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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Italy 2022 – Bergamo to Alba

To get to Alba, instead of three train changes and a six hour journey, we decided to try out a car service known as Daytrip. We were able to relax in a comfortable vehicle, avoided hauling our suitcases through the train stations and up and down stairs and we were dropped off right in front of our airbnb in Alba.

Our driver, Andrea, met us at the Milano Centrale train station. The plan was to drive to Alba with two brief stops along the way – one in Pavia and one in Asti. More on that later. The entire journey would take about 4 hours, including the stops. Andrea told us about the towns and sites all along the way, making the time zip by.

Our first stop was in Pavia at the Ponte Coperto (“Covered Bridge”). It is a stone and brick arch bridge over the Ticino River in Pavia, Italy. It also happened to be in Andrea’s home town. He said it was the first time he had ever driven someone who wanted to stop in his town. He was able to tell us all about Pavia before we reached the bridge.

Sue and I walk around the area a little bit and walked across to the other side for some pictures. You could really see how low the water level was and could actually see remnants of the original Roman bridge that had stood there. The bridge has been rebuilt over the years, the last time being in 1951 after being bombed during WWII.

We hoped they disarmed it.

And then there is the legend…

On Christmas Eve in 999, a few pilgrims wanted to attend the midnight mass in town but, because of the thick fog, their boats could not cross the river. Suddenly, a man in red clothes arrived, and he promised that he would immediately build a bridge in exchange for the first soul crossing the bridge. That man was the devil, and he was recognized only by the Archangel Michael, who had arrived from the church nearby. Michael pretended to accept the deal; however, once the bridge was built, a goat crossed it first foiling the Devil’s plan to take a pilgrim’s soul. The bridge therefore also became known as Ponte del Diavolo (“Devil’s Bridge”).

Our second stop was in the town of Asti. For you wine drinkers, Asti is the neighbor to Alba and both are known for their Barbera wines. However, on this day we were stopping to visit the Asti Cathedral, not to taste wines.

The cathedral is beautiful, large and was closed during siesta hours. It would be a forty minute wait until it re-opened, so we made the executive decision to just take some outside photos and then continue on.

The final portion of the ride took about a half hour and Andrea dropped us off right at the door. Since were staying in an Airbnb, I had to get the key and Andrea insisted on staying there with Sue until I returned – a Real Gentleman!

Our driver – Andrea

So in summary, Sue and I thought Daytrip was terrific. Great service, comfortable vehicle – there are choices, we went with the luxury class, and our driver was wonderful. We’ll be using them again when we travel from Alba to the Cinque Terre.

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Italy 2022 – Bergamo

Our next stop: the Medieval town of Bergamo. The city dates back to 49 BC and is really two cities in one. There is the upper city or Città Alta and the lower city of Città Bassa. The lower town is the more modern town and up top is the quaint old town. The two cities are connected via funiculars and walking trails. We are staying in and exploring the Città Alta.

To get there, we had a nice relaxing train ride. It took just under an hour to get there. Rather than trying to haul our luggage on the bus and funicular, we decided to just take a taxi. The line was somewhat long and the taxis seemed scarce, so I gave Uber a try and it worked.

We had heard that Uber is not available everywhere in Italy, so we were lucky to connect. Our driver, Franco, whisked us up to the Citta Alta in fifteen minutes. We walked the last 100 meters to the hotel since the street was too narrow for the car to fit.

Our hotel was the Gombit Hotel and it was wonderful. Quite the contrast with our last hotel. Our room is on the third floor and is really great. It feels like a small apartment rather than a hotel room.

We needed to rest when we arrived as I have caught a cold. Though it will slow us down a little bit, it won’t stop us from exploring Bergamo.

I can not even begin to describe how quaint the town is. The cobblestone streets are a little tough on the tootsies, but the herringbone brick streets make for good walking.

Our first night’s dinner was at Trattoria Sant Ambroseus. It is literally right around the corner from our hotel in the beautiful Piazza Vecchia. The piazza was lit and lively with people enjoying the beautiful evening.

We were seated and started with a glass of prosecco while we looked over the menu. Everything looked delicious and from the tables around us, it all smelled good too! On this evening, Sue started with casoncelli and then followed it up with roasted rabbit with polenta. I had the casoncelli to start and the veal cutlet as my main. On the waiter’s recommendation, we tried a bottle of Barbariccia, produced locally and a nice pairing for our meal.

We finished up dinner with tiramisu and a glass of a moscato based dessert wine, then strolled back to the hotel to relax.

We woke up the next morning and were getting ready to leave for breakfast when there was a knock on the door. We must have checked the wrong box as it was room service with our breakfast. She came in, set up our table and left us with a very nice breakfast. What a nice treat.

Breakfast in the room

Afterwards, we went out to explore a little bit. The Main Street runs from the funicular from the city below all the way down to the funicular that takes you up to the Voglie. A small park with great site lines over the area. The street is lined with little shops, restaurants, bars and piazzas. The cross streets are where you find the residential area and the churches.

Being a hilltop town, there were lots of stairs and lots of inclines – we never seemed to find a path that led to a decline.

After our walk we needed a little boost, so we found the local gelateria and indulged. Sue was thrilled with a scoop each of pistachio and chocolate, while I enjoyed a mix of chocolate-hazelnut and banana.

There’s a little park next to our hotel with an interesting history, so we found a couple chairs and just enjoyed the shade for a while.

Bergamo was holding a landscape exhibition while we were there. That was the reason for the extra flowers and small displays around town – including in the park I mentioned.

Back in the 1800’s, there was a communal wash station set up and it is said that the women would meet there and do their laundry. There was no plumbing in the buildings in the old days, so this was a necessity. Today it is but a rememberance of days gone by.

Dinner was at Enoristorante La Tana, just a short downhill walk from our hotel. It was a warm, humid evening and the bugs were buzzing – making us their dinner! Yikes!

Our meals were both very good. Our Prosecco starter, then an Il VioLino Essenza Red wine went well with our dinners. Sue had Ravioli San Allesandra and then a pork roll and sausage with polenta. I had the casoncelli and then – Pata Negra – a roasted pork loin with crispy potatoes and a chimichurra sauce. Sue finished with a tiramisu and I had an apple torte.

After a filling dinner and with the humid air, the walk back up felt like an Olympic Trial. There would be showers tonight if we were going to be comfortable sleeping.

Went down to breakfast and then out for a walk. Today’s quest was to buy some tissues. We walked from one end of the town to the other and couldn’t find any place that sold tissues.

Though the weather forecast said it would be rainy, we actually only received a few sprinkles a couple times during the day. We were able to sit in the park and stay dry under the trees in the afternoon, while others were gingerly navigating the cobblestones.

By dinner time, the skies were pretty clear and we ate outside at Ristorante da Franco. When we arrived, we had our choice of any table we wanted. Within twenty minutes, there were no tables left outside or inside the restaurant.

The menu had some different choices available and we were ready for a little change. Sue ended up having Ossobuco and I went with a grilled steak. A bottle of Ripasso paired nicely and we enjoyed our evening. Since the portions were fairly large, we even skipped dessert tonight.

We took a last stroll through town on the way back to the hotel. It’s hard to believe that we will be leaving in the morning.

In the morning we cleaned up, finished packing and headed down to check out. The hotel called for a taxi and ten minutes later we were on our way to the train station. We will start our journey by taking a train to Milan, where we will meet our driver to Alba.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Just a quick thought I wanted to share with you. People have been amazed and delighted that we are visiting their town just to be tourists. both Brescia and Bergamo are not on many people’s travel itineraries, but should be. The towns are interesting, the people are lovely and the perspective you get about the way people live is so worthwhile.

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Italy 2022 – Brescia

Brescia – ‘The Lioness of Italy’ was our second stop. Named so because of their ferocity fighting off their Austrian conquerors, even though they were ultimately defeated (Think ‘Remember the Alamo’). Through the ages, Brescia had many invaders including Constantine, the Visigoths, the Venetians and Napoleon. Heck, even Attila the Hun stopped by during the ages.

We made it to Brescia

Though not on the usual tourist trail, it was the second largest city in Lombardy after Milan. For those in the know, it has some magnificent Roman remains, including the Capitoline Tempo, the forum and a Roman theatre – all built during the first Century. With its 3200 year history, it was easy to find places to visit and things to see.

We stayed in a hotel called the Centro Pastorale Paolo VI. It is located within the walls of the Palace of Centro Paolo VI and was originally built in the 16th century. It formerly housed a monastery and there are remnants of its past throughout the building. There are some very nice rooms and there are some very humble rooms.

We ended up with a humble room that was quite austere. It was smallish in size, but had all the essentials – the bare essentials. Since we used the room to sleep and not for partying, we kept the room. The bed was comfortable and we had a big window that opened over the courtyard. There was plenty of hot water in the shower and it was quiet.

The hotel location couldn’t have been better. We had an easy walk to all of the historic sites, as well as the restaurant area. Did I mention it was a ‘dry’ hotel?

We were both still tired from yesterday’s train ordeal, so we decided to take it easy today. After eating a hearty breakfast, we stayed close to the hotel area. The grounds are tranquil and beautiful and there is a lovely courtyard to relax in. We did take a short walk to get the lay of the land, but reserving a table for dinner was our premier event.

For our first night’s dinner, we went to the Antica Osteria La Grotto. It was a charming restaurant just a short walk from the hotel and we were impressed by the menu and reviews.

We were welcomed as if we were from the neighborhood. Indoor or outdoor seating was available – we chose indoor since it was a tad humid. Our servers loved that we requested the menu in Italian and we only stumbled a couple times and they helped us – smiling the entire time.

We started with Prosecco that was cold and crisp. For our meals, we both started with the regional specialty – casoncelli. They are thin pasta sheets, like a ravioli, with a small filling of beef, pork, bread crumbs and cheese. They are served having been pan-warmed in butter and sage. Not low-cal, but definitely high on the taste meter.

Casoncelli @ La Grotto

For our second courses, Sue had a veal cutlet and I had the grilled lamb chops. They were served with grilled mixed vegetables and oven roasted potatoes. We also had a bottle of a local red wine – Barone Pizzini San Carlo – that was very good. We finished off a wonderful meal by sharing a tiramisu.

The next morning, we both woke up refreshed and back to our regular level of energy. Stop laughing!

We headed over to the archeological area to check out the ancient ruins. There are remnants of the Capitoline and a Roman theater, plus a temperature-controlled museum for some additional artifacts. The walk over took about fifteen minutes and gave us a chance to look around a bit. Brescia is really nice, but I wouldn’t want to drive there, nor would I want to try and park – yikes!

One last turn and the columns of the Capitoline come into view. Must have been quite a sight when at its height to ride up in your chariot.

To the right of the Capitoline was the theater.

The finale was a look in the Museo at the items being preserved. They keep the rooms temperature and humidity controlled to preserve the items. For Sue, this was the best part as she got her first senior discount on the ticket price. Gloat, gloat, gloat – luckily I had good supply of sarcasm to bring her back to earth.

What a great look at history – 3000 year old history. We really enjoyed our visit.

Winged Victory bronze – likely Aphrodite

Strolling back to the hotel, we came upon Piazza Arnaldo. A piazza dedicated to the people and to the remembrance of the struggles during the war. The piazza is lined with restaurants and looks like the place to be.

We were thirsty, so we stopped to get some water. The waitress showed us a menu and we noticed that they had Prosecco, so we ordered a glass of that too. Since our thirst was not quite quenched, we ordered a second glass and our waitress suggested a little prosciutto crudo to go along. Such a nice girl she was…

She was actually a real sweetheart, helping us with our Italian grammar as we ordered. We have only found people who are very happy to have us trying to speak Italian and helping us when we stumble. Nobody laughs or is impatient with us. It really makes us happy since we put in many hours trying to learn more before the trip.

For our last dinner in Brescia, we chose to go back to the Piazza Arnaldo and picked a restaurant called ‘Autentiko’. They have brought authentic Napoli pizza to Brescia and are quite popular. We had our usual Prosecco to start, then ordered a bottle of Chianti with our pizzas. Sue’s pizza had Roma tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, mine had fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto and ricotta.

Both were outstanding. Sorry Bocce, these were two of the best pizzas we’ve ever eaten. At the end of the meal, the manager sent over a bucket with limoncello, pistachio liqueur and melon liqueur. We enjoyed the limoncello and I liked the melon liqueur.

Back to the hotel afterwards to relax before checking out in the morning.

We woke up early and grabbed a quick bite for breakfast before checking out. The hotel called for a taxi and ten minutes later we were headed to the train station.

Newer Trenord train

Bergamo, here we come!

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Italy 2022 – Venezia

Ciao Venezia!

It is so exciting to be back. We just love the hustle and bustle on the canals without a car or truck in sight – and the canals are bustling.

After passing through the passport control and collecting our luggage, we headed over to the water taxi queue to catch a boat over to our hotel. In the past, we have always taken the bus from the airport to Piazzale Roma and then walked from there to our hotel. This time we thought we’d give ourselves a treat to get a different look at the city on the way to the hotel.

What a great treat. No putt-putting along, we were cruising and dancing around the wakes left by the other boats. When we approached the city, the driver slowed down and we passed through the residential area on the way to the Grand Canal. The buildings with the sun bouncing off the water felt like they were being spotlighted for us. From the grand canal, we only had a short trip before we were dropped off on the dock in front of our hotel. What a great way to be ushered in.

For those wondering, it is much cheaper to take the bus, however YOLO.

We stayed at the Hotel Antiche Figure, located in the Santa Croce district. It is literally right across the canal from the train station. This is our third time staying here and it is a great place. In fact, we’ve had this room before – I did request it. It has a small balcony and three canal view windows. The hotel is very comfortable, the staff is extra friendly and you can’t beat the location. We can cross the bridge and hop on any of the vaporetto lines in whatever direction we want to go. Despite being across the canal from the train station, you do not hear the trains at all.

We love being in the room at night and hearing the water lapping at the sides of the canal while the few boats pass by. In the morning the traffic sounds increase and you know the day has begun.

Just a little background: Venice has 178 canals throughout the city, with some reaching a depth of more than 5 meters. You cannot swim in the canals though, nor would you want to – just read some history about the city. Swimmers can head to the beaches of the Lido, just a short vaporetto ride away.

Over the canals, 428 bridges interconnect the city’s 124 islands. There are only five bridges that cross the Grand Canal, with the most well known being the Rialto Bridge. If you watch a movie that takes place in Venice, there’s a very good chance that you’ve seen the Rialto Bridge. Walking around the city, you’ll definitely cross a few bridges and the scenery is so different you just have to take some pictures.

To celebrate our arrival, we…..

Ok, Who guessed we had a glass of Prosecco?

Next, feeling properly welcomed, we went to purchase our ACTV Travel card. Since a single vaporetto ride ticket is now €9.50, we decided to buy a 48 hour card, which gives us unlimited rides for €35.00. Two round trip journeys will cover the cost, so it was a no brainer. We’ll definitely get our money’s worth in jaunts for dinner and to activities, plus we like to just take a ride the length of the canal in the evening when the lights are on.

As we didn’t expect to have our room available, we planned to go for a late lunch at Osteria ae Sconte. The name roughly refers to Hide and Seek, which is an appropriate name for it. The first time we went there years ago, we got lost, couldn’t find the courtyard and ended up getting there late. Roll the clock forward, this time we had directions… but got lost and ended up getting there late. Some things never change.

For our first evening, we had tickets to an I Musici Veneziani Concert. They were performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a personal favorite, and did so in historic costumes. It was a wonderful concert and I would definitely recommend it to others.

Breakfast at the hotel isn’t over the top, but it is nice nonetheless. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, espresso would do me in. However, starting the day with a cappuccino is fun – just a minor surge of energy. Anyways, back on point, breakfast includes meats and cheese, lots of cakes and pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, yogurts, juices and hot beverages. Standard fare in European hotels – but more than enough choices to fuel up for the day.

The breakfast buffet

Walking over to the lunch and concert area yesterday, we passed by some really nice areas, so we thought we would re-trace our steps and enjoy our first day seeing the real Venice neighborhoods. We love all the bridges and smaller canals as you walk along.

You never know what you’ll see; everything from freshly washed linens and undies to a Japanese warlord and his geishas. Yes we did see them all. The undies were men’s.

We found a real nice campo during our walk – the Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Kids were playing, people were sitting on benches chatting in the shade (we knew they were chatting because their hands were gesturing repeatedly) and people were eating lunch at the restaurants.

Sue was looking at the menu for dinner at La Patatina, but my tummy was rumbling for lunch. And then, the waiter said the magic words “house made pasta”, so we sat down for lunch. A glass of Prosecco, a bottle of water, a bottle of Italian Sauvignon Blanc, a plate of thinly sliced prosciutto, a bowl of tagliolini with lobster and scallops and a bowl of paccheri carbonara later and we were hooked! Oh yeah: I almost forgot the tiramisu and glass of Vin Santo. Quite the lunch. We were so full we skipped dinner that night. But we did have the sense to make dinner reservations there for the following evening.

We waddled back to the hotel to let lunch digest. One of us fell asleep for a couple hours, while the other caught up on her emails. We did decide to skip dinner, but we did go downstairs to sit outside with glass of Prosecco for a nightcap on a beautiful evening.

Day 3 and I’m already pronouncing the room number correctly; there’s no stopping me now!

We enjoyed our breakfast and then headed to the vaporetto station. We’re going to be like spawning salmon today and swim against the stream. While everyone packs the boat to go down the grand canal, we are going to loop around to San Marco via the lagoon. The boat wasn’t too crowded, so we took our seats and enjoyed the beautiful views.

Tuesday evening rolled around and we headed to the restaurant for dinner. After yesterday’s lunch, I was anxious for the dinner menu. As we were approaching, the head waiter waved to us and pointed us to our table. It was a beautiful evening to dine outside – clear skies, warm with just enough of a cooling breeze.

Our dinners were delicious. A glass of Prosecco started us off, and that was followed by a bottle of Valpolicella Ripasso. We shared an order of pappardelle with mushrooms and scampi that was awesome. Then Sue went with a broiled turbot with a mushroom sauce, while I had the veal marsala. Both were delicious and both were followed by their wonderful tiramisu and a glass of Vin Santo and then another glass of Vin Santo. Before you start thinking we were guzzling it down, we were sipping it while enjoying the entertainment.

You see, Tuesday night in the campo is not taco Tuesday, rather it is Tango Tuesday. We were enjoying watching about twenty couples, dressed to the nines, dancing the tango. It was so cool to watch as there was a “deejay” playing the music, while the couples danced under only the lights in the campo and the moon. There were other spectators and a few diners at the restaurant applauding after each dance.

It was a perfect ending to our day. Olè.

It’s already Wednesday and we have another full day of fun ahead of us. There were a few drops of rain while we ate breakfast that had us a bit worried, but the skies cleared before noon, so we set off for another boat ride. The seas were a little more wavy today, with water actually splashing onto the sidewalks in places. Mind you, these were gentle swales, not ‘marooning the SS Minnow’ type waves.

After our little jaunt, we decided to have a later lunch instead of dinner. We found the little pizza place we visited on our last trip and enjoyed a caprese salad and a pizza with a glass of wine. Just a pleasant lunch at a restaurant tucked down a little side street.

Back in the room afterwards, we relaxed and looked at the pictures we’d taken before getting cleaned up for our night tour at the basilica. When the time arrived, we headed for the vaporetto for a leisurely ride down to Piazza San Marco.

We passed by a few hotels that were all gussied up for parties that evening. The Venice Film Festival is currently happening, so apparently there are some celebrations and schmoozing going on. We saw a starlet arriving by boat with the cameras flashing at one hotel, but the best one was some actor with his publicity guy taking pictures of him “arriving” at his destination. I say “arriving” because he had to stage the walk and wave three times before the photos were just right.

Piazza San Marco is so much better in the evening after the day trippers leave. It’s quiet, the lights come on at dusk and it is a treat to walk around. Our tour began at 9:00 pm, so since we had some time, we visited the famed Cafe Florian for a drink and to listen to the musicians. Not being shy, we sat up close so we could see and hear better, catching the eye of the bass player and accordionist. They seemed to enjoy the fact that we were swaying happily as they played. They would even take requests, so I asked if they knew ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees. Just kidding, I requested ‘Senza Fine’ and it was delightful.

Casey Kasem wasn’t there, but we sent it out to Greg in Cheektowaga!

Our tour of St Mark’s Basilica was truly special. We booked a small group night tour. No huge crowds of noisy tourists, just three groups of twenty getting a good look at the beautiful mosaics, the artwork and the story of how it came to be. Our guide Romy, who was born and raised in Venice, was perfect in her amount of information given versus talking too much. It is such a historical and beautiful building filled with spectacular mosaics. We were very glad that we took the tour.

The boat ride home along the Grand Canal was very romantic. The lights from the buildings add a magical touch and being able to peer into the buildings is a treat. Just me and my gal and fifty or so others…

Thursday morning started out overcast and chilly with a little bit of rain. Looked like we were going to have our first rainy day – until the sun came out. They were predicting some showers or thunder showers every day and instead – we had sunshine. We know Italy needs the rain, but Venice…. I think there’s enough unless the Adriatic Sea disappears.

While relaxing at the hotel, we received an email from Trenitalia. “Gentle clients – Did we mention the strike tomorrow? Sorry, your train tickets are cancelled.” Scramble time!

After talking to the desk clerk, I was able to make reservations on the regional train. Seems the strike only screws up the visitor’s plans. The cost was less, but the time to get there is longer. Just an annoyance – no worries!

With that crisis solved, we attended to the next issue – where to eat dinner tonight. Something nice to cap off our time in Venice. We decided on a restaurant called ‘Poste Vicie’. It’s located down near the Rialto market and the building has been around since the 1500’s. It has been a merchant’s office and a poste office prior to becoming a restaurant. We can’t wait for dinner.

The skies were looking pretty ominous as the afternoon wore on. We figured that rain they’ve been predicting would arrive around the time we were leaving, but we made it to the vaporetto and then to the restaurant without a drop.

The restaurant is right near the famous Venice fish market. You just had to follow your nose to the market and then walk a few steps beyond. The building certainly looked old from the outside, but inside it was charming. A unique location for our final dinner in Venice.

They start you off with a complimentary glass of Prosecco – mine said my haircut looked good. We both started with Bigoli pasta with a duck ragu, then Sue had veal cheeks with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. I went with the sea bass fillet with braised spinach. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals. We had a bottle of Bertani Valpolicella that paired well with the food. For dessert, Sue had the tiramisu and I had a almond custard tart with salted carmel sauce.

We left the restaurant happy and hoping that we might return to explore more of Venice another time. We caught the next vaporetto and we were back at the hotel twenty minutes later to relax and plan for the morning’s departure.

We woke up ready to head to Brescia. We checked out of the hotel and exchanged pleasantries with the staff, then headed over the bridge to the train station. The train station was crowded this morning – but off we go.

Ciao Venezia!

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Italy 2022 – Venice to Brescia – Rail strike

After our wonderful stay in Venice, we would travel by train to Brescia with a transfer in Verona. The entire trip would take about two and a half hours – on a normal day.

We had already received the notice that our original train was cancelled and had rebooked to the local train instead of the faster direct train. And now, the rest of the story…

We could see many people sitting outside on the steps of the train station as we walked across the bridge. I have to admit to feeling somewhat smug having changed our tickets the day before. We entered the station and checked the departure board to find our platform. It wasn’t listed yet so we waited for the update.

The arrival board started changing and all we could see up and down the board was “Cancelata”. We checked again and our train was listed on the departure board. Then it changed to ‘ritardo 30’. Dang it.

No arrivals

We waited patiently and then it changed again – “Ritardo 70”. So now we were delayed for 70 minutes. Just like all the others, we were unhappy, but there was nothing we could do.

Next update – Cancelled!

I tried to find out some info on the strike. Not exactly good news. The strike was slated to last until 4:59 pm. Why they were still selling tickets for the earlier times we’ll never know. I quickly went out and booked another train with a departure time of 5:10 pm and then we sat and waited.

I checked the app and they actually had a platform listed so we walked in. I guess everyone else saw the update and packed the platform. Everyone who missed their earlier trains were going to try and squeeze onto this train too.

With everyone jam-packed on the platform, they finally opened the train doors at 5:00 pm – and then the fun began. Everyone pushing and squeezing their way on board. Sue and I ended up lugging our bags upstairs and squeezed into open seats. A nice young guy moved so we could sit next to each other and then we waited.

By the time they did all their pre-trip duties, we ended up 50 minutes late, which meant our connecting train would be long gone by the time we arrived in Verona – and it was.

So we looked for the next train and saw that it hadn’t left as it was delayed by 30 minutes. When we reached the platform, it was a mob scene, just like Venice. There was no way we would get on the train, so time for plan B.

We went to the lobby and thought we might try and get a taxi to Brescia. Though it would cost a bunch, at least we’d make it there.

The cab line was very long and the cabs were few. Plan B was not going to work. Time to head back to the platform. Returning to the lobby, we saw that the platform number had changed. If we could get there quickly, we might have a chance of beating the others and getting on.

Although the train was fairly full, we went towards the front cars that were down a ways from the stairs. Lo and behold, there was space. We scurried on, hoisted the bags into the racks and sat back waiting for the rest of the people to board – and they did – until there was no more room.

We high-fived each other when the train started to roll. About forty-five minutes later we pulled into Brescia Station. We made it!

We started out at 10:30 am and arrived at 10:00 pm. Tired, hungry and worn out. I know it’s part of the Italian culture, they just accept it. But for a country that depends on tourist dollars, they really need to rethink their strategy of screwing up travel for thousands of people.

So my take on it is that they wanted a long weekend. They hurt the very people who pay their salaries. Let’s hope we can avoid any more travel issues.

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Italy 2022 – Time to go – We’re on our way!

Trumpets are blaring, drums are being pounded – so hold on while I turn down the music. It’s time and we’re ready to go. Our bags are packed, camera batteries are charged, and our sunglasses are clean, so we have to go someplace!

Sorry to those of you that I didn’t call back before we left. There were a couple of last day items that had to take priority. Mi dispiace!

Our driver pulled up right on time and honestly, she was the nicest driver we’ve ever had. Friendly, personable and enthusiastic – the world needs more people like her.

The airport wasn’t too busy when we arrived. The line to check-in was just us and then the line for security was three other people. So thankful to have TSA Pre-check. Even with all my electronic gadgets, we still passed through quickly without a hitch.

I have to admit to being excited and a little nervous while waiting for our flight to board. There has been so much planning involved that I’m ready to see how I did. It’s like my “Travel Guy” final exam.

Our Buffalo to Newark flight was scheduled to take-off at 1:03pm and we were right on time. It was a nice day for flying – blue skies, a few puffy clouds and about 75 degrees. We just relaxed and enjoyed the short flight.

Our arrival in Newark was easy. We were in the first row, so for once I got to hold up everybody behind me – for at least ten seconds. We de-planed and headed to the lounge.

Since we are flying to Europe in United’s Polaris class, we were able to use the Polaris Lounge. It was a nice change from waiting at the gate in uncomfortable seats, plus we were able to have a bite to eat to tide us over until dinner. As folks for the evening flights arrived, the lounge became more and more crowded. We relaxed until it was time to head over for boarding.

So United’s Polaris class provides you with a personal pod that includes a seat that folds down flat for sleeping. You get a nice meal, drinks and snacks and top notch service from the attendants.

Our second flight from Newark to Venice was scheduled to leave at 6:40pm and we were boarded right on time. Besides the minor delay we had taxi-ing, we were off and flying on time. Taking off at dusk was nice and the view of Manhattan was nice as we flew overhead.

Sue decided to watch the Downton Abbey movie and I was playing cribbage on my iPad. There seemed to be quite a bit of ambient noise in the cabin. Not sure if that was just from the plane type – Boeing 767 or cutting through the air, but it was noisier than expected. Still, we both managed to sleep for a while, just not as soundly as on previous flights.

As we got closer to the end of our flight, we had a beautiful morning view of the Alps.

Marco Polo Airport was busy when we arrived. It took a few extra minutes to get through passport control before grabbing our luggage. The carousels were all surrounded by folks waiting for their luggage with the usual suspects blocking the way and grabbing every piece that was the same color as their bag. I digress.

Arriving in Venice, we notice one thing right away: there are people – lots of people. Stores and shops are open, which means “Ferragosto” or the “August rest” is over. Traditionally, Italians vacation during the month of August. Many go to the seaside to escape the August heat, not like it hasn’t been hot since June this year. The official holiday is August 15th, but in reality it is a month-long holiday with its beginnings dating back to the first century – thanks to Emperor Augustus Octavian.

So now our Italian adventure begins. Venice is such a wonderful city to start in and our boat to the hotel awaits us.

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Fall 2022 – It Won’t Be Long Now

It’s hard to believe, but our first international travel since before the pandemic is just around the corner. The excitement is building and the small irritating items are starting to show up.

We can’t wait!

I’ve been keeping busy. I have details on places to visit, things to see, and a couple of tours that we are considering. I always seem to have enough options for three times as many days as we’ll be someplace. Of course, the funny part is that we end up finding plenty of other things to do once we get there and my lists just return home with us until “next time”.

My restaurant listing for the various cities and towns is also now up-to-date, noting that I’ve had to remove many places that have closed. No worries though. Coming from a long line of hunter gatherers, we shall not go hungry. And yes, I WAS an Accountant, so I have a spreadsheet listing restaurants for each town or city in the countries we’ve visited.

I reloaded my Italy travel apps on my phone and iPad: Trenitalia for train schedules and tickets, DayTrip, my various Italian city guides and Rick Steve’s Audio Europe for info. The Rick Steves app will come in handy, as many art museums have forgone the use of audio guides due to the effort to clean them between uses. From our previous museum adventures, you know that I enjoy viewing the art and don’t need to understand each brush stroke (PPS – Pretty Picture Syndrome). Oh, and one new one – Flush. It’s to help find nearby toilet facilities. It works here at home, though our neighbors were surprised when I rapped on the door! 😉

While looking at opening and closing times for some of the museums we are interested in visiting, I noticed that many have limited tickets left right through to September. I guess that means that tourists are returning to Italy. Having to sit home for two years, people are itching to get back and enjoy their travels. More sites are also offering online ticketing to “skip the lines”.

Additionally, after doing a little research, we saw that Europe has ramped up the use of credit cards with the ‘Tap’ function. Cash is still used, but the preference since the pandemic began is credit cards, especially touchless ones. Many American cards still don’t have the chip feature, so check your cards before traveling abroad.

On the annoying side, we are on our third set of flight changes. As we booked early, I’m sure that most of the changes are the result of firming up flight schedules and only one of the changes was more than fifteen minutes. That one created a problem for us though, as the airline actually cancelled the later flight. Instead of having to worry about flight delays in Rome or getting through customs and then having to dash to our next flight (I really don’t “dash” these days), we decided to stay overnight in Washington. – È la vita!

A quick Covid update. The current restrictions still require visitors to be vaccinated and under certain circumstances masks are required for indoor locations. We’ll be watching to get updates prior to leaving and will likely get a second booster. That will give us the same access to restaurants and bars as the so-called “Super Green Card” that residents use.

So for now, I just have a few tickets to purchase, reservations to make and menus to check out. We’re practicing our Italian daily. So, until we’re ready to go, I will bid you goodbye for now.

Arrividerci, amici miei!

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Fall 2022 – Our leap of faith

Staying inside during these cold winter days and nights has given me plenty of time to think about our upcoming trip. Most of the thinking has been: “Will we be able to go and safely enjoy ourselves ?”, but other thoughts about where we’re staying and what flights will be available have also crept in. So I have been trying to focus on that which I can control.

Source:Alan Castillo – therpf.com

With our itinerary confirmed, we have the dates locked in to book our flights. As you may know or might have surmised, there are not as many flight options as there used to be. The airlines have cut back the number of flights on many of their routes – our routes included. We are spoiled and picky (it’s a fact) when it comes to flights; we prefer direct flights from and to the US.

After looking at many fare compare tools and airline websites, we narrowed the list down to Delta and United. Most of the others that were eliminated were due to multiple stops on the way over, with short layovers. After comparing flight times and layovers, we decided on the friendly skies of United!

We were able to book Buffalo to Newark to Venice on the way over, with reasonable layovers and flight times. On the way home it will be Rome to Washington DC to Buffalo, again with reasonable layovers. Not quite the Holy Grail, but we were glad to book now and save a few dollars.

We’ve also been in contact with our travel consultant in Piedmont to help organize some activities while we’re staying in Alba. Valerie Quintinella, proprietor of the Girl’s Gotta Drink website, helped when we were last in Piedmont to coordinate winery visits and tastings, a cooking class and made suggestions for dining choices. We’re looking forward to seeing and working with her again.

While in the midst of a house renovation, my desk papers are scattered between numerous boxes. Some days, just trying to find my folders is a challenge. However, my real challenge is searching through Italian websites looking for some entertainment while we are there. Their system of listing things like concerts, operas or shows is confusing, at least to me, in that they typically list by venue. I’m searching for the magic website that is all inclusive, but so far it has proved elusive.

We are also looking at the offerings from Daytrip. They provide transportation between locations and provide opportunities to stop for some sightseeing along the way. We have a couple of longer train journeys that we can replace with Daytrip rides. It would save us a few hours and also allow us to stop and see some things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see, since they are not near train stations. I also like the idea of sitting in a comfortable vehicle and not having to haul luggage on and off trains multiple times. It’s definitely more expensive than taking the train. However, there is a significant time savings, backache-saving and door-to-door factors to consider. And, the ability to stop for a little sightseeing along the way.

::Update::

Currently, Italy is open to vaccinated travelers. There is no quarantine necessary upon arrival or in any of the locations we will be visiting – but that can change quickly. To fly home, we’ll have to get a Covid test in Rome, but my understanding is that they are easily available.

Our fingers are crossed as we watch the updates.

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Fall 2022 – Creating our itinerary for Italy

Everything is still on track to visit Italy next fall – fingers crossed. Reservations have been made for the hotels and now we’re just waiting until the new year to start watching air fares.

It’s revitalizing to be planning out travel once again. I’ve been reading and watching videos about the various places we will be visiting and some of the history of the regions. I have also started taking my Italian lessons once again. “La ragazza indossa un vestito rosso.” (I think it’s the same girl in the red dress from my french lessons).

I have had a few questions from, and chats with people about the places we will be visiting, so I thought I would share a little bit about them. Maybe it will inspire some folks to plan a visit too! To those who have heard the stories, skip this post. For those interested, let’s start!

We have decided on ten main places that we will be visiting this trip, plus a few side trips to enjoy sites near those locations. Each place will provide different experiences and we’re looking forward to checking them out,

Venice

We will be flying into Venice to start the trip. Venice is one of my favorite cities in Italy because it is so unique. I love the fact that there are no vehicles to deal with – just boats on the canal. While some people complain about having to walk and cross bridges, I think that is what makes it special. You can just wander around anywhere and if you get tired, you can hop on a boat and get to where you want to go.

Light traffic on the Grand Canal

As far as things to see and do – what are you interested in? The most visited site is Piazza San Marco. The Basilica is gorgeous and the Doges’ palace is intriguing. The islands of Burano and Murano are beautiful. Burano has its colorful houses and Murano has its glass production. Art galleries, churches, theater and delicious seafood. Oh yes – there are also the canals that wind around and through the city.

We are also planning to take a day trip to Vicenza, home to the Palladian architecture of Andrea Paladio. If you are wondering about Palladian architecture, just take a look at the Jefferson Memorial, Jefferson’s home Monticello or the Capitol Building. It’s only an hour’s train ride and will be a pleasant place to visit for a day.

We’ll be staying in a hotel called Hotel Antiche Figure. We’ve stayed there twice before and love it. It is literally right across the canal from the train station and the vaporetto lines.

Brescia

Heading west from Venice, our next stop will be the town of Brescia. The allure of Brescia is its Roman ruins.

We will be staying at the Hotel Centro Paolo VI. It was originally a monastery and looks nice. It’s not a fancy place, but it is convenient to the sites we want to see and there are many restaurants nearby.

Bergamo

Some people have called Bergamo a double-decker city. There is the newer town below and the historic old town up on the hill. They have a funicular that takes you to the upper town if climbing steep steps (and lots of them) is not something you enjoy.

Our hotel in Bergamo is called the Gombit Hotel and is located in the old town right off of the main piazza. It’s centrally located and the piazza offers up some great people-watching while sipping a beverage.

Piedmont – Alba

Piedmont is one of Italy’s finest wine regions. It is home to the Nebbiolo grape, which is used to make Barbaresco and Barolo wines.

Just hanging out and hoping to be Barolo

The last time we were here, we had a wonderful time visiting wineries and visiting some of the hill towns. We are hoping to do a little more of the same, plus visit some little towns nearby.

We will be staying in an Airbnb property in the town of Alba, which will provide us with a nice relaxing place to spread out while there. It’s in a great location near the train station and also the main street that leads to everywhere you need to go in Alba.

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is located along the Ligurian Seacoast and is considered part of the Italian Riviera. Its name translates to the ‘five lands’ and it is made up of five individual towns – Monterosso, Vernazzi, Coniglio, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each town offers gorgeous views, Italian charm, seaside relaxation and delicious seafood.

Many people love to hike between the towns using a dedicated trail that runs above the towns. We will be taking the train or boats that also run between the towns – no sense clogging up the trail.

We will be staying in the town of Monterosso al Mare at the Hotel Pasquale. From the north, Monterosso is the first of the five towns and has sandy beaches to enjoy. The hotel is located just off the harbor / beach and is a short walk from the train station.

Florence

Florence brings back the Renaissance – with its art works, churches and architecture. This will be our artsy stop with visits to the Uffizi Museum, the Accademia to visit Michelangelo’s Statue of David and to see some of the beautiful artworks in the churches.

Florence Duomo with its Brunelleschi Dome

Sue and I are also fans of the Dan Brown novel ‘Inferno’. Much of the story takes place in Florence, so we are planning to take an ‘Inferno Tour’. We took an ‘Angels and Demons’ tour in Rome and enjoyed it very much, so we’re hoping this one will be equally fun.

For our accommodations, we decided to rent an apartment. I had read about the Kairos By Florence Art Apartments and when I checked the reviews they were recommended by many others – not just a magazine list. It is located three blocks from the Uffizi Museum and two blocks in the other direction to the Piazza de Santa Croce. The location is great, there are many restaurants nearby, and it was just remodeled in 2020.

Tuscany – Gaiole in Chianti

Gaiole in Chianti is a small town located in the Chianti wine region. Just picture vineyards of plump, purple Sangiovese grapes everywhere you look.

Sangiovese vineyard

For this next part of the trip, we are using the credit we have from the China trip cancellation. The travel agency will provide much of the daily itinerary of tours and winery visits. We will be with them through our time in Orvieto. Included in our plans are winery visits, walks in Siena and San Gimignano and some free time in Gaiole.

We will be staying at the Castello di Spaltenna, just outside of the town of Gaiole. It is a resort hotel with many amenities and a wonderful history. We’re hoping it turns out to be as nice as it sounds.

Montepulciano

While Montepulciano is technically still in Tuscany, the area surrounding the town is called the Val D’Orcia. When you see pictures of the winding roads lined with Cypress trees, you’re looking at the essence of the Val D’Orcia. Calm, relaxing and lots of great wine.

We will be staying at the Palazzo Carletti. The Palazzo Carletti is a Noble Palace with five rooms that are available for guests. It was originally a medieval building that was transformed in the 18th century into an aristocratic residence. It sounds like an interesting place to stay and it looks beautiful.

Orvieto

Continuing to the south, our next stop will be the ancient town of Orvieto. The area around the town is known for its link to the Etruscan civilization and delicious wines. Besides the delicious wines, there are many things to see in and around the city.

In Orvieto, we will be staying at the Hotel Duomo. It is located across the piazza from the Orvieto Cathedral.

Rome

Rome, the Eternal City, is our final location. When we visited the last time, we were overwhelmed by how much there is to see in Rome. History, art and culture can be found everywhere – it just depends on what you like. If food and wine is on your list of ‘likes’, you’ve come to the right place.

Sunny day at the Colosseum

We’ve been to the Vatican before, so this time we plan to spread out a little and see more of the city. There are a couple of sites that we have on our wish list, so there will likely be a visit to a church or two, as well as an art museum. The Spanish Steps are also on the list, as well as a day trip to Tivoli to see Hadrian’s Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este. The villas are both UNESCO world heritage sites and are said to be lovely.

We will be returning to the Hotel Albergo del Senato in Rome. It is a wonderful hotel that is right next to the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotondo. The highlight for us during our last visit was throwing open the windows and listening to the music coming from the buskers in the piazza below. Everything from Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ to Puccini’s ‘Nessum Dorma’ was on the playlist the last time, so who knows what we’ll be listening to this time.

From Rome, we will be flying home after what we hope will have been a fabulous journey.

So that’s what we’ve included in our itinerary and some of the reasons for the choices. If you have additional ideas, please pass them along. Once we have the airfare taken care of, my very favorite part of the planning process takes place – checking out restaurants!

Thanks for following along and until next time… Arrivederci!

And a special ‘Arrivederci’ to “La ragazza indossa un vestito rosso.”

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Fall 2022 – Buon Giorno, Italia!

Everything is predicated on the world normalizing. However, assuming it does, we are planning a blockbuster Italian journey for the fall of 2022. We will be traveling from Venice to Rome with a variety of stops in between.

We have high hopes that we’ll be able to travel to and throughout Italy by next fall. Our intention is to visit many different towns with unique cultures and charm. Iconic cities such as Venice, Florence and Rome, plus Alba in the Piedmont region, Brescia and Bergamo in Lombardy, the five towns of the Cinque Terre in the Ligurian Riviera, Gaiole in Chianti, Montepulciano in Tuscany and Orvieto in Umbria.

The intended path.

The destinations we’ve picked will give us a great mix of everything we like – history, architecture, art, wine, food, and wine. Yes, we really, really like wine!

As for traveling, we’ll be using planes, trains, boats, cars, buses, subways and heaven forbid – walking. Lots of details to be worked out, but so far, so good.

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