Piedmont – Day 5 – Chefs in training

We are looking forward to the day ahead. We will be participating in a cooking class at a farmhouse in the town of Cervere, which is just a short drive from Alba.

We started out by meeting Martina and Valerie at Piazza Michele Ferraro. Valerie is the travel planner that we have worked with to put this holiday together and this was our first face to face meeting. Valerie and Martina will be taking the class along with us.

We rode along with Martina to the farmhouse; Valerie would be meeting us there. Though we did hit a little bit of traffic, it didn’t slow us down too much. When the GPS said we arrived at our destination, the house number game started again. It took us a loop around the neighborhood, even passing by a faux-farm, before we located our farmhouse.

When we arrived, it was really a classic farmhouse, with a horse, a pony, two pot belly pigs, one pink pig (we nicknamed him “Bay-Con”, a big dog and four puppies. I was worried that we would have to pull Sue and Martina away from the animals, but they relented with a promise of a visit after the class.

Our master chef was Raffaella, and for the day we would be her students. It was a fun, hands-on experience preparing three dishes and a dessert and then eating them.

The menu was: Capunet stuffed with pork sausage in a béchamel sauce, Pumpkin cream soup, Taglioni ai Funghi and then fresh peaches with a zabaglione sauce and amaretti. Of course, there was wine!

Our classroom for the day
Sue at her happiest in the kitchen

We started out by each having a task of peeling, chopping, dicing or blanching the various ingredients. Next we were given a new assignment to blend, whisk or combine ingredients. Practically fainting from the excruciating work, we took a wine and cheese break.

The gang, with Raffaella explaining the wine and Valerie taking a photo of me taking a photo of her.

The wine and cheese revived us all, so back to the kitchen we went. Next on the agenda was stuffing the cabbage leaves with the fresh pork sausage, lining them up in the pan and then covering them with the béchamel sauce before sending them to the oven. With our mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes and leeks simmering, it was pasta time. Bowls of flour, egg, olive oil and a pinch of salt had been expertly prepared for each participant, now it was time to work that dough!

We all created our dough and then merged them together to create a super dough ball. We let it set for a few minutes before breaking out the pasta machines and cranking out sheets of pasta dough. Once those were ready to go, we made our taglioni. Thin, delicate strands of pasta were created with each turn of the handle, then laid out to dry before heading to the boiling pot of water.

Golden strands of freshly made taglioni

In the meantime, the sauces were simmering nicely and we were nearing the time to eat our creations.

Smiles from two of the chefs.

First came the Zuppa di Zucca. It was rich and creamy and tasted delicious. Some pancetta and amaretti crumble were a perfect offset to the flavor of the pumpkin.

Zuppa di Zucca

Next were the Capunet or cabbage rolls with the béchamel sauce. These also came out great. They may not have been the prettiest rolls, but they would challenge for the tastiest. Delicious with the blend of the sausage and tender cabbage leaves, then made perfect by the béchamel sauce.

Note: They were so good we ate them before I remembered the picture. So picture in your mind delicate little rolls of cabbage with a creamy white sauce and lots of melted cheese.

Our third and most controversial dish was the taglioni. It was delicious, tender with just the right amount of sauce. The controversy arose when the others didn’t believe that I could pick out MY pasta and it was the best. Ha – what do you expect ?!? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, eat your heart out.

The taglioni – can you see the ones I made?

And our final course was the freshes peaches with the zabaglione sauce, a little dark chocolate and some amaretti crumbles. The flavors burst in your mouth and cried out for a Nebbiolo wine, which we just so happened to have.

Yes, I started to eat before snapping the picture.

Everyone had a great time and we say a special thanks to Raffaella for a wonderful experience and to Valerie for setting things up and to Martina for joining us.

Next was the dangerous part: getting to meet the animals. We were already pretty cozy in the car and Martina had her eye on the pony. I thought for sure one of us would be asked to give up their spot in the car. Luckily, she relented…but I think it was only because it wasn’t her car.

The ride back to town seemed to go quick. We actually drove through Martina’s home town of Bra and she was a little too shy to show us where the Piazza Martina was located. I’ll just google map it back at the apartment.

This would be our last planned encounter with Martina, so it was sad when she dropped us off. Lots of hugs and a big ‘Thank You’.

We all enjoyed getting to meet her and wish her well. I’ll let her know if the vinegar works any better when I get back home.

We all needed a little time to relax. Sue and I went for a little walk later on to try and find the elusive black sweater. We stopped at the Ape Wine Bar, where we had met Martina earlier in the week but no luck there.

However, we did decide to stay for a drink and then upped the ante to include a plate of tajarin with white truffles. It was a beautiful night to sit out, plus the music they were playing was really great and our waitress was extra friendly and nice.

The ‘Specials’ board
Tajarin with white truffles

It was a nice stroll back to the apartment and I’d have to say that it was a perfect way to end a perfect day!

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Piedmont – Day 4 – A Day in Barbaresco

After yesterday’s fun-filled day in the Roero, today it was a visit to Barbaresco. We once again had beautiful weather – a little chilly in the morning and then warm with sunny skies the remainder of the day.

Once again, we gathered in Piazza Michele Ferrero to meet up with Luca. They are building carnival rides around town with a nice looking carousel being built near us. When Luca arrived at 9:30, we were ready to head off.

Though we did sneak in a glass or two previously, today we will really focus on the grape of Piemonte – Nebbiolo. For our tasting pleasure, it would be the Queen – Barbaresco that would tempt our palates.

Nebbiolo Grapes waiting to be harvested.

We started the day at Ca’ del Baio, which roughly translates to ‘House of the Bay Horse’. It is a family-run winery led by their winemaker father, and daughters who have studied oneology at home and abroad.

We were taken through the winery and actually had a chance to meet the family as we viewed the facilities. As with the other wineries we have visited, the production area is spotlessly clean. The family was busy working on labels, while waiting for the grapes to be harvested.

They have a very nice portfolio of wines and the fun part is getting to taste some of them. We chose to go through a flight of five of their Nebbiolo wines – two plain Nebbiolo and three barbaresco. All of the wines were excellent; even though they were young, they exhibited great structure and fruit. Yes, we bought a couple bottles to drink back at the apartment.

The line-up – both reds and a couple whites
Ceramic casks
Someone is ready to taste!
Our un-named guide with Luca

After our delightful breakfast tasting, we made a stop in the town of Barbaresco. It’s a quaint little town with old world charm and some more modern facades to hide some of the commercial areas.

We made one stop for a little wine tasting at the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco. It was formerly a small church that has been converted into a place of devotion for Barbaresco wines. We chose a flight of four wines and shared the tasting, each of us enjoying the wines.

Enjoying our wine under watchful eyes.
Barbaresco, Barbaresco… No white Zinfandel to be found.

Next we would eat. For lunch we met up with Martina and we all visited a local pasta maker for lunch. He makes his pasta from ancient grains, which, in case you think like me – does not just mean old wheat.

He talked to us about the process he goes through to make and dry the pasta. Since he only spoke Italian, we were glad to have Luca and Martina with us to translate.

Then came the meal. We gathered on his terrace and took our seats. With his mother in the kitchen, we started with a frittata with spinach, next came some tagliatelle with a butter sauce and crumbled hazelnuts and we finished with a zabaglione over crumbled biscuits. We drank two Swiss wines – one red, one white and a dessert wine called Arpu.

After thanking our host and momma, we departed for our afternoon tour.

Arriving at the pasta maker’s house.
Luca, Martina, Jan, Dave & Sue
David showing his disdain for the wine.

On the way to the winery, we took a beautiful ride through the hills of Barbaresco. Vineyards with ripe grapes waiting to be harvested and down below – hazel nut trees. We wanted to pull over and grab a handful.

We arrived at our destination – Pelissero Winery. The building is new, but the winemaking is traditional. Nebbiolo showcased in the best way possible – structure, fruit and TLC.

Mateo was our guide through the winery and the tastings. He was fun, knowledgeable and passionate about the wines they make. Yes, we bought three bottles of wine to drink at the apartment.

Our new Nebbiolo friends
Bottles waiting for labeling
Mateo the Mighty!
Rows of vines with their precious fruit

We returned to the apartment to celebrate David’s birthday with a little wine and cheese get-together. We opened the bottle of Gianni Doghla Bosco Donne Barbera D’Asti and enjoyed it immensely – just as good as when we tasted it at the winery. See, it’s a good thing we bought wine!

It was a nice relaxing evening with good friends.

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Piedmont – Day 3 – Our Day in Monferrato and the Roero

Up and ready to go early today; we met our guide Luca and headed out for some wine tasting and winery visits. It was a full day of “Grape” fun, plus an awesome dinner to finish it off.

We met Luca at the Piazza Michele Ferraro to start the day. Luca will be with us to guide, inform, transport and translate as we make our way through the Piemonte wine region. Today we will start by going to Monferrato and the Roero area.

There is some old saying about drinking in the morning, but since no one among our group could remember it, we decided to just ignore it and enjoy our wine. So off to the first stop…

Our first visit was at the Braida Winery. At Braida, we were taken on a short tour of the winery to learn about their history and production methods. The tour was led by Carolina, who did a nice job of promoting the winery.

It’s just.. a little crush..
On the left: Luca, our guide. On the right: Carolina, our winery guide
Spotless tanks waiting for the grapes to be crushed.
Be careful in the bottling room.

After the tour, we were led to a very nice tasting room where we tasted five different wines. All of them were excellent and it would be hard to pick an overall favorite.

Yes, some needed a spit bucket – such sacrilege.

We wrapped up our visit with the purchase of three bottles of wine to drink back at the apartment. This would become a repetitive phrase.

After that perfect breakfast tasting, we were off to Monferrato for a picnic lunch and tasting at the winery of Gianni Doglia. The winery is located high up in the hills of Monferrato. The ride over provided some beautiful views in every direction. Since this is also harvest time, the fresh air also contained the sweet bouquet of grapes.

The hills of Monferrato

Gianni Doglia, besides being the name of the winery, is also the name of the winemaker. For our visit, we would be interacting with his sister – Paola, and she was a delight. Friendly, bubbly and knowing all about the family winery. So much fun to visit.

Sue and Paola

Our tasting was held along with our picnic lunch. Since the vineyard was a little wet in spots, we had our picnic under the pergola. Such a sacrifice!

We first heard a little bit about the winery and the wines that they produce, while looking over the spectacular views of the vineyards below. Being in Monferrato, their primary wines are Moscato, Grignolino and Barbera. Interestingly, they have also planted a small plot of Riesling in one of their vineyards.

Afterwards, we settled in for lunch and some wine. We had a wonderful picnic-style lunch with bread, cheese, sausage, agnolotti, melanzane and hazelnuts. We also tasted the winery’s Moscato D’Asti, Grignolino, Ruche’ Di Castagnole Monferrato, Barbera D’Asti and Nebbiolo. All were very good, with the Barbera D’Asti – Bosco Donne being my favorite. While we were eating and tasting, Gianni arrived and gave a wave as he hurried into the winery.

Luca and David
Smiles in the Monferrato hills

After we finished up our picnic, we had a few minutes to enjoy the views, buy a couple bottles of wine for back at the apartment and we were able to sneak a quick peek as they were bringing in grapes to be crushed.

Moscato grapes ready to crush

After we finished up at the winery, we piled back into the car to head to our final wine destination of the day, the Demarie Winery. While some might be thinking three winery visits in one day is insanity, I say “Nay”!

Luckily, the tasting pours are just that – a taste, probably just an ounce. All of the wines have been so good, and we have a driver guide, so Carpe Diem!

We arrived at the winery after a beautiful ride through the hills of the Roero. The weather is gorgeous and the landscapes are like something you only dream about. This is the essence of La Dolce Vita.

Demarie is another family owned winery located in the Roero. They make some very good wines, especially their red wines and do so in an environmentally friendly manner. While they are not organic, they are close. They are also very conscious of their footprint and use solar energy to generate electricity, and they recycle their water.

So much to choose from…
Our hostess – Monica
The finale for today

So once again, we bought three bottles to drink back at the apartment before heading back to Alba for the evening.

It was truly a great day of touring and wine tasting. The wineries that we went to were all high quality, small producers that really care about the wines they produce. Additionally, the people we met were fantastic. All went out of their way to make us feel welcome and we were most appreciative of their efforts to tell us their story in English.

We are very happy to have Luca with us. Besides being very personable, he has also studied to be a Sommelier and really adds so much to our tastings. He also provides much background about the wine regions and vineyards. And he plays good music!

Luca dropped us off back in Alba and we are very much looking forward to tomorrow’s tours.

We only had a short turn around time before dinner this evening. Unfortunately, Jan was a bit under the weather and decided to skip dinner and rest up for tomorrow. Like the last battalion of brave soldiers, David, Sue and I were steadfast in our desire for good food.

Our dinner tonight was at Ristorante Il Centro in Priocca. It came highly recommended by Valerie, as well as being one of my top picks. We just hoped it would live up to its reputation.

We had a bit of a shaky start. There was some confusion over where our driver would pick us up, which caused us to be about twenty minutes late. When we arrived, we were very apologetic, but they reassured us that it was not a problem and welcomed us warmly.

As for the restaurant itself, it would probably be called upscale casual. There were people in suits and dresses and there were also people there in T-shirts and sneakers. Luckily, we were somewhere in between.

The food would probably be called upscale fantastic! Everything was homemade, exceptionally delicious and served by an extremely conscientious waitstaff. Other than that, it was ok…

They started by bringing us what we thought was an amuse-bouche, but really was a small appetizer platter and all Items were amazingly tasty. They also brought us warm, homemade breads that were awesome.

I don’t want to run out of superlatives because we haven’t even received our first course. For our primi, David chose the risotto, which was creamy and cheesy; Sue and I both had the Tajarin with white truffles. I don’t remember the Italian word, so I’ll go with Molto yummy!

For our secondi or main course, we all had the veal cheek with a fig reduction. It was served over a small bed of mashed potatoes and was so tender it fell apart just seeing your fork come near. All three of us were savoring each bite.

Unfortunately, our driver was returning, so we had to skip out on dessert. However, while they were preparing the check, they brought us out a dessert sampler – a taste of four different dessert selections. Needless to say, we were impressed.

We paid the bill and the Maitre’D, who is also the owner’s son, walked us out to the door, thanking us for coming. Our ride was waiting so we hopped in and headed back to town.

I think the driver thought we were angry for the earlier mistake, but we tried to reassure him that it was not his fault, just a little confusion. He seemed glad that we shook his hand and acknowledged the issue. We’ll see if he is our driver again on Saturday when we once again go out of town for dinner.

For our first day of touring, we were all happy and content as we headed home to rest for tomorrow.

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Piedmont – Day 2 – Getting acquainted with Alba

Our first full day in Alba was an easy day of getting acquainted with our surroundings. After sleeping in a little bit, we walked down to the Piazza Risorgimento to meet up with Jan and Dave for lunch.

Many more people were out today as the weather is beautiful. The main street of town has lots of shops and little restaurants and wine stores. One store was proudly displaying their tartufo bianco d’Alba or white truffles of Alba as we walked along. They are so expensive, but so delicious.

Tartufo bianco

We arrived at Piazza Risorgimento (also known as Piazza Duomo) since it is the location of the Duomo. I did not take photos today as they had lifting equipment there while performing some maintenance work. I looked the other way and the town’s major bell tower stood proudly, although it did have a little lean to it – watch out Pisa!

Once we met up with Jan and Dave, we found a nice place right near the Duomo called, wait for it, Ristorante Bistrot Duomo.

We had a nice lunch with two bottles of Arneis. Between us, we had their pizza, a seafood medley and tajarin pasta with black truffles. Only I was willing to take the leap and had a tiramisu to finish things off, and it was delicious.

Yummy tiramisu!

After lunch, we walked over to Jan and Dave’s apartment to drop off some stuff and pick up a bit of some cake that their landlord had provided for them. We then followed the route we would take to get to the Piazza to meet our guide and driver for tomorrow’s tour, plus we located the restaurant for dinner tonight.

We made a quick stop at our apartment to drop off the cake and to catch up on emails and messages. Having the two apartments instead of a hotel is a change and using Airbnb is definitely saving a few dollars.

We headed out to the Ape Wine Bar to meet up with Martina, who had our itinerary printed out, plus tickets for our Underground Archaeological Tour next weekend. We got to know each other and enjoyed a nice bottle of La Spinetta Barbera D’Asti. If they had that in meetings back home, I’d probably still be working. Not!!

Afterwards, we headed back to the apartment to relax for a while before dinner. We looked over tomorrow’s itinerary; we will be visiting three different wineries and will have a picnic lunch.

On the agenda tonight is dinner at Osteria dell’Arco. Besides having a nice overall ambience, they have a tremendous selection of wine, great food, very reasonable prices and it is a favorite of the locals.

I’ll just list a few of our meal courses: pumpkin soup with hake (it’s a fish), Potato gnocchi, Ravioli de plin, braised lamb and roast chicken. We selected a Nebbiolo D’Alba wine and finished up with Gianduja Chocolate mousse and panna cotta with fresh berries. Everything was superb!

It was just a short walk back to the apartments to relax and prepare for tomorrows outing.

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Piedmont – Day 1 – Getting settled in Alba

It took a couple hours to drive from Milan Malpensa Airport to the town of Alba, but the scenery along the way was wonderful. Looking forward to exploring some of the small towns and vineyards over the next week and a half.

We are both staying in Airbnb apartments this trip, which is another first for us. Our apartment is close to the train station, while Jan and Dave are staying close to the town center, but with just a five minute walk between them.

Oh those wacky Europeans and their numbering systems. Mauro dropped us off at 19 Corso Fratelli Bandieri, which one might assume was right next to number 21. And if you had assumed that, you too would have been wrong. We ended up getting some help from two very nice people. Number twenty one was actually down and around the corner. No matter, we found it.

Our owner was waiting for us when we arrived. She is of the Rinaldo family that produces wine in the region. As a treat, she left us a bottle of their Gavi, a white wine grown just outside of Alba. She showed us around the apartment, provided some information about the area and nearby restaurants, and then handed over the keys. So far, so good!

Seating area
Dining area
Sleeping area

Our apartment is nice. It’s not huge, but it’s spotlessly clean, comfortable and close to some highly anticipated restaurants. It looks like they took a large apartment and made two smaller ones out of it. We are located on the second floor, which is the first floor in European terms.

After unpacking, we relaxed for a bit before taking a little walk to get the lay of the land, We really are in a great location. The train station is only about 200 meters away, there is a small store right around the corner where we can buy supplies, snacks and wine! There are also plenty of places nearby for gelato, fresh baked goods and more wine. After a few stops along the way, we headed back to the apartment with goodies in hand.

As it was dinner time and we were both hungry, we decided to find a little place nearby for a bite. We ended up at a family run Pizzeria – Pizzeria – Restarante Cincilla. It looked cute and smelled wonderful – so we asked if they could seat us. Since the sun was down and the evening air had a bit of a chill, we sat inside.

Sue and her caprese
Pizza with prosciutto and fungi
Never met a Tiramisu I didn’t like
Restaurant shot deceptively taken when the waitress turned her back

The older gentleman owner immediately greeted us and asked us something in Italian. In our whiniest reply, we had to say we didn’t understand and only knew a little Italian. However, when it came time to order, we redeemed ourselves with perfect Italian which brought a smile to his face.

We had a couple of caprese salads with ripe, succulent tomatoes, then we shared a pizza and a bottle of Pio Cesaro Barbera D’Alba. Everything was delicious! Staying on the course of redemption – a big smiling dolce – due tiramisu won them over. We truly had a wonderful time, especially being the only non-locals in the restaurant.

The coupe de grace for the evening was when we realized as we were walking out that they had given us too much change. We returned and explained -giving them back the extra. It was just a small math error, but it was worth 10 Euro to them. I think we could have called him “Papa” at that point.

We took a quiet stroll back to the apartment. The town looks nice at night and we’re looking forward to seeing it in the daylight tomorrow.

One of many churches in town
Quiet streets in the evening.
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Piedmont – The Adventure Begins

Usually our journeys start with a quick taxi ride to the airport, but not today. Today, we had our own chauffeur for our ride to Toronto. Ok, we were actually picked up by friends Jan and Dave, who are accompanying us to Piedmont before heading off to other exotic European locations.

Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go…

With the luggage snug in the trunk and us people comfortably on the inside, it was time to go. Our friends were very kind to offer to drive, especially considering they will have to put up with us (or more correctly – me) for the next ten days. I’ve been practicing some of my best jokes in Italian – “Prendi mia moglie, per favore”.

The ride up went fairly quick, but there’s no avoiding the traffic on the QEW. Arriving in Toronto, we parked the car and then shuttled over to the terminal to check in for our flight. The kiosk line wasn’t too long, so after dropping off our luggage we headed to security. There was a separate business class line, which allowed us to zoom through security.

Rather than wait at the gate, we were able to relax in the Air Canada Signature Lounge until flight time. This was by far the best lounge we have made use of. Besides being a refuge from the masses and noise of the terminal, they offered a free buffet, free drinks and a free three course dinner.

Air Canada Signature Lounge
Bar in Signature lounge – no charge.

We’re not talking Mac -n- cheese and a burger either. How about a duck confit salad, followed by a main entree of braised veal for three of us and ricotta cavatelli for me, finished off with chocolate hazelnut mousse, pistachio ice cream or goat cheese cheese cake. The meal was awesome, the wines were great pairings and the service was impeccable. Kudos to Air Canada and Pearson Airport.

Oops, too good to wait for a picture.

This is our first flight on Air Canada and it was a fairly easy decision to make. Firstly, the flight is direct to Milan, Italy at times that work well in our itinerary. And secondly, it was a huge savings to fly business class, with lay flat seats. Between the price and the exchange on the dollar it was a no-brainer – and I’m good at those!

Unfortunately, our plane was delayed in arriving from Vancouver, which caused us to leave late. Instead of leaving at 10:25pm, we actually departed about 11:50pm. The flight itself went well, the meal was good, though since we had already had that scrumptious meal we just picked at the main parts – good chicken.

The seats were a delight, especially the part where they fold down into lay flat beds to snooze. The crew were all very professional, plus friendly and efficient.

Arriving at Milan Malpensa Airport, our first adventure would be passport control. They now use the automated machines to check passports, followed by an official who stamps your passport. The process took about five minutes – some adventure!

Beginning in 2021, you will also need to have a Visa to travel to Europe from the US, including travels to the EU countries. You can read about that here: Visas to Europe Might be time to plan a trip to Ohio or Iowa or some other non-touristy US locations.

Since we were feeling like Rockstars, we had a shuttle driver waiting for us at the airport. After collecting our bags, we walked out to find our driver Mauro holding a “Tom Herkey” sign. Cool! It was so much easier than having to take the train to Milan, then back to Turin and then another to Alba.

And away we go to Alba…

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Counting down to Piedmont

It won’t be long now until we leave for the Piedmont wine region of Italy. In fact, it’s just three weeks away. So I’ve been asked where Piedmont is exactly and what is there to see or do. So I thought I’d try to explain a little about Piedmont.

Let’s start with where it is. Piedmont is located in the northwest part of Italy – if you watched the 2006 Winter Olympics, they were held in Turin (Torino), which is the capital of Piedmont.

The region is less visited, but it is said that the hills and towns are just as lovely as those in Tuscany. Nearby are lakes, snow-capped mountains, vineyards and they all are said to be beautiful. If you have really good eyes or a map, you can see Switzerland to the north and you would see France to the west.

The Piedmont region is known in the wine world for its fabulous Nebbiolo grape based wines, the most well known being Barolo and Barbaresco. If you are not a red wine fan, there are also Arneis and Gavi grapes that are used to make delicious white wines. And, of course, there are those that will grab a glass of Moscato d’Asti.

The region is also famous for its extraordinary tartufo bianco or white truffles, especially in and around the town of Alba. The peak season is at the end of September or beginning of October when they also happen to hold the Alba Truffle Festival. Unfortunately for us, the festival begins the weekend we leave.

Other products you might have heard of that are native to Piedmont are Nutella (Yum) and Vermouth. In fact, Vermouth was invented there and it is home to Martini & Rossi for you Manhattan and Martini lovers. It’s also home to Ferrero Rocher and their wonderful chocolates.

We will be staying in the town of Alba, where we’ll be able to see remnants of the old Roman gates and towers along with the Church of San Domenica and the Duomo di Alba. Our tours will take us to the towns of Barolo, Barbaresco, La Morra, Turin, Monferrato, including a visit to the underground cathedral caves dug into the hill of Canelli.

We’re looking forward to visiting and spending wine time with our friends, along with celebrating a big birthday, but you’ll have to read along if you’re interested in the details.

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Epilogue – Switzerland

Now that we’ve been home and had a chance to digest our travels through Switzerland, I wanted to share a few thoughts and some helpful tips for others who might be thinking about a visit.

First and foremost – Go! Switzerland is absolutely beautiful. There are so many breathtaking views of nature everywhere you go. As you could probably tell from the trip posts and pictures, we tried to take in as much as we could. Land, lakes, mountains and cities were all incredible.

Another tip – Bring sunglasses!

The Swiss travel system is hands down the best we’ve seen, especially the rail system. We chose to travel by train and could go everywhere we wanted to go comfortably. They have an intricate train network that is very efficient, very clean and very user-friendly.

Tip: Be sure to check out a travel pass. Be it the Swiss Travel Pass, Jungfrau Pass, Oberland Pass – check it out. If you are using the trains to get around – you will save money over buying individual tickets. The passes also provide free or discounted admission to many museums and other attractions.

Tip: If you want to take one of the Panoramic trains such as the Golden Line, Glacier Express or Bernina Express, make sure you book a seat reservation. Check out the websites 3 months prior to going as they fill up fast during the high seasons.

Tip: Get the SBB Phone App! This app is awesome to check out train schedules, get platform information and get train configuration information. Where is the bar car?

Switzerland is not a cheap place to eat. We knew that going in, but there will inevitably be some sticker shock. You can offset that a little bit by grabbing lunch from a COOP store (Cross between a supermarket and a convenience store depending on the location.) or by eating a hearty breakfast, especially when it is included at your hotel.

If you’re passing through Zurich, the train station also has an underground level with a market and a couple of restaurants. There are usually places in and around the train stations to grab a bite to take with on the trains. Do everyone a favor, avoid the stinky stuff.

However, make sure to find a restaurant and indulge in a traditional Swiss meal. The food is delicious and goes perfect with a beer or Swiss wine. Rösti, schnitzel and a fondue are musts. Rumor has it they don’t even add calories if you eat them and enjoy them!

Tip: No need to constantly buy bottled water. Bring along a water bottle and you can refill it anywhere with clean, cold water from the numerous fountains located throughout most of the cities and towns.

Throughout Switzerland, there are accommodations of all types, from opulent hotels to family campgrounds and everything in between. We found that by staying near to the rail stations in cities and towns, we had the best flexibility. Besides the obvious access to the trains, there were usually buses and car rental places nearby.

Tip: Check with your hotel to see if they offer a discount card for local attractions and transportation. We were able to get them in a few of the towns we stayed in and they saved us a bunch. We were able to use the metro system in Lausanne, the cable cars and funiculars in St. Moritz and the buses in Lucerne for free.

There are four languages spoken in Switzerland, the three dominant languages are German, French and Italian. The fourth is Romansh, but if they were speaking it, we didn’t know it. You’ll find that many people who deal with the tourism industry also speak English. We had no problems with communication – especially when ordering in restaurants. However, we also found that using a little bit of the local language was like finding the gold ticket in Willy Wonka. Plus, it was a fun way to interact with folks.

We had a wonderful trip and would go again in an instant (after replenishing the travel bank account). The people there truly made us feel welcome and tried very hard to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. We have lots of memories, but one that stands out is the older couple thanking us for visiting their country. That was a memory of the Swiss people that we won’t forget.

So go, enjoy and be ready to be amazed!

Now, back to sorting through 2,400 pictures and enjoying every minute of it.

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Day 32 – Heading Home – Milan to Zurich to NYC to Buffalo

Home Sweet Home”

“The Thrill of Coming Home has Never Changed”

Traveling is so much better when you know you have a wonderful home to go back to”

Who writes that nonsense? Yes, we are back home safe and sound. It was a long day, just a little bit stressful, but ultimately everything worked out fine.

We started out with a quick shuttle ride from the hotel to Malpensa airport. Check-in was easy and since we had some time, we were able to enjoy the Lufthansa Lounge for an hour. It was much more comfortable than sitting at the gate. Sue was able to have a nice cup of tea and some yogurt, while I munched on a few cookies.

My phone popped up a text – Flight delayed by 15 minutes. Ruh-roh!

We only have 55 minutes between connections, so that’s not what I wanted to see. Once up in the air, the head steward said they’ll pass along connection info before we land. They usually stop boarding about 20 minutes prior to take-off, so I was getting a little worried. Maybe we’ll be at the next gate.

Our plane will be landing at gate A66, our connection is at E19. They tell us there is a tram we take to get to the gate, that should help. There is the tram, we’re off and making good time. Passport Control – what ?!?

We practically sprint through the line and they stamp us out quickly. Whew! E19… of course it’s one of the last gates. We see another line ahead, but there’s a business class aisle that’s short. As we go through, Sue gets pulled over for a random security check. Five minutes feels like an hour, but out she comes. We run down to the gate and they are waiting for us. Swiss Air held up the flight because there were a few others that must have been on our flight.

We get on and we get into our seats for the flight to JFK. The Swiss Air business class is nice. The seats are comfortable and they fold down flat for sleeping. The food was really good and the portions were plentiful. The flights attendants were all very professional, but also very friendly. We would definitely fly with them again.

The flight to JFK is uneventful and the pilot was able to make up the delayed time and then some, as we arrived about fifteen minutes early. We make the trek to Passsport and Customs and whip out our Global Entry cards. It only takes us about five minutes to get through passport control. Global entry is money well spent.

Next stop is baggage claim, once we’re through here we’re good…

One hour later, we’re still in baggage claim. Good old JFK. Seems that our flight’s baggage is on the same carousel as the bags from an Emirates A380 flight. Think BIG plane with lots of people and lots of bags.

Once we finally got our bags, we had to scramble to get to the Air Train to get to Terminal 5. Once there, we check our bags, head through security and find our gate – all is calm again!

The good news is our flight is on-time, again uneventful and soon we landed in sunny Buffalo.

It only took about five minutes before we slid into a taxi for the ride home. Twenty minutes later – Home Sweet Home!

Auf Wiedersehen! Au Revoir! Arrivederci! Goodbye!

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Thanks for following along. It was fun sharing our journey and pictures with you.

I’m going to post one more entry once we get settled in to provide some tips for others who may be venturing to Switzerland.

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Day 31 – Milan to the suburbs

Our semi-whirlwind stay in Milan ended with one last visit to the Milano Centrale train station. Upon checking out of the hotel, they arranged a taxi for us and off we went. We decided to stay close to the airport for the night to make tomorrow’s travel a little easier. Our destination of choice is the town of Casorate Sempione.

Casorate Sempione is a small town just a stone’s throw away from Malpensa airport. It may be a small town, but it was cute, had a nice hotel with an awesome restaurant and very friendly people.

Anyways, our train was a regional one with many stops along the way. The good news was the regional trains come into the Milan station on tracks off to the side, so it was much less congested and frantic. In fact, between trains, it was downright quiet.

Quiet station in between regional trains arriving.

When the train arrived, we waited for most of the people to board before we hopped on. Our first stop is just 10 minutes away in Rho-Fiere, so we opted to stand with our luggage.

Our second train from Rho-Fiere to Casorate Sempione arrived right on time and we had about a 30 minute ride from there. When we arrived, a call to the hotel had the hotel shuttle on the way to pick us up. While we were looking for the phone number, a very nice young woman asked if she could help us with anything before her ride arrived. We didn’t need her help, but we thanked her for the offer.

The shuttle arrived at the hotel and we were thankful that we hadn’t walked. While it was only a few minutes, walking on the road dragging a suitcase was not included in our last day’s itinerary.

The hotel is called Osteria Della Pista and it has been around since 1875. They’ve modernized it, so we were quite happy. It is family owned and was just what we were looking for.

When we checked-in, we made reservations for dinner in the evening and for the airport shuttle in the morning.

Our room was not as big as some of the others along the way, but it was clean, comfortable, had a nice shower and air conditioning. On top of that, there was a nice bar and a wonderful restaurant.

After cleaning up and changing clothes we headed down to dinner. On this Friday evening, it seemed like everyone in town was joining us. It was great to see couples and families filling the restaurant along with some obvious hotel guests. We enjoyed being seated right among the village folks, not put off to the side in the guest corner.

As for our dinner, what a nice way to finish off our holiday.

We started with our ever present glass of prosecco, made even better by the accompaniment of homemade potato chips. Honestly, I would have been happy with the remainder of the prosecco bottle and additional baskets of chips. But then I would have missed out on the rest.

We started with a small appetizer pizza with prosciutto, mushrooms and artichokes, then moved on to our entrees. Sue had tagliatelle with truffles and I had fusiolini with shrimp in a spicy arrabbiata sauce.

Everything was delicious and went well with a nice bottle of Dolcetto D’Alba.

Then came dessert, Sue had the tiramisu, while I chose a chocolate torte that was decadently good.

Needless to say, we really enjoyed the evening and the meal. We also loved all the ‘Buono Seras’ throughout the evening as people came and went.

It was easy to see why so many people had recommended the restaurant to me. The food was delicious, the price was more than reasonable and the atmosphere was outstanding.

We turned in early as we have an 8:00 am shuttle to catch in the morning.

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For those who have been following along, you’ve seen the word ‘delicious’ used quite frequently. It’s not because I left my thesaurus at home, it’s because…well… everything was delicious !

All along our travels, whether the meals were gourmet or more rustic, they were prepared using fresh regional products, homemade ingredients and were prepared exactly how we ordered or as they were described on the menu.

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Day 30 – Milan – DaVinci’s The Last Supper – Il Cenacola

We had to get up early today to get to the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. That’s where we picked up our tickets to view Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper or Il Cenacola. We had reservations for the 8:45 am viewing, but needed to be there by 8:20 am.

There were many people waiting for their entrance time or in line to buy tickets when we arrived at the piazza. Since we had purchased our reservation online, we were ushered right up to the counter to exchange the voucher for our tickets.

Queuing to see the Last Supper

There was one enterprising gentleman there selling many different souvenirs. You could buy items such as DaVinci T-Shirts, photos of the painting, charts with all the apostles named so you’d know who you were looking at, key chains and even umbrellas in case it started to rain while you were waiting. The only thing missing was the menu from the actual dinner!

The painting is not in a gallery or hanging in a church. The painting is a mural that was painted on a wall in the refectory of a convent. At one point the room was used as a dining hall for the monks after they took over the convent.

Santa Maria delle Grazie with convent to the left

It is thought that DaVinci painted it between 1495 and 1498. The method he used along with environmental factors like humidity and intentional damage through the years has left very little of the original painting. What you see is the result of many attempted restorations. That said, it’s still powerful.

When our time arrived, we entered the first of three rooms used to reduce the humidity before you are allowed into the refectory. After two or three minutes you move on to room two; then two or three minutes later it’s on to room three. We are now de-humidified and ready to go.

When the doors open, we had fifteen minutes to view the artwork. We were lucky enough to see it once before, but it didn’t takeaway from seeing it again.

The Last Supper – Il Cenacola – L’Ultima Cena

As most know, I am not a devotee of the arts. That said, this is another of the paintings that we have seen that I find mesmerizing. I’m not sure why, but there is something that just leaves me feeling inspired.

This time, they even allowed photos to be taken. I think with everyone having phones with cameras, they just gave up trying to monitor people, not to mention that there are already so many pictures of it available.

On the opposite wall of the refectory is a painting called ‘The Crucifixion’, which was painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano. It is another beautiful mural, but usually just glanced at by the people who come to see the Last Supper. However, you will be able to win trivia contest prizes with the info I provided.

The Crucifixion

When your time is up, you leave through one door, while the next group completes their dehumidifying process before entering. The passage out takes you through the cloister and along a garden path with a small exhibit related to the painting.

Since we were feeling spiritual, we walked over to the nearby Church of San Maurizio to see some additional artwork by Bernardino Luini, the artist whose work we had seen in Lugano.

Why are we bringing two mosquitoes?
Boat’s parked, let’s drink

Our next stop was at Milan’s Duomo. It is such a beautiful building and is a must- see when visiting Milan; however, the number of scammers and hucksters working the crowds is truly upsetting. It lost its reverence and its appeal from my standpoint. They really need to rethink how these people are allowed to ruin the experience before the tourism dollars dry up. Personally, I’m not sure I would go back.

We walked over to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and did a little window shopping. All the ritzy brands are represented and the fashions are interesting – some more than others.

Versace and Prada, but no Walmart

Making our way through the galleria, we found the restaurant we were hoping to go to in the evening. We were able to make a reservation and then off we went – it was time to get something to eat since we had missed breakfast. We found a small place that was more of a juice bar, but Sue grabbed a quick yogurt. While she was eating that, we noticed a place right nearby that had fresh made panini sandwiches waiting for the lunch crowds.

We made sure they were serving, grabbed a table and enjoyed our paninis. A glass of prosecco helped keep us hydrated and the best part, besides the delicious sandwiches, was that they were 5.50 Euros Now that was a bargain !

As we were finishing, the lunch crowds started to arrive, so our timing was perfect. After a quick stop at the Church of San Tommaso, we found the back way to our hotel, so we didn’t have to deal with the crowds and noise. I think the problem was we had just come from the relative peace and tranquillity of Switzerland and were now in the middle of a big, bustling city – I’m not just grouchy!

We decided to relax for a while, since we woke up so early. We both ended up dozing off – I guess we were tired.

We showered and dressed and then headed off to dinner. We took the route we had discovered earlier and arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early. For whatever reason, we were given a primo table in the center of the restaurant and loved it. Our waiter started out a little stiff, but soon we had him laughing along with us. According to him, Sue is lucky to find one like me.

La Locanda del Gatto Rosso

We enjoyed our meals and a bottle of Brunello. The food was delicious and the meat was so tender you barely needed a knife. It was a great way to finish up in Milan. We left on a high note!

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Day 29 – Off to Milan – Italy here we come!

Lugano has been delightful, but now it’s time to move on again. We took our time getting ready and packing this morning; there’s no rush since we don’t have to checkout until 11:00 and our train doesn’t leave until 1:00 pm.

When we did leave, the hotel arranged for our ride to the train station. Our driver was a petite, bubbly woman with a shiny new Mercedes. She was very nice and got us there without the usual Indy Car near-misses along the way. Ten minutes and $20 later, we arrived at the train station.

We had a few Swiss Francs left over, so we decided to grab a beverage and a sandwich while we were waiting.  I also spotted a Laderach chocolate shop.  The sandwiches took the edge off being a little hungry and soon our train arrived.

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Yes.. We stopped at the chocolate shop. No sense wasting $ CHF.

Our train today will take a route along Lake Lugano, then cut over to the Lake Como area before heading south to Milan. The scenery was beautiful along the way, especially along the lake. At the midway point between Lake Lugano and Lake Como is the border town of Chiasso.

When our train stopped in Chiasso, border control agents boarded the train. We had our passports out and ready, but they never checked us. They seemed to have specific passengers identified and checked their passports, went through their belongings and asked a few questions, before leaving the train. Oh, and they all were wearing side arms and bullet proof vests.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we eventually made our way to the Milan Central station. The station was a beehive of activity, with people everywhere – some waiting to find their train platform and seemingly just as many people just hanging around. Quite a difference from the Zurich station, which was very organized and not so hectic, even though it sees many more trains and passengers on a daily basis.

We made our way out and grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel. We’re staying at the Antica Locanda Dei Mercanti. It’s a smaller hotel located between the Castello and the Duomo on a little side street. The owners were very friendly and welcomed us heartily when we arrived.

Our room was quite large, with high ceilings, another comfy bed, a nice couch and a great shower. The windows were large and could be opened; however the day’s heat kept us using the air conditioning.

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We were both feeling lazy and didn’t want to get all cleaned up for dinner, so we went to a “fast food” pasta place called ‘Al Dente’. We had a simple, but delicious, meal of fresh pasta and homemade ravioli. Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and ordered a bottle of wine for the room and just relaxed.

We had our chocolate that we bought in Lugano and they brought us some chips to go along with the wine, so we had a hotel picnic.

We need to get up early tomorrow, so it was an early night once again. So far I think we’ve stayed up past midnight just two or three times.

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Day 28 – Lugano – Oggi non abbiamo fatto niente

Today we did nothing – and enjoyed it immensely. After traveling around and seeing so many incredible sights, we decided that today we would just soak up the beauty of Lugano.

After breakfast, we checked out the lounge / bar area and then the small historical exhibit that they had in the hotel.

Our hotel is really nice and has been in the Schmid family for over 100 years. They have done a great job of maintaining the luster throughout that time. I had photos of our room and the breakfast room, so here are a few of the lounge.

The exhibit was of various documents and objects from the hotel’s history. Funny to see historical items that I remember as a kid. I must be old!

A little later in the afternoon, we took a walk along the lake and happened to find a Gelateria – lucky us! Two scoops of pistachio for Sue and one scoop of chocolate and one scoop of banana for me were perfect to mute the heat a bit.

Death defying – chocolate with a white shirt

Once we finished, we found a park bench and did some lake and people watching.

Junior sail club?

My new friend – bob!

Here come the clouds

It started to cloud up a bit and there were a few raindrops from a passing clouds, but the predicted storms never arrived. We have been so lucky with the weather over the course of the trip.

Later, we cleaned up for dinner and went back to the restaurant from the first night – Ristorante Galleria. I have to do just a little bit of bragging. From the time we arrived until we were leaving, ninety-five percent of the conversation was in Italian. Our waiters were extremely patient, extremely helpful and very respectful besides being great waiters. I tip my hat to them- they made us feel like we were regulars.

Spinach gnocchi

Branzino with roasted vegetables

We took a slow stroll back to the hotel enjoying the evening air on our last night in Lugano.

We checked with the front desk at the hotel about getting a cab in the morning before we retired for the evening.

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Day 27 – Lugano – Life around the piazzas

Woke up to bright sunshine streaming into the room; looks like another beautiful day ahead. Cleaned up and went down for breakfast in a room that looks like it would have previously been a restaurant or ballroom.

Many choices to select from on the buffet, including breads, pastries, meats, cheeses, cereals, yogurts, eggs, juices and much more. I have to say, they are not chintzy.

We enjoyed our breakfasts and then ran back up to the room to grab our camera and splash on some sunscreen. The maid had already made up our room, so we didn’t have to hurry and ended up checking emails and restaurants before heading out.

When we did go out, we walked right next door from our hotel to the church. Not just any church mind you – Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli (Church of St. Mary of the Angels) dates back to 1499 when it was part of the lakefront monastery.

Inside are Lugano’s best frescoes, including ‘The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ’ by Bernardino Luini, who was a disciple of Leonardo DaVinci. It is the finest Renaissance fresco in Switzerland – taking up most of the wall between the nave and the altar and stunningly depicting Biblical stories with over 150 faces and figures. Luini spent ten years working on this, applying paint over thin layers of wet plaster.

The other fresco, also painted by Luini, is his version of ‘The Last Supper’. It was originally painted on a wall of the monks’ dining hall and was then removed and put on canvas to be displayed here.

The frescoes are an interesting lead-in to seeing DaVinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ when we get to Milan. It will be fun to compare and contrast the two artworks.

After leaving the church, we took a walk along the Main Street by the lake. Lugano has such a laid back, chill attitude that we walked along without a thought of anything but the serenity of the lake.

It was warm and getting warmer as we walked, so we found a nice shady spot in a piazza and ordered a bottle of Rosé and a bottle of water. It was so nice to just watch the activity on the lake as well as to do some people-watching while relaxing.

Someone had mentioned about how clean things were and here is part of the reason. Messy tourists and falling leaves ? No problem !

We decided while sitting there to just do a light, early dinner at one of the restaurants in the Piazza della Reforma. We walked over and found a place that looked good – Ristorante Pizzeria Federale.

Some bruschetta, a Caprese salad and a Quattro Stagioni pizza made for a great meal. A bottle of Chianti and two tiramisu rounded out the meal. Our waiter was terrific. We ordered in Italian, got exactly what we thought we ordered and enjoyed a bit of banter with our waiter. In my book, that’s a perfect evening.

We walked back to the hotel, cleaned up a bit and then enjoyed a relaxing evening talking about the highlights of the trip while enjoying the Swiss Jazz radio station.

Hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day in Switzerland before heading to Milan.

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Day 26 – Bernina Express to Lugano

Today we left the mountains of St. Moritz and journeyed to beautiful Lugano. To make the trip, we chose to go by the Bernina Express; it’s another of the wonderful panoramic trains offered by the Swiss.

After checking out, we used the hotel shuttle to go to the train station. The skies were looking a tad ominous and it was chilly. When we arrived the train was already in the station being readied for the trip. We waited on the platform for a few minutes chatting with a German couple who were taking the train to Tirano and then returning to St. Moritz.

Once they gave the signal, we boarded the train to get out of the chill. We still had about twenty minutes before we left and carriage slowly filled with people and luggage. We had the right side with the two window seats, so the views should be nice.

Right on time the train left the station and we were off.

The train takes about two and a half hours and you don’t want to look away from the window for a minute or you’ll miss the stunning scenery. Ok, that was a little exaggerated – you don’t see much when going through some of the tunnels.

However, even the tunnels are incredible when you realize what it must have been like tunneling through the mountains at that altitude and along the cliffs. Heck, I can’t even walk on the curb without stumbling.

The train travels up from St. Moritz to Ospizio Bernina at 2253 meters and then makes its way down to Tirano at 429 meters. You travel through the towering mountain glaciers, pass by mountain lakes, cut through valleys and end up among palm trees in Tirano.

So here are a few highlights and then I’ll post some pictures. Again, most of the pictures are through the train windows, so pardon the reflections.

  • As the train travels up to Ospizio Bernina and you can see the way the glaciers have flowed over the ages.
  • The lakes high in the mountains with their clean, clear water.
  • Gazing down into the valleys from high above.
  • The buildings high up in the mountains with no visible means to get up there.
  • The monkeys racing along the train. (just kidding – I wanted to see if you were just skimming or really reading this)
  • The high stone bridges.
  • The spiral aqueduct in Brusio.
  • The train traveling down the middle of the street like a tram in Le Preso.

Ok, and now pictures.

The end point of the journey is Tirano, Italy. It looked very pleasant, but for us it is just a change point. The second part for us will be on the Bernina Express Bus.

The bus will take us from Tirano, Italy to Lugano, Switzerland in about 3 hours with, no worries, a stop for the toilets and coffee along the way.

The bus route winds through many small towns along narrow twisting roads and along Lake Como and then Lake Lugano. We ran into patches of rain along the way, but not enough to distract from the scenery. We sat in the first row and were able to experience the drive without actually having to take the wheel.

Kudos to our driver for safely maneuvering the roads and hairpin turns while having to watch out for some of the idiot drivers and motorcyclists. I would have ended up with laryngitis from yelling, while he just calmly took it in stride.

Here are a few pics through the front window along the way.

When we arrived in Lugano, it was warm and sunny. We grabbed a taxi to get to our hotel and ten minutes later, we were there.

We are staying at the Hotel International Au Lac, located right on the waterfront. It’s a beautiful old hotel, close to shops and restaurants and especially close to the lake.

Our room is on the fourth floor and is very nice. It is a decent size, has a nice comfortable bed, two chairs, a desk and two windows that open onto matching balconies. Oh, and with an awesome view of the lake.

We were really pleased with the room and could have just gazed at the lake all evening. However, we were both hungry.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant called ‘Ristorante Galleria’. Nice place, but we had a little trouble finding it as one of the piazzas was under some construction. A little help from google maps got us there on time though.

We had a nice table inside, which happened to have a/c, as it was still warm and humid outside. As others filtered in, we laughingly said we were in the English room. The only difference was we were able to order in Italian and say a few other things unlike our roommates.

Our favorite comment of the trip came from a couple sitting at the next table, who live in North Carolina. After we ordered and made very small talk with the waiter, they asked where we were from and if we live here now. I guess our Italian is getting better.

Dinner was a caprese salad for both of us, then Sue had penne pasta with salmon and prawns, while I had linguine with chunks of lobster – all paired with a bottle of Arneis from the Roero region of Piedmont. Dessert was tiramisu for Sue and a glass of limoncello, while I had a Creme Caramel and a glass of Vin Santo.

The evening was beautiful and the sun was setting over the lake, so we took a pleasant stroll and then found a bench to just watch the water.

We headed back to the hotel to relax after a long, but excellent day.

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