies have looked like since we arrived in Alba.

Our breakfast tasting was at the winery of Franco Conterno. The ride over was incredible. We passed through vineyards as we traversed the valley and hills of Barolo. Vines with purple clusters of grapes could be seen in every direction. The pictures do not begin to show the beautiful landscape of the area.

When we arrived at the winery, we were greeted by Sylvia, who would lead us through our tasting and talk. The winery had some incredible views of the surrounding vineyards and hills. You could just sit there and absorb the natural beauty.

But you could also sit there and enjoy the stunning views with a glass of their wonderful wines – and we did!

We started the tasting with two of their white wines. The first is a light, refreshing, drink-any-time Nascetta. The second was their equally delicious Arneis. Both wines were enjoyed by all of us tasters.

Sylvia then brought out a meat platter before the second set of wines. A wonderful house-made sausage, thinly sliced porchetta, another pork based sausage and prosciutto. The meats were served with their Barbera D’Alba 2020 and 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo. Both wines were delicious. The fruit forward wines also paired incredibly well with the charcuterie.

Next, Sylvia brought out a cheese platter that paired up with the Barolo wines. We first tasted their 2017 Barolo Panerolo, a single vineyard offering that was young and tannic, but very nice. To finish, we had a taste of their 2015 Barolo Reserva Bussia. A little more age, softer tannins and a beautiful wine.

This was another wonderful tasting and the result is that there will be two cases of wine greeting us when we return home.

After the delicious meats and cheeses provided during the tasting, our next stop would be back in La Morra – for lunch. We had lunch at the Osteria More e Macine.

We sat on their terrace and had a very relaxing and delicious lunch. Sue had the guinea fowl and I had the tajarin. We both were cognizant of not over-eating, since you never know what the tasting locations will provide in the afternoon.

After lunch, we all took a walk up the lookout to enjoy the views over the valley. Sue and I had been here before, but that didn’t take away from the beautiful view of the surrounding vineyards. There was a group of school children playing a game – we think it was a dodgeball/volleyball combo – and having fun out in the sunshine.

At the La Morra Overlook
View from La Morra overlook
Paul, Julie, Cheri & Shane
Dodgeball in La Morra

After taking some pictures, we headed back to the vehicle to drive to our afternoon tasting. We were visiting the winery of Virna Borgono and looking very forward to it.

Virna was Italy’s first female oneologist, and makes some “kick ass” wines. On this day, despite the fact that they were picking grapes, we had a chance to meet and talk with her. Given her accomplishments, she is very humble and just has a pure love for wine. The winery is run by her and her sister Ivana. If you have a chance to try their wines – DO !!

Virna and Ivana

Our tasting started with their Barbera D’Alba, then moved on to their Nebbiolo and Barolos. Each wine we tasted was equal to or better than the previous one. We additionally were able to taste two of their library wines: a 2012 Barolo Cannubi and a 2013 Barolo di Barolo. It was love at first taste!

So yes, there are more wines that will be arriving when we get home.

After the tastings and paperwork, we were able to walk across the street to watch as they were beginning the crushing process on some newly picked grapes. The grapes are all handpicked, then fed into a de-stemmer that shakes the berries off of the vines. The stems go to the compost pile, while the grapes head to the crusher to start the process. Fun to watch.

Our tasting day was over after Virna, so we headed back home. We really enjoyed our day and meeting new wine friends. Bidding them all goodbye, we headed back to the apartment, while they headed back to their hotel in La Morra.

Luca, Julie, Cheri, Shane and Paul – thanks for a fun day!

It felt good to get back to the apartment and put our feet up for a while. We had dinner reservations at 7:30 at Voglia di Vino Locanda, so we had some time to rest up.

For dinner, we went with the Chef’s Truffle tasting menu paired with a bottle of Virna Barbera D’Alba. The menu was five reasonably sized courses, each with tartufo nero (black truffles) except for dessert.

We started with an amuse bouche of puréed squash, with a touch of spice to get thing rolling. Our first course was a Beef carpaccio with shaved truffles. The next course was a poached egg with crema and truffles. That was followed by a portion of tajarin in a butter sauce with truffles. Next came a portion of veal cheeks with truffles. To complete the meal, dessert was a Bunet with a hazelnut puree.

It was an unexpected, but delightful meal. We really did think that we would have a light meal this evening. Alba has some really good restaurants and the prices are surprisingly reasonable.

It was a very pleasant evening and the walk back to the apartment was a delight. The streets were very quiet, with only the occasional group sitting outside at some of the restaurants.

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Italy 2022 – Piedmont – Wine and more: Pt 1

The second half of our time in Piedmont was centered around wine and food. We went for tastings at several wineries, had lunch in a few small towns and enjoyed dinners in and around Alba. Since there was a lot to talk about, I’m going to break down a part for each day.

Cover your eyes, hide the kids and enjoy the upcoming food and wine experience.

Monday morning rolled around and we reunited with Luca, who was our guide. We had a good time with him on our last visit, so we were happy to see him again.

Reconnecting with Luca

There was another person who joined us for the tastings. His name was Tyler and he was a nice guy. His job allows him to work from the road and he has basically been on the road since COVID started. He and Luca have both passed portions of the Sommelier curriculum, so we felt like wine light-weights.

We started with a visit to a winery named Deltetto 1953. We had an enjoyable tour of the facilities before sitting for our tasting. We tasted three sparkling wines from the Alta Langhe region and then three Arneis wines from the Roero region. We finished up with a Pinot Nero that was one of their newer wines.

The sparklers were all splendid and are a good alternative to Prosecco. The Arneis wines were also good, though the reserve wine missed the mark by a little bit. In fairness, I think we like a younger, fresher wine and this just had evolved after a little aging. The Pinot was decent, but doesn’t compare to the Pinot Noirs we have available to us from Oregon, California or France.

Our overall favorite was the Arneis from the San Michele Vineyard. Nice fruit, good acidity and easy to drink. We bought four bottles to drink along the way while traveling.

Overall, it was a great place to start our breakfast tasting. The wines were good and on the lighter side so we weren’t overwhelmed. And though I can not remember her name, our hostess was a lovely woman and provided an enjoyable tour and tasting.

Continuing on, it was lunch time and we went to a small place in Serralunga called È Di Vino Vineria. Serralunga is a cute town in the center of the Barolo region and the ride there was incredible. Up and down the hillside then weaving through vineyards overlooking the valley. It was such a beautiful experience, especially seeing the clusters of Nebbiolo grapes on the vines waiting to be harvested.

Lunch was delicious. Among the four of us, we had a caprese salad, ravioli, tagliatelle and lasagne, all paired with a bottle of Nebbiolo wine from Serralunga. After lunch we were offered a local treat. It was a sugar cube, that was infused with alcohol and herbs. Sue was initially wary of the treat, saying it reminded her of how the polio vaccine was distributed back in elementary school. However, polio sugar cube vaccines never had quite the same “kick” to them…..

Three of us took a chance and as of the evening, everyone seemed fine. No ill affects or new patches of chest hair.

Before heading to our afternoon tasting, we took a little walk through town and visited the Serralunga Castle. Quite stunning to see both the castle and the surrounding views.

Our afternoon wine tasting was at the Azienda Agricola Sukula. It is a husband and wife run winery and they produce some very good wines in small quantities. Riikka is the winemaker and is hands on in every aspect of the process from soil to bottle. Jyrki is the “gardener” tending to the vineyards. They are originally from Finland, where they run a top tier restaurant and Jyrki Sukula is a well-known chef. Jyrki also has a ‘Buffalo connection’: he played junior hockey with Christian Ruuttu when they were both younger. Christian Ruuttu played for the Buffalo Sabres during his professional hockey career.

As we pulled up, we could see that the workers were in the vineyards harvesting the grapes. Ripe berries were roadside in bins waiting to be picked up and taken to the pressing room. It was really cool to be in the middle of the activity. We were hoping that we weren’t in the way.

Harvested grapes waiting for transport.

Riikka greeted us like old friends and immediately poured a glass of their Alta Langhe sparkling wine as we all chatted. You’ll notice, I did not say she poured a taste, but rather the five of us enjoyed our apertivo (I think we may have emptied the bottle).

She then led us through the tasting, even taking us into the vineyard to show us the grape clusters that were being harvested and letting us taste the grapes. She walked us through the entire process and explained their harvesting process. We ran into the harvesting group led by Jyrki and got to say hello before they returned to their duties.

Moving from the vineyard to the tasting room, she had prepared some food items to pair with the wines we were to taste. She had goat cheese, prosciutto, sausage, freshly made warm focaccia, olives, pecorino cheese and breadsticks. The wines were 2016 & 2017 Barolo, 2020 Barbera D’Alba and we started with the 2020 Alta Langhe.

The tasting was actually one of the most enjoyable ones we’ve been on. With the great wines, fabulous food, informative talk and the vineyard visit – what more could you ask for? Maybe sending home a case of wine would top off the visit – so we did.

After the Sukula visit, we headed back to Alba to relax for a while before dinner. And it was back in the apartment that I realized I’d forgotten my camera in Luca’s car. A quick text would assure that he would bring it along tomorrow.

For dinner, we went to the Osteria Dell’Arco. We met up with Valerie and had a delightful evening. Since I didn’t have my camera, you’ll have to trust me on the dinner items.

There was Tajarin with porcini mushrooms, agnolotti plin, roast Guinea fowl, roast veal, panna cotta and tiramisu, plus a bottle of Barbaresco. The key word will be delicious! We all enjoyed our meals and the company – a perfect evening.

One of the funniest parts of the evening was when Val was telling us that her son came home from school and while talking, said that he really liked the second course of lunch. Second course? Our school lunches were not multi-course affairs. Sue opined that by fifth grade, they’ll be worried about wine pairings for lunch.

We bid Arrivederci to Val and headed back to the apartment to relax after a full day. Tomorrow promises more of the same.

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Italy 2022 – Piedmont – Returning to Alba

For the next stop, we will be spending eight days in the town of Alba.

Our home for the next eight days is a spacious apartment that we booked through Airbnb. There’s a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms – both with great walk-in showers, laundry facilities and a comfortable sitting area. Clean, airy and the windows open for fresh air – and the topper is they have screens! Oh yeah…and there’s an elevator.

It is located right across the street from the train station. There is a small park at the corner and it is just around the block from the main pedestrian area.

Alba was the last place we visited before the pandemic hit and it still has the same homey feeling that we liked the first time. We’re looking forward to our time here and re-connecting with the friends we made.

There seems to be a good deal of construction going on around the town. The piazza down at our end of town is being worked on. The cathedral is wrapped in scaffolding and there’s a bit more on some of the cut-through streets. Totally necessary, but it detracts a bit from the town’s ambiance.

As we arrived in the afternoon, we had plenty of time to relax and make a dinner reservation. For our first meal back, we chose to go to the Enoclub Ristorante. The dining room is located in underground vaults that add to a romantic atmosphere.

We both enjoyed the four-course tasting menu with a bottle of Cascina Fontana Barbera d’Alba. The meal started with an amuse-bouche of puréed cantaloupe, with bits of bacon, sage and thyme. The first course was a potato with light cheese sauce. The second course was a portion of tajarin with a meat ragu. The third course was roasted rabbit loin on a bed of mashed potatoes. And the finale was a vanilla custard with Carmel sauce and roasted hazelnuts.

Friday was a down day. Went to the grocery store for some supplies, snacks and water then back to the apartment. Unfortunately, Sue has developed a full blown cold, so we decided it was best to stay home and let her rest.

Her cold also meant we had to cancel our day trip to Bra and the cheese tasting. She needs to rest up before our wine tastings Monday and it wouldn’t be right to spread the germs in a cheese factory. Knowing the secret to their cheese making process, I’m going to sing to the Velveeta when we get home to see what happens.

While Sue was napping in the afternoon, I was able to meet our friend and planner Valerie for an aperitivo. It was so nice to see her again and to just talk about life – especially with a bottle of bubbly.

Now that the pandemic is over, business is picking up and she is spreading her coverage area. Keep her in mind for your next Italy adventure, especially if you’ll be visiting Piedmont.

Saturday is market day in Alba, which means lots: lots of people, lots of vendors and lots of fun. We wandered the streets looking at all the goods for sale. Sue found a beautiful Italian-made sweater that will be going home with us.

We found a great little shop called the Focacceria Il Budego and bought two slices of pizza for lunch and two porchetta panini for dinner, since Sue didn’t want to go to a restaurant with her cold. So, we had our own little house party.

We even had music to keep the party lively with dancing and singing. For you young-at-heart friends, Lou Monte’s – ‘Pepino the little Italian Mouse’ played more than once! 🎶 “And there was little Pepino doing the cha cha on the floor”…🎶

Woke up Sunday morning to the sound of church bells. Besides the cathedral, I think there are four or five other churches nearby. Each church bell has its own distinct tone and each bell ringing has its own duration. Who needs an alarm clock?

Aside from a visit to the market to pick up some more water, we relaxed at the apartment again today. We had a little snack of cheese and prosciutto in the afternoon and made a reservation for dinner, but otherwise gave Sue another day to rest up before the upcoming tours and tastings.

Btw, we are paying just under $1.00 for six 1.5 liter bottles of water at the market versus $2.50 for a 16 oz bottle in a hotel or shops.

After a relaxing day, we went to dinner at Trattoria Momenti Gourmet. It was about a three minute walk and was awesome. We were warmly greeted when we arrived and had our choice of tables. We went with an inside table in the garden room.

We had fun with the owner/waiter. We asked questions in Italian and he answered in English. Then he spoke in Italian and we had to respond partially in English – guess we should have finished that lesson before we left for Italy !

Our meals were spectacular. Unfortunately, we learned that we were about a week early for the white truffles, but we’re hoping to sneak in one order before we leave.

So… Sue had an order of tajarin with black truffles and I went with an order of tajarin with a rabbit ragu to start. Our main meals were a melt-in-your-mouth braised veal cheek and roasted vegetables for Sue and a duck breast with vegetables and a pear compote for me. We had a bottle of Viette Tre Vignes Barbera D’Alba to go along with our meal that was wonderful.

Did someone say dolci? Of course we had dolci. Sue had a hazelnut torte and I had a Bunet, which was a mocha mousse with a thin layer of chocolate. Fearing our livers would feel left out, we also had a glass of a Barolo based dessert wine that I forgot to write the name of – sorry!

The long walk back to the apartment took about four minutes and then the rest of the evening was spent talking about how much we enjoyed dinner and how much we were looking forward to the wine tastings coming up.

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