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Capri, Tuscany, Venice and Family in Caserta

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
By Lorac from Hartsdale, New York, Spring 2004
Capri, Tuscany, Venice and Family in Caserta

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Introduction

My husband, Ralph, and I were last in Italy in March 2001. That amazing trip included meeting Ralph’s family in Caserta, most for the first time. They treated us royally and were our tour guides to the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Palazzo Reale, Rome and Ralph’s parent’s towns of Sassinoro in Benevento and Santa Maria a Vico in Caserta. That trip also included Pompeii, Florence, San Gimingnano and Siena.

However, that quick trip to Tuscany and not having time for Venice left us yearning to return. So our “Next Trip List” began to immediately take shape and turned into our Spring 2004 trip to Italy.

Before we forget, a great big thank you to all you Slow Travelers who offered us your wisdom and advice on everything from "where to eat lunch on the road" to "which hotel should we choose in Venice" to "do we drive or train."

Every piece of advice was read and pondered and played a big part in many of our decisions. I cut and pasted every morsel of sage advice, and those notes traveled with us to every town in Italy.

Mille Grazie,

Carol and Ralph
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Days 1 and 2: New York to Naples, Caserta and Salerno
March 24-25, 2004


We left New York from JFK for a direct flight to Venice, and arrived in Venice around 10:20 A.M. We quickly went through customs and found the gate for our connection that arrived in Naples at 13:10.

Ralph’s cousin Anna and her father, Peppino, met us at the Naples airport. Thanks to great advice from experienced travelers, both of our smaller suitcases fit perfectly in the trunk this time! Anna’s mother, Melina, my husband’s first cousin, was at home preparing lunch. We went directly their home in Maddaloni, Caserta. It was wonderful to be back and to see the family again—and all those brightly colored fruit trees and mozzarella di bufala shops everywhere!

Their home is on a modest street in Maddaloni that is entered though huge medieval wooden gates. Beyond the gates is a flower-filled courtyard surrounded by lemon and orange trees that opens to a huge blue-tiled pool surrounded by palm trees and birds of paradise. The house itself is your average, every day Italian home, with a two-story marble staircase that leads to a maze of silk-walled rooms filled with antique Oriental rugs, five-foot urns, Murano chandeliers hanging from fifteen-foot ceilings, in rooms filled with antique furniture that has been passed down through the generations. Truly amazing!

Melina is the matriarch of the Caserta branch of the family tree. She prepared a wonderful meal for our arrival—a delicious risotto with Roman artichokes, a tender roast beef and a huge bowl of mozzarella di bufala…everything was delicious. The homemade wine was outstanding. We chatted, reminisced, translated Italian to English, English to Italian, relaxed for a few minutes, and before long, we were off to Santa Maria a Vico, Ralph’s father’s town.

Zia Maria is the last of all the aunts and uncles in Italy. Zia Maria is a very cute 92 year old who still lives in the house where she was born and raised…earthquake cracks in the wall and all. Most of her family left for America, but she stayed in Italy and misses everyone dearly. She clings to the past through her beloved photos and letters from her family and loves visits from her American family. She had wine, soda and a tray of special biscotti waiting for us and cried as soon as we walked in. It was all very touching.

Ralph brought an old skeleton key that belonged to his father because he wanted to find out just what that key opened. They tried the doors in the house, but nothing matched. Then his aunt suggested the back gate. Sure enough, the key opened that gate. The last time the key was in that lock was 1926. We assumed that he hoped to return home one day, but never did.

Just down the street from Zia Maria’s house is the church where her family worshiped and where my father-in-law, as a boy, would ring the church bells. So we took a walk down to the church where Anna had arranged for an old-timer to give us a tour of Chiesa SS Maria Assunta. Since it was Lent and services were taking place, we quietly viewed the interior of the church.

Afterwards, the old fellow took us behind the altar where my husband could see the steps leading up to the bell tower, but the gates were locked because the bells were now automated. There also was an interior courtyard, convent and gardens which at one time were lovely, but now were unkempt and just an illusion of former beauty. All the information we have on this church is in Italian so I don’t have much information except that it is gothic in style and was built in 1492 under the order of King Ferdinand of Aragon.

We returned to say goodbye to Zia Maria which was so sad because she was in failing health. We then drove to another family of cousins living in Santa Maria a Vico. This was a quick visit since the older cousins were recuperating from the flu and one of the grandbabies was sick. Their children and grandchildren all came by to welcome us. We chatted and exchanged presents — the little girls gave us a card with photos and a drawing of Italian and American flags…just adorable and so thoughtful.

At this point though, we were awake approximately 36 hours and were fading fast. We said our goodbyes and were off to Salerno, our home for the next few days. We arrived in Salerno around midnight, greeted by Anna’s husband, Gabriele, and promptly collapsed into bed exhausted.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 3: Salerno, Celzi di Forino, Avellino, Paestum, Vannulo's, Vietri Sul Mare
March 26, 2004


Anna and Gabriele live in his family’s home which is in the center of Salerno. It is very comfortable and quite beautiful. Since they are married just a few years, everything is sparkling and new. They have electric window shades that serve as both shutters and blinds. We saw these shades everywhere we traveled in southern Italy. We had a comfortable bedroom and a huge bathroom. Of course, there was no shower curtain, so we tried our best to keep the flooding to a minimum. All I can say is thank goodness for towel warmers — all the towels were dried up in no time after we deluge the place with our showers.

Our typical breakfasts at home were caffe latte, homemade preserves, honey and assorted biscotti. All the preserves came from fruit trees on the family’s property in Caserta. Our hosts also had large soup-type bowls called “clotola” which they filled with hot milk used for dunking their breads and biscotti. On our last trip to Italy, we were always disappointed with the tiny cups of Italian coffee. So now we found the perfect alternative to our American coffee. We used their large bowls and poured the black coffee into the hot milk and had great coffee in the morning. We actually did this for the rest of our trip.

The forecast was rain, but it rained for only ten minutes and the rest of the day was cloudy. Our plan for the morning was to visit the town of Celzi di Forino which is where my paternal grandmother and grandfather were born. The ride was just about 30 minutes from Salerno, and we found it easily thanks to Gabriele’s navigation system. The countryside was just beautiful, with valleys sitting peacefully amidst small mountains…the area actually reminded me of the Alps, only much smaller and much greener.

Celzi is a tiny town in the mountains of Avellino. Very neat and tidy with just 500 or 600 residents. Our first stop was the church where we planned to try to find information on my father’s family, but the church was closed. An elderly man asked what we were looking for, and Anna told him my grandfather’s name and asked if he remembered anyone in the town with that name. He didn’t but the name was familiar to him. He suggested Town Hall might have some answers. Ralph videotaped the main street and church for my family back home arousing the suspicions of the café’s patrons. They came running over to him demanding to know why he was taking photos. Gabriele explained the situation and they calmly retreated. Can’t imagine why such a fuss over some video.

We then went to the Town Hall just around the corner, and we became the day’s curiosity. Everyone within earshot came over to try to help us. I asked if there was a computer system where we might access our family records but unfortunately for us, and this being Italy, the computer person was on strike that day!

By now, the carabenieri were even interested in us and stopped by to help. One of the men thought he knew of two people in the town with our surnames who might be cousins. The proud policeman escorted us to their homes. As it turned out, both ladies may have been distant cousins but neither could remember anyone in the family going to America. This being 2004 and my grandfather emigrating in 1908, we were not surprised.

Our last stop was at the town’s cemetery. I knew that my great-grandmother had died in 1940 and thought that we would be able to find her grave, but we could not find any family graves. We may not have found all that we were looking for, but I was happy to have seen the town where my grandparents lived, married and began their family. We took a few more photos and were on our way.

The drive to Paestum was along the coast and quite beautiful — mountains to our left and the sea to our right. This sleepy countryside is dotted with tiny towns lined with palm trees. Being March, all the resorts and hotels were closed, but it is easy to imagine how lovely this seaside community is in season when the area is in full swing.

We arrived in Paestum too hungry for sightseeing, so we stopped for lunch at Restaurant Nettuno on Via Princicpe di Piemonte on the grounds of the historical site of Paestum. It is a grand old building that was converted into a lovely restaurant. The atmosphere is quiet elegance.

For antipasti, I had bucconcini di bufala sul letto di rucola e radicchio, and Ralph had antipasto misto di mare al profumo di limone. Both were prepared with the freshest ingredients and were delicious. For secondi, I had Linguine Degla Dei which was linguine tossed in olive oil, green olives and pachino, which translates to “stale” tomatoes. They tasted somewhere between fresh and sun-dried tomatoes. We also had risotto a la pescatore (shrimp, claims, mussels) that was light and delicate. The Cilento Bianco was a perfect local wine accompaniment. The surroundings were gorgeous, the service was excellent and the food was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed Ristorante Nettuno.

Paestum is quite stately and amazingly preserved with the fortification walls still intact. Hard to believe this city was built in 600 B.C. The three grandiose temples dominate the landscape. It would have been nice to have a guide, but none were to be found. We did learn that 20th century archaeologists discovered that the temples were erroneously named. The “Basilica” and “Temple of Neptune” were actually dedicated to Hera, and the Temple of Ceres was dedicated to Athena.

On our drive back to Salerno, we stopped at Vannulo’s for some mozzarella di bufala for dinner and also had gelato made with bufala milk. Not surprising, it was delicious. The bufala were cute too! They aren’t American Bison but they are definitely bufalas.

Before heading home, we wanted to do some ceramic shopping in Vietri Sul Mare. We hit every shop in Vietri but — I still can’t believe this — we did not buy one piece. I just couldn’t find the right cups, but we had fun looking and wandering. As night fell, the town took on a different feel--the kiddies were out playing ball in the small streets, riding bicycles and the locals were out shopping for their daily goods.

We returned to Salerno for a relaxing dinner at home. Dinner was Pizza Margharita and a nice antipasto—I really enjoyed the anchovies in olive oil, red pepper and garlic. Gabriele’s brother and sister-in-law, who live upstairs, and their baby Francesco also joined us for dinner. They were all so nice and the baby was adorable and so well-behaved. I thought it interesting that the baby eats nothing but mother’s milk and won’t have “adult” food until he reaches his first birthday.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 4: Capri and Naples
March 27, 2004


Today we headed to Capri with Anna and Gabriele as our guides. The day was glorious, and unexpectedly sunny. We drove to Napoli for the hydrofoil to Capri. Upon arrival at the Marina Grande, we learned that the tides were too high and no boats were going into the Blue Grotto. We were a bit disappointed, but c’est la vie. The funicular was under repair, so we took a bus up to Capri.

The beauty of Capri just surrounds you...the breathtaking cliffs, the brilliant azure sky, the turquoise and sapphire sea shining in an amazing bright sunlight, the varied and lush foliage and, of course, the fashionable shops, cafes and quaint piazetta. We were also duly impressed by the Grand Hotel Quisisana — quite a hotel.

We wandered through the town’s narrow streets and browsed in some of the trendy boutiques and headed away from the town towards Via Tragara. Via Tragara is the most glorious walkway lined with extraordinary villas and garden terraces with views of Capri’s dramatic cliffs...the scent of lemon trees everywhere. We found ourselves at the lovely Gardens of Augustus where the gardeners were busily planting for the new season. Apparently, these gardens were owned by the wealthy Krupp family and were donated to the town for use as a public garden. The vistas from the garden were fabulous. After many photos, we were on our way back to Via Tragara.

We then headed towards the Certosa di San Giacomo which is a Cathusian monastery. Unfortunately, it was lunch time, and they were closing down so we never went into the gardens or the church, though the grounds were very impressive. But we did stop in their shop along the Tragara that had the most wonderful perfumes and lemon soaps.

Our hunger alarm went off, so we walked over to a restaurant that was at the top of a very steep flight of steps. It took us a while to get to the top, stopping to rest on the way up. We sat on an enclosed veranda with a lovely sea breeze and had a very nice seafood lunch and local wine, Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei. I forgot to take a card, so I don’t have the name of the restaurant.

After lunch, we headed back to Via Tragara walking towards the Faraglioni. Of course, more stunning views along the way. The Faraglioni are rock formations sitting proudly in the sea. Who knew that rocks had names, but these do. The one closest to the shore is Stella and the other is Scopolo. Between these two larger rocks is another formation called Faraglione di mezzo. Apparently, the Faraglioni are also home to a blue lizard, but from where we were standing, we didn’t notice any. A truly stunning sight.

Our next stop was the Natural Arch. The road sloped downward until we could see the Natural Arch in the distance. Below us was a winding path that led to the arch. Ralph and Gabriele headed down the path, but Anna and I stayed at the crook in the road with a beautiful view...I just knew that I could not walk that far down and make it back up...I was just exhausted from all the ups and downs. At this point, I was content to view the close-ups in my camera’s lens.

We headed back to the town of Capri and ended the day in the Piazza Umberto I at the Grand Café for coffee and dessert. Surprisingly, they offered a flourless cake “Caprese” which Ralph enjoyed and my pastierra was excellent. It was a joy to sit in the piazzetta watching the beautiful people, sipping our café and soaking up the afternoon sun to the chimes of the campanile.

When we arrived in Naples, Gabriele gave us a night-time tour. Naples is a busy, bustling city, and it was really very pretty at night. The drive took us along the Bay of Naples past the 13th century Castel Nuovo and the 12th century Norman Castel dell'Ovo in the Harbor Santa Lucia, and high up in the distance was the Castel Sant’ Elmo. We also passed the Villa Communal with ancient trees, statuary, fountains and what is supposed to be the oldest aquarium in Europe. We had to make just one more stop at E. Marinella. This shop is apparently world famous and is so tiny but has the most exquisite silk ties.

Even though it was late when we returned to Salerno, Anna had the energy to put together what she called a typical quick Italian dinner for us. She sliced mozzarella, put it between two slices of thick Italian bread and then dipped the entire sandwich into an egg batter. The sandwich was then sautéed in olive oil for a few minutes. Another side dish was slices of mozzarella sautéed quickly in olive oil and chopped tomatoes. Both dishes were absolutely delicious and hit the spot.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 5: Salerno, Herculaneum and Caserta
March 28, 2004


We began our last day in Salerno with another typical Italian breakfast of caffe latte, hard casa bread, marmalades and biscotti but today there was a treat for Ralph -- Castagnaccio. This is a delicious cake make with chestnut flour, chocolate and almonds from Gabriele’s home town of Roccadaspide.

We packed up our suitcases because we would spend our last night in Maddaloni. Before we left, Gabriele showed us his photos from their visit to the United States last year. After visiting the West Coast, New Orleans and New York, they seemed to best enjoy spending time with their American cousins. And we really enjoyed hosting them in New York and showing them upstate New York and Manhattan.

The day was sunny and beautiful and we had a busy day planned. We first stopped along a hillside to admire the views above the Gulf of Salerno and take some photos. We then proceeded into the old town of Salerno. Our first stop was the 11th century Romanesque Duomo di San Matteo.

This cathedral sits atop a steep flight of steps in the town's main piazza. This church was originally founded in 845 and then rebuilt in the 11th century and dedicated to St. Matthew, the Apostle. We ascended the stairs to a beautiful Arabic style courtyard, surrounded by ancient pillars of granite “taken” from Paestum and with ancient sarcophagi and palm trees lining the courtyard. We entered the church through magnificent bronze Byzantine doors from Constantinople. Apparently, the columns inside the church were also taken from Paestum.

We were astounded as the works of art once inside the church - two magnificent mosaic pulpits, a mosaic floor dating from the 11th century, and the tombs of Pope Gregory VII and Queen Margaret of Durazzo. Below the main alter is the magnificently decorated baroque crypt containing the relics of St. Matthew.

Old Salerno is quite pleasant, sitting on what else...the Gulf of Salerno. The city was hosting an arts festival so we stopped at the arts and crafts area before a quick auto tour around town. Afterwards, we stopped at Nettuno Gelato across from the park. Our cousins assured us that this was the best gelato in the area. We thoroughly enjoyed our Kinderone (vanilla/chocolate/marshmallow) and Mandarola (cherry) gelato.

Our next stop was Herculaneum (Ercolano). Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompeii, and sits on the Bay of Naples. As you enter the site from above, there is a terrific overview of the city. The city is laid out in a very neat and orderly fashion, with shops, houses, baths, etc. We were very impressed at how well-preserved the buildings were. Apparently, Herculaneum was protected by the layers of volcanic ash when Vesuvius erupted.

You can really envision the town in its heyday… overlooking the Bay of Naples with its taverns, shops, public baths, wood-beamed porches, verandas and, of course, the local bordello. Similar to Pompeii, the homes had atriums with an opening in the center to catch rainwater, gardens with decorative statuary and many frescos still decorating the surviving walls. It is amazing to see buildings with their original roofs and original tiles.

We left Herculaneum late afternoon for Maddaloni for a last dinner with the family, which by the way, was delicious. We had pasta shells stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella and sausage, an eggplant parmigiana and fresh mozzarella di bufala, our favorite. We chatted, reminisced and relaxed in this beautiful home. By now, it was time to bid arriverdici to Anna and Gabrielle. It was late and they were exhausted from playing tour guide for the last few days. They were so sweet and we truly enjoyed spending these days with them. With any luck, they will come to stay with us when they return to New York on their next visit. We felt like we were saying goodbye to our own children.

After they left, Melina noticed that Ralph still had a lingering cold which he probably caught on the airplane. So, naturally, she made an old family remedy for him: sliced apple, sugar, cinnamon stick and red wine (white is okay too), all boiled until the apples are soft and wine is reduced. He thought it was delicious, loved the mothering and drank it all down—with a smile. He slept like a baby...
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 6: Caserta, Drive to Orvieto and Montalcino
March 29, 2004


Guess the recipe worked - Ralph’s cold was much better the next day! We were up early, had a relaxing breakfast, tearfully said our goodbyes and were off, but with mixed emotions. It is always difficult for us to say goodbye when we aren’t certain when we will see our extended family again. The family treated us royally, and we will always be grateful to them for opening up their home and honoring all our requests and for, well, just being family.

Peppino is a very low-key person and very generous by nature. He was kind enough to lead the way to the Caserta railroad station for us to pick up our auto rental from Auto Europe, and then led us directly to the autostrada, saving us so much time. By 10:00 A.M., we were on our way to Tuscany, but not before a few photos from the road of Montecassino.

Next stop was the AutoGrille north of Rome. For a roadside restaurant, this is an amazing place. We had an antipasto of prosciutto and cheeses, a freshly made risotto with porcini mushrooms and sausage and a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, all with silverware and wine glasses! We could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

Since we were making such great time, we decided on a detour to Orvieto. What a great decision. We drove right up to the center of town and parked in a lot that is a stone’s throw off the main piazza. We strolled around this picture-perfect medieval town with narrow streets, typical shops and a lovely, welcoming piazza taking photos and enjoying the afternoon sun. Dominating the piazza is the impressive Duomo di Orvieto. Its gothic façade is a masterpiece of mosaics and bas-reliefs. We wandered into the Duomo not knowing what to expect when we came upon a chapel in the corner of the church, but we didn’t have tickets. So while Ralph took photos, I went across the piazza to get the tickets — and was very glad that I did. The frescoed Chapel of the Madonna di San Brizio by Fra Angelico and Signorelli is truly magnificent.

We literally had to drag ourselves away from Orvieto but Tuscany was awaiting.

The day was so bright and sunny and perfect to continue our drive to Tuscany. Of course, we made a wrong turn and were lost within thirty minutes on the road. But we found our way back and before we knew it, we were on a road lined with cypress trees. We were finally in Tuscany! Around the bend in the road, we just had to stop for photos not realizing that we stopped in the front yard of La Foce Gardens. So without any effort at all, we found our first SlowTrav cypress road!

After the photos, we headed directly to Montalcino, passing vineyard after vineyard. And then, there it was, sitting majestically in the distance just beyond the perfectly manicured Brunello vineyards. We entered Montalcino through Porta Cerbaia and quickly found Via Saloni and Hotel Il Giglio. Thank goodness for the sweet innkeepers who graciously parked our car at check in. Our room was tiny but pleasant, and our window overlooked the Tuscan countryside. We admired the view, dropped our suitcases and were off to explore the town.

Montalcino is everything you imagine a medieval Tuscan hilltown to be - charming, enchanting and captivating with small winding streets that drop down a flight of steps or two with a memorable vista at the bottom step. We immediately fell in love with Montalcino. Everything seemed perfect - the day tourists were gone, the tiny shops were open just for us, the sun was still shining, the town was so peaceful, and our biggest decision was where to have dinner! We decided on Trattoria Sciame on Via Ricasoli.

My husband and I both agree that Trattoria Sciame was our most memorable meal in Tuscany. This is most unassuming restaurant with just nine tables. The room reminded me of my grandmother’s kitchen with old-fashioned white painted cabinets and little embroidered curtains. The flavors were astounding. Our antipasti were a perfect pecorino au gratin and a home-cured prosciutto Toscano. My ravioli in a butter and sage sauce were the best ravioli I have ever eaten anywhere. My husband had roast pork rubbed with rosemary and other aromatic spices, with the meat cooked perfectly and very tender. We enjoyed our meal so much that we asked for seconds, if you can believe that, with our first bottle of Brunello, Il Patrizio Brunello di Montalcino. An excellent restaurant!

During dinner, we were also entertained little Lorenzo, the owner’s toddler son. He was adorable, but was tired and wanted his Babbo’s attention even while Babbo was pouring our wine and serving our dinner. Only in Italy!
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 7: Avignonesi Vineyard, Montepulciano, Cortona, Pienza and Montalcino
March 30, 2004


The morning was chilly and overcast, but not raining. For breakfast, I enjoyed an apple tarte with cioccolato caldo to warm me up. Our reservation for a vineyard tour outside Montepulciano was scheduled for 10:00 A.M., so we left the hotel at 8:30 thinking we had plenty of time.

However, instead of making a right turn at the bottom of the hill, we made a left and went through a gate to the city that deposited us right in the middle of someone’s vineyard and onto our first white road. This ride was nothing short of riding a roller coaster and there was no turning back because this was a one-lane road! Ralph’s knuckles were white, trying to keep us on the road as we bumped up and down and all around the hills, trying to enjoy the world around us at the same time.

Every turn we made was a wrong turn. We just couldn’t find our way back to a main road until we came across an old codger in the fields burning whatever Italians burn all over Tuscany. He was kind enough to give us directions, in Italian, but not before he told us about his love/hate relationship with Montepulciano and his new home of Montalcino. He was a perfect picture, but the mud was so thick that we were afraid of getting stuck, so no photo this time. Thank goodness Ralph understood the man’s directions, and we were on our way towards Montepulciano via Pienza another wrong turn. We also did not realize that the Avignonesi vineyard was so far away, past Montepulciano, closer to Cortona, so we arrived one hour late.

Maria Bettina graciously agreed to give us the tour even though we were so late. This beautiful estate built in the 16th century is known as Fattoria Le Capezzine, and has been flawlessly restored. The Falvo family, owners of Avignonesi, have a home on the estate, along with the wine cellars, olive oil mill and a chapel with the family crypt. In the crypt is the most eerily beautiful sculpture of the founder’s widow leaning on the tomb’s door as if she is frozen in time.

We learned some of the history of the estate and how the modern innovations work hand in hand with the ancient traditions. Next, we proceeded on to the wine tasting lunch which included local specialties: various salamis, one was a delicious mix of boar and pig and pecorino cheeses along with wonderful crackers and breads. We bought some of the wines that we enjoyed the most Il Marzocco Chardonnay and Desiderio Merlot. Afterwards, we lingered for a while in this peaceful and bucolic setting to photograph the grounds, the chapel and the horses.

Since we were so close to Cortona, we decided to drive in that direction. We drove through Val di Chiana towards Cortona and then up, up, up as the road wrapped around the hill, passing ancient stone farmhouses and groves of silvery olive trees. We were lucky enough to get a parking spot close to the center of town. We walked along the Via Nazionale, passing quaint shops and taking photos of this medieval town’s intriguing alleys, until we reached the Piazza Signorelli.

Of course, it was siesta time, so most shops and churches were closed. So this was definitely gelato time. We sat at a café across from the Teatro Signorelli just soaking in Cortona’s charms and eating gelato. After our respite, we wandered around town, passing the 10th century Duomo of Santa Maria della Assunzione, Palazzo Tomassi and the Palazzo Communale. We were told that this town was steep, but that was truly an understatement. We went up as far as our legs could take us and when we couldn’t hike any further, we headed down.

Back on the road, the rains became very heavy as we came to Montepulciano. We just didn’t have the energy to deal with the rain, and since Ralph was very tired we decided to drive back to Montalcino. Montepulciano would have to wait for another time. Just as we were nearing Pienza, the rain let up so we detoured into Pienza which turned out to be one of our favorite towns. The shops were just adorable and had the prettiest windows. I shopped and Ralph took photos of the shops, the nuns and old folks out for passeggiata. Just a charming town—and all that pecorino everywhere!

We then drove back to Montalcino. Before dinner, we strolled the nearby streets, admiring this picturesque town, the quaint Piazza del Popolo and the Palazzo Communale with its stately clock tower. Tonight dinner was at Taverna Del Grappolo Blu because of all the glowing recommendations.

We enjoyed our misto salad, salamis and pasta with mushrooms, but there was an issue with the secondi. My husband and I had the exact same dish, veal shank in a Brunello sauce. My meat was tender and delicious, but my husband’s was gristly and tough...he was not happy with it at all. We did have a very nice La Prata Toscana sangiovese/merlot which we enjoyed.

Because my meal was very good, I would say try this restaurant. But because my husband couldn't eat his meat at all, I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here again.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 8: Sant’Antimo, Monte Amiata Drive, Bagno Vignoni, San Quirico, Crete Drive on S438
March 31, 2004


Weatherwise, the day did not look promising...it was pouring outside. So we began the day with another cioccolato caldo and a relaxing breakfast. Today would be our day to allow the road to take us to new destinations.

We arrived at the amazing Abbazia di Sant’Antimo just as the rain let up. Sitting in the misty, rainy morning, in a valley surrounded by ancient olive trees, is this awe-inspiring Abbey. We walked the eerily quiet grounds of this 11th century wonder, taking photos and soaking in the landscape. Our timing wasn’t right, as usual, so we did not hear the Gregorian chants. But as we were exiting the church, we heard hauntingly beautiful live music coming from inside the church. The man at information counter began playing Gregorian music on a clarinet. Just perfect!

Back on the road, we headed south on S323. We made one wrong turn after another and were lost...again. We traveled along a road that climbed higher and higher, basically circling Monte Amiata, navigating hairpin curves in the now teeming rain, all while trying to digest the magnificent scenery surrounding us. Getting quite daring, we even took a white road shortcut back to Via Cassia passing through the tiniest of towns. What a great experience!

Via Cassia took us next to Bagno Vignoni, another gem. Travelers from the time of St. Catherine of Siena have been traveling here for the healing powers of this ancient steaming therme built by the Medici’s. We found it fascinating that this remarkable warm pool also serves as the town’s main piazza. We peeked in some of the shops and admired the pristine stone buildings with their stone walkways, and then heavy rains returned. We did get to see a bit of the archaeological dig before the heavens opened up again.

We drove to San Quirico d’Orcia for lunch and since our intended restaurant was closed that day, we decided on Osteria Vineria Il Tinaio. This restaurant was a warm and charming respite from a very chilly and rainy day. We were hoping for warm comfort food which is exactly what we found on the menu. I had a typical Tuscan ribollita that was very tasty, and Ralph had a grilled Florentine beefsteak that was tender, juicy and perfectly cooked. The waiter was super nice and very attentive. He recommended a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that we enjoyed very much.

After lunch, we visited the Collegiata, a simple but elegant church, dedicated to St. Quiricus, who was just five years old when he was martyred. Back on the road, we meandered from village to village heading north, passing through Bibbiano, Buonconvento, Murlo, Vescovado and Ludignano d’Arbia stopping for photos along the way. We were especially enchanted by the shepherds and their sheep moving lazily about on the hillsides, and by the goats idly crossing the road, looking at us as if to say, “Who are these people?”

By now, the skies cleared and brightened, so we decided to go towards Siena and take the famous S438 road south. Just minutes past the industrial town of Taverne d’Arbia, we came upon the most magnificent scenery of the Crete. We were dazzled at every turn in the road. The color of the green rolling hills just popped after the day’s intense rains. At some point, we just had to stop to take photos of course but also to allow our senses to drink in the beauty of the rolling hills surrounding us, listen to the quiet, smell the wet grass, enjoy the playful pheasant. Just breathtaking!

Asciano was the next perfect little town. We doodled around for a while and knew it was gelato time. The café was quite interesting as I was the only woman there. My husband thought this hilarious — his theory is that all the women MUST be home cooking dinner while the men were out enjoying their espresso, just as it should be. Not funny!

We returned to Montalcino for our dinner at Buccon di Vino. This restaurant is a beautiful old stone building sitting atop a hill overlooking the Montalcino countryside. We were absolutely mesmerized by the view and the food was great.

Ralph’s antipasti was the most amazing presentation of pecorino cheeses from the youngest to the most aged -- in age order --with zucca, lemon and peach marmalades for the oldest cheeses, truly wonderful. My antipasti was a crostini with melted pecorino on a bed of tomatoes and arugula and drizzled with olive oil. The secondi were boar in brunello sauce and pork in brunello sauce. The meats were tender and the sauces delicious. We also had a very nice Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. The dessert presentation was as beautiful as it was delicious: lavender crème brulee and an orange sorbet with lace biscotti, drizzled with something equally delicious. Excellent! The waitress was a sweetheart who did not speak English but managed to communicate beautifully. We thoroughly enjoyed this meal.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 9: Montalcino, Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Asciano, Castellina in Chianti
April 1, 2004


It’s time to leave Montalcino already, and we are sad because the time passed too quickly. We can’t believe that we still haven’t seen the Fortezza! So we head up to this most impressive 14th century structure to buy some wine before leaving town. All life’s choices should be this difficult...which Brunello to bring home from Montalcino...while enjoying the bluest sky, tasting cheeses and wine while jazz is playing in the courtyard. The wine shop’s offerings are extensive, but we bit the bullet, chose some wines and other goodies to bring home.

We also strolled through town for a while, stopping in alimentari to buy some truffle oil, sun-dried tomato paste and grappa. I should add that we were shopping in the dark because of loss of power in town, but the blackout didn’t seem to bother any of the locals, who continued to go about their business as usual. Sadly, we said goodbye to Montalcino.

We arrived at the Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore around noon, a most delightful and peaceful setting of cypress trees, chapels, pools and woods. The walk from the car took about 15 minutes to reach the abbey, all downhill. Since we were trying to keep ahead of a tour group, we went directly to the Great Cloister. The loggia is spectacularly frescoed with a masterpiece of scenes of St. Benedict’s life painted by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma. No sooner did we turn the second of four corners, and we were being shooed out because the monastery was closing for, what else, lunch. After a few more photos, we reluctantly left the loggia and were headed up the long hill when we heard the pealing of the church’s ancient bells, of course, stopping us dead in our tracks...heaven on earth .

We drove to Asciano and had lunch at Scuderie del Granduca--The Grand Duke’s Racing Stables. From the outside, this building is very unimpressive, but the interior was lovely, with a wide planked wooden floor and stately columns. We enjoyed a quiet lunch. The antipasto Toscana and pecorino di miele were great. My gnocchi in butter and sage were just okay, but my husband’s roasted ribs were very good. This wasn’t the best meal we had in Tuscany, but we would recommend it because it is a nice relaxing stop in a pleasant atmosphere and the food was good. Outside the restaurant, we stopped for Ralph to photograph the old folks out for their passeggiata. Another very cute town.

Lucky us, we drove through the rolling Crete landscape again on S486. Everyone should take this drive; it is wonderful!

We arrived at the Hotel Belvedere San Leonino in early afternoon. We couldn’t have been more pleased. The Hotel Belvedere is a lovely ancient building set amidst vineyards and olive groves on SS 222 just north of Siena in Chianti country. The property is tranquil and beautifully manicured and has a very comfortable, homey feel. An idyllic setting in Castellina in Chianti.

Our original room was upstairs, but since there was no one to help with the luggage, which was so full of wine, we requested a room on the lower level. The front desk switched us immediately to a large downstairs room, decorated with antique furniture and fresh flowers. The bathroom was large with a shower, all modern and tiled. Outside our door were tables and chairs for relaxing and ancient olive trees to complement an ancient covered well. The pool was just a short walk away and had the most fabulous views of the surrounding vineyards. We felt right at home, but Castellina was calling us, so we hopped into the car and were there in no time.

Castellina is yet another beautiful and charming hilltown. We wandered around shopping for souvenirs and came upon Via Delle Volte, the covered passageway that runs behind shops and along the edge of the town. We also shopped in the coop supermarket in town for a few local products to bring home.

Since the hotel offers dinner for its guests, we parked the car for the night and opted to stay for dinner. We had a very relaxing and enjoyable meal of pasta in a light basil and pomodoro sauce, roasted meats and potatoes, a delicious berry tart and our first bottle of a Castellina Chianti Classico. Dinner was actually very good and the service was pleasant. Afterwards, we relaxed in the lounge area that was very comfortable and inviting and walked the grounds before calling it a night.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 10: Greve, Castello di Verrazzano Vineyard, Radda, Castellina in Chianti
April 2, 2004


We were welcomed to breakfast by the most charming lady with the biggest smile who literally sang Buon Giorno as we entered. Breakfast was a nice selection of cheeses, meats, cereals and croissants, made all the more enjoyable by our hostess. S222 took us through the Chianti Classico region on this brilliantly sunny day to our destination in Greve. We arrived on time, for once, for our vineyard tour at Castello di Verrazzano. Our guide was Gino Rossi who turned out to be a most entertaining host. On a veranda of the Castello, perched on a hill overlooking the glorious valley of vineyards, wild rosemary and bay leaf, Gino spoke of his love for this region, the food, the vineyards and the wines they produce. His description of the tradition of winemaking and the relationship between the wine and food was absolutely poetic.

We toured the lovely gardens, viewed their wild boar and, of course, toured the wine cellars. The winemaking at Verrazzano goes back centuries, with documentation going back as far as 1170! The methods used today are apparently a blend of the old traditions with new technologies, but always with the greatest respect for the land. We also learned a few tidbits about the explorer, Giovanni di Verrazzano, who discovered the Bay of New York. The tour was very enjoyable, but not nearly as much as the luncheon ahead.

Our group was lively, friendly and engrossed in all of Gino’s jokes and his masterful storytelling. We had course after course of local “gastronomical specialties” which included several salted meats, grilled wild boar sausage, cannelloni beans drizzled with olive oil, pecorino cheeses and biscotti — all accompanied by their partner wine, grappa or vin santo. We especially enjoyed the 1999 Chianti Classico Riserva and the Bottiglia Particolare. But the piece de resistance was the 12-year-old balsamic vinegar — just two “tear drops” — with pecorino cheese. My mouth waters just thinking about it! We are very anxious to try Gino’s recipes for the balsamic vinegar with ripe strawberries this summer!

The setting was so perfect that we could have stayed at the castello indefinitely. It was now time to leave, but not before we bought some wine and some of that terrific balsamic vinegar.

We were totally awestruck by Greve and its inviting unusual shaped Piazza Matteotti. Feeling totally relaxed and getting into the Italian frame of mind, Ralph sat on a bench soaking in the afternoon sun, while I happily shopped. These little shops and shopkeepers were extraordinary. Grazia Giachi Ricami embroidery shop is worth a trip from anywhere. The handmade baby items, elegant embroidered sheets and stunning tablecloths are all proudly shown by the shopkeeper along with photos of her family and newspaper articles profiling her work. She was a sweetheart, as were all the other shopkeepers. They could not have been nicer or friendlier. I also really enjoyed Valoriani for tablecloths and Macelleria Falorni was an amazing meat shop. We found quite a few souvenirs in Greve.

Sitting in the piazza is an imposing bronze statue of Giovanni di Verrazzano, their hometown hero explorer and another statue of a man's torso showing - not quite sure how to say this - but “his enormous manhood” comes to mind. You have to see this to believe it.

I woke Ralph who was still sunning on that bench because it was once again gelato time. We sauntered over to the Caffe Lepanto for gelato, but also had to buy some of the cutest chocolate Easter eggs from another very patient shopkeeper. Sitting outside the café with our gelato was a perfect afternoon respite.

On the road again, a detour off the Chiantigiana took us next to Radda, sitting atop Monti del Chianti. The town was pleasant and peaceful--it was late afternoon, children were playing in the park, the flower cart was full of bright flowers and laborers were finishing up their jobs. We wandered around for a while and then drove back towards Castellina for dinner.

Our restaurant of choice wasn’t open yet, so we plopped on a bench near the church for a rest, not realizing that the restaurant was closed on Fridays, who would have guessed that a restaurant closes on Friday. We strolled through the town and found a cute pizzeria, Tre Porte, and had a pleasant meal. Castellina in the evening was delightful. We sat on a bench near the San Salvatore Church just watching the locals coming home from work, a very energetic fellow playing with his dog, teenagers doodling around town (as teenagers do), and we just enjoyed.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 11: Castellina, American War Cemetery, Venice
April 3, 2004


Today, we venture on to Venice. The decision of whether to drive or train to Venice was resolved by a train strike. So off we were in our putt-putt of a car. We didn’t get very far on the road when we came upon Castellina’s market day. All the locals were shopping, so we joined in buying more Easter chocolates, gifts, and little jars of aromatic herbs and spices from the nicest man, Duccio Fontani. Reluctantly, we said goodbye to Tuscany and headed north.

Having had a father serve in fierce fighting during World War II, and knowing that many of his buddies perished in those battles, we could not pass American War Veterans Cemetery without stopping to pay our respects. Your heart breaks as you drive onto ground where over 4,400 American military personnel are buried, 1,400 of whom are unknown...

“Here Are Recorded The Names Of Americans Who Gave Their Lives In The Service Of Their Country And Who Sleep In Unknown Graves.”

The rows and rows of crosses and stars of David stand on a sloping hillside. The only sounds you hear are chirping birds and the rush of the river below. The memorial has two atria and a stone travertine wall containing the Tablets of the Missing Soldiers. Military operations are beautifully outlined on a granite wall of intarsia marble. There is a chapel on the grounds where there is always someone present to escort family members to a gravesite.

The cemetery is south of Florence on Via Cassia, surrounded by woods, on the banks of the Greve River, on land that was liberated in August 1944.

The next leg of our journey was uneventful. Even though the roads were foggy, there wasn’t much traffic, so we zipped along just stopping for lunch in Ferrara at the AutoGrille. We arrived at Marco Polo Airport by 2:00, found our way to the Avis office, dropped off the car and arranged for a water taxi.

Finally, we were on the water splashing our way to Venice. How exciting seeing Venice for the first time from the taxi! We were standing up videotaping our arrival and just reveling in the beauty and the uniqueness.

The taxi driver quickly found the tiny canal in Cannaregio, just a short walk from our hotel, and we didn’t even have to cross a bridge to get there! The boat landing was just steps from the SS Apostoli and just a few more steps to the Hotel Giorgione.

As soon as we set foot in the lobby, we knew we would just love this hotel. The lobby is nicely appointed with warm woods and huge arrangements of fresh flowers. We were greeted at the front desk by the most delightful people who welcomed us warmly and who were very helpful with directions and recommendations.

Our room was just beautiful! We had a superior room that was small but we did have room to stretch since it was a duplex. Downstairs was a king-sized bed, antique night stands and writing desk, an armoire and a stocked minibar. Upstairs was a sitting room with a silk covered divan, TV and a small balcony overlooking the tiled rooftops and towering campaniles with church bells ringing and the sun shining! The bathroom was large and modern with an enclosed shower. The lighting throughout was all Murano glass sconces.

As beautiful as the room and view were, we just had to get out of the hotel and into Venice. We left the hotel with directions to Da Alberto for an early dinner. As I’ve said before, we get lost...a lot. We actually had to find our way back to the hotel to ask for the directions again and this time, we found our way to the restaurant. But not before we roamed a maze of tiny streets in Cannaregio, stopped in a church or two and took photos, all the while pinching ourselves that we finally made it to Venice.

We arrived at Da Alberto without a reservation but they were more than happy to accommodate us if we could finish our dinner in less than two hours. Of course, this was not a problem for us. The kitchen was even kind enough to offer us a shrimp risotto that wasn’t even on the menu that night. The risotto was delicious as was a very tender and delicious filet of beef with rosemary with an arugula and tomato salad. Why we ordered a house wine, I’ll never know; it was not very good. But we had a very good meal and were very thankful that they found a table for us. The waitresses were very sweet and attentive.

We were so tired that we were convinced that a higher power guided us back to our hotel. We snooped around the hotel a little discovering its charms. The sitting rooms were lovely with comfy sofas and chairs and Murano glass everywhere, chandeliers, sconces and special pieces set in display cases—very tastefully done.

There were also two beautiful breakfast rooms and an outdoor courtyard for breakfast and tea. A nice feature was a small but comfortable bar area which was open in the evenings for a nightcap. Next to the bar is a billiards room with a computer and a free Internet connection. We discovered that evening, that we also had turndown service, candies on our pillows and two umbrellas in every room. We really appreciate those little touches.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 12: Venice, Secret Itinerary Tour, Santa Maria della Salute Basilica
April 4, 2004


Breakfast was served in a delightful room of Murano chandeliers, sconces, bouquets of fresh flowers and the sounds of Viennese waltzes. We were thrilled to see scrambled eggs and champagne chilling on the buffet table, along with the usual assortment of cheeses, hams, salamis, fruits, juices and cereals, the best breakfast assortment of our trip.

The hotel made reservations for us for the 11:00 Secret Itineraries Tour at the Ducal Palace so we headed directly towards San Marco. What fun walking through those tiny streets and alleyways, up and over the bridges with a new picture-perfect scene at every turn. We finally turned the corner into San Marco Piazza with the Basilica standing there before us. Standing in a piazza that we have known all our lives but only in photographs, we were absolutely overwhelmed. The staggering beauty of the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale brought me to tears. I was really, really in Venice!

We found our way through the crowds to the English-speaking tour group. The group was large and the guide’s English was not very good, but we still enjoyed the tour into the hidden rooms and secret passageways and learned a bit about Venetian history along the way. It seemed to us that in Italy, even the prisons and torture rooms took on a romantic and poetic allure with the legendary story of Casanova. He must have been a real character. He escaped from the prison on his second try and legend has it that he defiantly walked down the Scala d’Oro and out the front doors of the Palazzo and left Venice, but not before bidding final farewell with a stroll and coffee in Piazza San Marco.

We toured the remainder of the palace and found one room more breathtaking and more interesting than the last, probably the most impressive palace we have ever visited. We thoroughly enjoyed this magnificent palazzo, and found it mind boggling that this was a government building!

We had really hoped to see San Marco Basilica next but because of the throngs of people, we decided to return the next day in early morning. Instead, we chose to explore Venice and headed in the direction of the beautiful church facing us across the Grand Canal, Santa Maria della Salute Basilica. We walked through the delightful Dorsoduro for quite a while and finally found our way to the Basilica.

This Basilica is filled with many treasures by Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini and is named in honor of Madonna della Salute (of health). Above the main altar is a wonderful Byzantine icon by Francesco Morosini honoring the Madonna. Apparently, there was a plague in 1630 that killed 50,000 Venetians, and the senate offered to build a church to honor the Virgin Mary if God would end the plague. True to their word, when the plague ended, this glorious church was built.

By now, we were starving. We strolled through the neighborhood until we could not walk a step further. We found ourselves at the Hotel La Calcina. Their restaurant, La Piscina, sits on a dock in the Canale della Giudecca. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch, with a playful puppy wandering under the tables, and had our first frozen Bellini, refreshing and delicious.

What would a day in Italy be without gelato? Lucky for us, we were in the neighborhood of the famous Nico’s and had some wonderful gelato. We wanted to go back in the direction of our hotel for dinner, so we took our first vaporetto ride to the Ca D’Oro stop.

All ticket booths in the vicinity were closed so as a vaporetto rode past our stop, Ralph called out to the fellow on the vaporetto who operates the boat to ask where to get a ticket. He said, “From me!” When the No. 1 boat came, we got on, found a seat and waited for the conductor to buy a ticket. Big mistake.

Two very official Italian men came around asking to see tickets, and when they came to us, we asked to buy two tickets. Needless to say, this our most embarrassing moment in Italy. One of the men proceeded to become very loud, telling us that if we didn’t have a ticket, we would have to pay a fine of 30 Euros each plus the price of the ticket. I tried to explain that we wanted to buy the tickets and thought someone would come around to sell the tickets, which is how the Metro North trains work in New York. Stupid, stupid, stupid assumption. He wanted 67.50 Euros and that was that. We thought this was absolutely hysterical since we were spending lots of money in Italy and would never try to get out of paying for these tickets.

We didn’t have enough cash to pay the fine, so I asked if he took credit cards. This didn’t sit well with him as he shouted “No, only cash!” Then he wanted our passports which we told him we didn’t have with us. Ralph told him that we had about 40 Euros on us. So he leaned in and whispered that he would give us only one summons if we paid 37.50 Euros in cash. The whole episode was ridiculous, but we paid the money, signed the summons, and as soon as we were off the boat and back in the magic of Venice, we forgot it ever happened.

On our way back to our hotel, we took lots and lots of photos. In the course of getting lost yet once again, we stumbled upon Venice’s largest church, St. Giovanni and Paolo in the Castello siestiere. What a find. This church is magnificent. Named for two brothers who were martyred, this church must have had many generous Doge benefactors because the art housed here is amazing. There are over 25 doges buried here in the most magnificent burial spaces. Amongst these tombs are masterpieces by Piazzetta, Bellini and Veronese.

Tonight, we had an early dinner at Da Bepi. This adorable, family-run trattoria is just steps from the Hotel Giorgione for those staying in the area. There are also outdoor tables for dining in warmer weather.

We had a soup verdure, spaghetti with oil, garlic and spiced up nicely with red pepper. The St. Peter’s fish fillet with a mushroom sauce was excellent as was the fresh strawberry compote for dessert. All was very nicely prepared, reasonably priced and the service was attentive. It was also so nice to be able to have a bottle of wine and be just a few steps from the hotel.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 13: Venice, San Marco Basilica, Frari Basilica
April 5, 2004


We decided to go to an early mass at San Marco’s Basilica. We were finished with breakfast and on our way to San Marco by 7:30 A.M. The day was cloudy and did not look very promising, but Venice was still beautiful. The city was bustling with folks on their way to work, but with virtually no tourists.

The good news was that the piazza was crowded only with pigeons and was just beautiful in the misty morning. The bad news was that there were no Masses that morning. However, Ralph was able to take photos in peace and quiet, and I met some very nice people and watched restoration work while waiting for the church to open.

How does one describe such a masterpiece as San Marco’s Basilica? Spectacular! The golden mosaics appear to be on every square inch of the interior, glistening on the vaulted arches and with every arch telling a different story. Even the floor is an extraordinary mosaic work of art. However, it was the Pala d’Oro encrusted with precious gems that stunned us into silence and awe. Hundreds, probably thousands, of diamonds and emeralds, rubies embedded into this altarpiece of enamel, silver and gold honor the resting place of St. Mark. To experience this Basilica is worth a trip from anywhere.

Now, back to reality, we needed cash. We searched and searched to no avail. We were so annoyed with ourselves for not finding a bank that we took refuge in a café for a late morning snack and latte. After this nice little respite, we ventured out again into Venice and stumbled upon a bancomat.

The day turned brilliant, and the sun was shining gloriously. We took the vaporetto to the San Toma stop, bought tickets first, and found our way to the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari Basilica, another wealth of artistic masterpieces by Tiziano, Bellini and Donatello.

Tiziano’s devotion to the Virgin Mary is ever present in his Assumption of the Virgin that is beautifully framed by exquisite stained glass windows. Giovanni Bellini’s triptych, Madonna and Child, sits on an altar in a small side chapel where we sat for a while to admire its beauty.

Amongst all this glory, my personal favorite was the tomb of Antonio Canova, his Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art. Canova designed this tomb for Tiziano but the design instead was used for Canova himself, a decision made by his students. Tiziano is buried just across the aisle in the Frari.

Outside the church was a lovely little campo with strolling musicians, playing old Parisian songs, kiddies playing and lovers strolling. What a beautiful day, and Ralph finally had blue skies for his photos! He took pictures and I shopped.

We had lunch at Da Ignazio in San Polo. The waiter was surly and impatient and the food was mediocre, no need to elaborate on this unpleasant lunch except to say that we won’t go back there again.

We wandered and just enjoyed the neighborhoods of Venice for the rest of the afternoon. We were so familiar with our Cannaregio neighborhood by now that Ralph went back to the hotel to relax on the balcony while I went out shopping alone. What fun! By the end of the day, my treasure trove included a vintage piece of Venetian lace, gold jewelry for my son and daughter, a miniature Venetian palazzo and the most beautiful hand-made silk tassels.

For our last evening in Italy, we took the vaporetto to the Giglio stop and strolled the area happening upon La Fenice and its adorable and peaceful little campo. Having spent just a tad too much on my treasures, we decided on Vino Vino for dinner and set out in that direction. By now, it was twilight and Venice’s magic surrounded us at every turn—candlelit cafes, romantic couples, arias in the air as gondolas floated by—and then we were lost again. It took us about 45 minutes to find Vino Vino, but in the end, we had a wonderful meal and were happy with our choice.

Vino Vino is a wine bar that we found crowded with locals as well as tourists. The menu was a bit limited for Ralph’s gluten-free diet but we managed to piece a meal together. We selected the dishes we wanted at the front counter, with no idea whatsoever of the cost, and the food was brought to the table. We had chicken breasts with roasted leeks, eggplant in a parsley and olive oil sauce, penne Alfredo and grilled sausages. We didn’t think we could finish it all, but we did, everything was that delicious. We enjoyed a very nice bottle of Fattoria di Felsina Villa Berardenga Chianti Classico. I don't remember the exact cost but do remember it being a very reasonable, family-type restaurant in a neighborhood surrounded by expensive restaurants.

After dinner, we went back to San Marco. By this time, many of the tourists were gone, and the piazza was dark and quiet and peaceful except for the artists selling their art and the musicians playing typical Italian favorites. We were seated at the café opposite the Palazzo Ducale and stayed for a while to enjoy the music and for one last Bellini.
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Day 14: Ciao Venice....Home to New York
April 6, 2004


We enjoyed a slow breakfast at our hotel and took a slow walk in the neighborhood around our hotel. We were always in such a hurry to get somewhere that we never really spent much time in this adorable area. A student was practicing his violin in the window, a dad and son were tossing a ball around, the tiny market was getting ready to open and the florist was carefully displaying beautiful plants.

We were sad to leave Venice, but had to hurry since the water tax was coming for us 9:30 A.M. We checked out of the hotel and were off to the airport for our flight to New York. Arriverdeci, Bella Italia!

Italy was wonderful and proved to be everything we expected and more...much more.

“Open my heart and you will see, Graved inside of it, Italy.” -- Robert Browning
 

Carol DeLucia

10+ Posts
Some Personal Observations, Thoughts and Questions on Italy

Some Personal Observations, Thoughts and Questions on Italy

Observations:
  • The Crete is so beautiful.
  • Thank goodness for sangiovese grapes.
  • The vineyards are all manicured to perfection.
  • Pillows and towels are way too hard for us.
  • Frozen bellini’s are delicious especially when sitting on the Grand Canal.
  • Some popular fashionable Italian shoes remind me of American bowling shoes.
  • Everyone hangs their clothes out to dry.
  • Salt and pepper shakers are never on a restaurant table.
  • Tables are always set with beautiful tablecloths and cloth napkins. Paper plates and Styrofoam were nowhere to be found.
  • Always china and glass--no plastic utensils, not even at the AutoGrille.
  • The sweetest, nicest waiters, waitresses and hoteliers.
  • In smaller towns where English was not spoken, everyone seemed to be able, and willing, to communicate with a smile.
  • Public bathrooms were always clean even in rest stops.
  • We never met a gelato we didn't like.
Questions:
  • Where are the tissues?
  • Why aren’t there screens on the windows?
  • Why are there no shower curtains?
  • With such a laid back society, why are the drivers in such a hurry and drive sooooo fast?
Personal Thoughts:
  • Zia Maria passed away June 19, 2004. We are so happy to have seen her this one last time.
  • Someone from my family finally visited my paternal grandparent’s tiny home town of Celzi di Forino in Avellino to see where it all began.
  • How impressive that Italians pay attention to the smallest of details and take such pride in everything they do.
  • I love the lemons and oranges everywhere in the South and the fresh citrus scent in the air.
  • The Amalfi coastline is more beautiful than its photos.
  • The wine and food of Italy cannot be explained — it must be experienced — in Italy.
  • The tiniest shops with the most beautiful windows remind me of a time long ago past.
  • A glass of limoncello brings Italy back in a heartbeat……
 

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