More from Venice and Milan

I know it’s been months since I returned from Italy, but I only just recently finished editing all of my photos. So, I thought I would share a few of my favorites from the last leg of our trip, which was spent in Venice and Milan (more here).

Rialto Bridge

Simply put, I fell head-over-heels in love with Venice. I don’t know how to swim and I have horrible allergies, so you would think that I would want to avoid a place that’s surrounded by water and teaming with dust and mold, right? Not so. From the pastel colors, to the mysterious alleyways to the way the sunlight sparkled off the water, it felt like being in a dream.

In terms of its food, Venetians have a nice little evening tradition of indulging in small snacks called chiccetti (like the tapas tradition in Spain). On our first night, we did a little crawl through the city to a few bars to sample a variety of crostini, salads, meatballs and local wines. These small bites range in price from 1.50 to 5 euros, so they are an excellent way to sample the cuisine of this otherwise expensive city. We also made a stop for afternoon coffee at Café Florian, which opened in 1720, making it the oldest café in Italy. It’s ridiculously overpriced, but the service is impeccable and the surroundings are filled with gorgeous chandeliers and works of art. If you sit at the bar instead of opting for table service, prices do come down a bit and they do give you a nice plate of cookies with your beverage.

One of my favorite moments included dinner on our last night in Venice. We sat right by one of the canals and enjoyed fresh seafood from La Rioba before going on a gondola ride. Although gondola rides are offered throughout the day, we liked going at night because the canals were less crowded. We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, as all we could hear was the gentle lapping of the water against the boat and the occasional singing of our gondolier.

From Venice, we took the train to Milan, our final stop, which ended up being our least favorite part of the trip. We definitely were a bit exhausted and ready to come home by that point so that might have colored our experience a bit. But we didn’t find the people particularly friendly and everything was very expensive and trendy. It kind of reminded me of Beverly Hills.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, where everyone goes to shop

Two days was plenty of time for us to see the main sites, including The Last Supper, the Duomo and LaScala Opera House. The latter was a very cool experience because there was a rehearsal in progress when we visited. So, we got to experience the exquisite architecture and amazing voices that fill the hall each night for only 6 euros, a fraction of what it costs for a ticket to a performance.

Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses the Last Supper.

My favorite meal in Milan was lunch at Luini, which serves panzerotti, a stuffed pizza that is a traditional street food of the region. It must be everyone’s favorite—tourists and locals alike—because there was a line out the door and a security guard on patrol making sure that customers didn’t cut in front of each other! There were a dozen flavors to choose from, including savory options like ham and cheese and sweet options like Nutella.

And, with that, friends, our tour of Italy has concluded. If you missed any of our stops, you can catch up here.

Our two weeks were truly an amazing experience and I miss it like crazy. I’ve probably looked at my pictures from the trip almost every day since our return. I don’t want to forget about everything that we saw, did and ate.

It’s time to start planning the next trip. My feet are getting itchy.

On the Road: More from Tuscany

View of San Gimignano, from the farm

I really miss Italy. It started last week when I saw To Rome With Love (Go see it. Woody Allen is nuts.) and got worse yesterday when I was chatting via Facebook with Bethany, who is planning a trip there. That exchange caused me to spend an inordinate amount of time, neglecting my work and instead reminiscing in my head and looking at the photos of my trip. I know, I’m a model employee.

While I was wasting time, I realized that aside from our lunch in Chianti, I haven’t shared a whole lot else about our four days in Tuscany, which was such a highlight of the trip.

We stayed on an agriturismo—a working farm, with guest accommodations. The owner, Stefano, grows grapes for wine and olives on the farm and could not have been nicer or more welcoming.

Clockwise from the top: The view of the olive trees from our bedroom, my friend Kira and the farmhouse.

Since we stayed in one of the houses with its own kitchen, we were able to shop at the local market and cook our own food. It was a nice change of pace from eating in restaurants and gave us a chance to feel like “locals” for a few days. We noticed that poultry was less expensive than here at home, while fresh fruits and vegetables were pricier. Everything seemed more flavorful and fresh (I’m still thinking about the tomatoes and green peppers, in particular, which were much sweeter and more flavorful than what I buy around here).

Clockwise from the top left: Pasta; chicken with peppers, tomatoes, prosciutto and polenta; sausage and peppers; Panzanella salad; breakfast, including eggs and pancetta.

The farm was located about five minutes away from the town of San Gimignano, a tiny, walled medieval town. During the day, it’s packed with tourists, so we liked to go into town in the early evening, after the departed for the day. We felt like we had the place all to ourselves.

Main square in San Gimignano. Pretty quiet at the end of the day.

We had dinner in San Gimignano on our first and last nights in the area, at places which I would definitely recommend if you are in the area.

The first, Dulcisinfundo, is located high up on one of the hills of the city and offers a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. The menu is comprised of typical Tuscan dishes and changes with the seasons. Standout menu items on our visit included the sausage with wild mushrooms, over a creamy, cheesy polenta, the spinach lasagna, layered with rich meat sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella and the meatballs. The latter were made with pork, so they had a full, rich (and kind of fatty) flavor, and served an red sauce with a generous helping of saffron, which is local to the region.

The second restaurant, Chiriberi, was recommended by Stefano, and was tucked into one of the little alleyways near the main gate of the city. Its vibe was a bit more rustic and casual than Dulsicinfundo and I got a huge kick out of the host/waiter, who was cranky in a charming kind of way. I really enjoyed the light crespelles (crepes), filled with a mixture of spinach and ricotta and Chester gave high marks to the hearty boar ragu over tagliatelle and the rabbit. The final bill was definitely one of the lowest of our trip. Given the quality of the food, we felt like it was a really good value.

San Gimignano is centrally located to many of the other small towns worth seeing in Tuscany, including:

Pisa, where you have to get a photo, like so. This one took quite a few tries to get just right:

Lucca, which we probably would have enjoyed more if it hadn’t been raining like crazy. Not pictured: Unflattering shot of us in ponchos:  

 

 Volterra, located way, way up on a winding hill. Some of us weren’t feeling to great after that drive:

Siena, where they have horse racing twice a year in Piazza del Campo. I would love to go back and see that!

By the end of our stay, we had a nice little routine down, in which we took a drive to another town in the morning, make a late afternoon stop at the market, and then head back to the farm to relax and eat for the rest of the evening. Chester and I decided that everyone else can have the beach. Tuscany–and the farm–is our ideal vacation.

Lunch in Tuscany: Officina della Bistecca

Shortly before we left for our trip to Italy, Chester was watching an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain visited Dario Cecchini, owner of the butcher shop Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti. Dario, whose family has been in the business for more than 250 years, has an encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for traditional Tuscan cuisine, particularly when it comes to the proper way to prepare Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine grilled steak).

On Sunday afternoons, Dario celebrates this and other classic dishes with his “Officina Della Bistecca” menu, a family-style luncheon on the second floor of the butcher shop, which features beef prepared five different ways. If you have been following along for any length of time, you know that Chester has never met a piece of steak that he hasn’t liked. So, when we discovered that Panzano was only about an hour away from our home base near San Gimignano, we immediately made a reservation.

The drive was much more complicated than we had anticipated. We traveled up and down hills and through winding roads and I spent most of the ride trying to contain my carsickness and praying for a gas station to materialize, since we were dangerously close to running out of fuel at one point. Luckily, one did, but by the time we finally made it to Panzano we were nearly 30 minutes late for the 1:00 p.m. seating. We almost scrapped our plans to go to Dario’s, thinking we were too late. Fortunately, Dario’s wife, Kim, who handles reservations totally understood the reasons for our delay and showed us to our places table.

We were seated with a really nice group of people, including an American couple who spends part of their year in Tuscany (she is an art teacher) and a Brazilian couple who had been enjoying a month-long stay in the area, and the conversations with them made the afternoon even more enjoyable. The atmosphere in the dining room was very homey and festive throughout the afternoon, with everyone laughing, being loud and passing jugs of wine back and forth across the table.

In addition to the five beef dishes, the menu includes bread and raw vegetables (which become highly addictive when dipped in olive oil, seasoned with a generous helping of the salt/pepper/garlic blend bearing Dario’s name), white beans and baked potatoes, Chianti “butter,” (which is actually lardo, or pork fat.) dessert, red wine, grappa and military spirits, and coffee. At 50 euros per person (right now, about $62), the pricing is far less than what you would pay for a similar experience in Philly, and the quality of the beef was far superior to the best cut of steak I’ve had here at home. All of the preparations were grilled to medium rare, seasoned with salt and pepper and doused with a bit of olive oil. This simple preparations allows the flavor of the meat to really come through.

I don’t eat red meat often, and on the occasion where the odd craving for it strikes me, I can barely ever finish a steak when I order it in a restaurant or when Chester cooks it at home. At Dario’s, I had seconds (and, occasionally, thirds) of everything. It was just that good. My favorite dishes were the beef tartar, which was finished with just a bit of lemon (I overheard one of the waiters referring to this dish as “Chianti sushi”) and the Panzanese steak, which is a cut from the rump of the cow that Dario helped popularize. I was surprised at how tender and flavorful it was.

Clockwise from top left: Beef tartar, rib eye, Florentine Steak, Panzanese steak, seared beef

Dario stopped by to expertly dismantle a cut of beef, fresh off the grill. As you can see from this video Chester shot, Dario is quite the showman, quoting Dante as he demonstrates some crazy knife skills.

Olive oil cake was the perfect finish to this meal. I must try to recreate it at home, although I know I’ll never be able to achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and crunchy top crust that this version had. I stayed away from the spirits and grappa, though, but can verify that they did make everyone, really, uh, spirited (including one of our table mates, who got into his car after lunch for a three hour drive to the Milan airport. Here’s hoping that he made it!).

If you plan to check out Officina Della Bistecca, you can also reserve your place on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Or, you could just visit the shop itself, where you will likely find the crowds spilling out on to the sidewalk and enjoying free wine and samples of food. Dario will likely be there as well, entertaining everyone while covered in blood and wielding a frightening looking saw, like so:

Chester’s favorite photo of the trip

 

On The Road: More from Florence and Bologna

I’m slowly working my way through my Italy photos and have some more to share from the Florence portion of our trip.

Chillin' in Florence

As I mentioned here, there are enough museum and works of art in Florence to keep you busy for days. If  you do in fact have a few days in the city, I highly recommend that you purchase a Firenze Card. Not only does it entitle you to 72 hour access to public transportation, but it provides discounts on admission prices to and allows you to skip the lines at most of the major museums. The 50 euro price tag (today, that’s about $62. But, given the current situation over there, your guess is as good as mine as to what it will be tomorrow) is well worth it, because lines are long, particularly at the Uffizi Gallery (where you will find works by Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael) and the Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David is located).

The Uffizi Gallery (left) and replica of Michelangelo's David in Piazza della Signoria

The most popular site is Florence is the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which is one of the largest churches in the world. The exterior is constructed of panels of white, green and red marble and is absolutely stunning. But, the main feature of the cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome, which is the largest brick dome in the world. The design of the dome was based on principles of physics and geometry that are pretty standard today, but were revolutionary in the 1400s.

As I noted, you can climb to the top of the dome (463 steps) and/or Giotto’s bell tower (417 steps) for some amazing views of the city. If you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, this is probably not for you.

Basilica of San Croce, burial place of Michelanglo, Dante, Galileo and others, viewed from the top of the dome.

Also located in the Duomo complex is the Baptistry, one of the oldest buildings in Florence, dating from the 11th century. There are some beautiful golden mosaics in the interior that are worth visiting, but the building has copies of three sets of gilded bronze doors by Ghiberti. The originals are located in the Duomo museum, just across the piazza.

(Note: None of these sites are included in the Firenze Card, however. Although the cathedral itself is free to enter, you will need a ticket to visit the baptistery, museum and to climb the bell tower and dome. You can purchase the necessary tickets online. The whole website is in Italian. Google Translate is your friend).

In terms of places to eat in Florence, our best meal was at Vini e Vecchi Sapori, located near Florence’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria. The restaurant has a very homey feel, with wooden beamed ceilings and brick floors. It seats about 18 people and serves simple, rustic Tuscan cuisine, based on the recipes of the family who has run it for years. Mom works in the kitchen, dad is behind the bar and the son staffs the dining room.

The homemade pasta dishes, with incredibly light noodles and rich, hearty sauces, were among the highlights here.  I had the pappardelle with rabbit. Although I wasn’t a fan of all of the little bones that I came across (I told you it was rustic) the meat was so incredibly tender and flavorful. My second course reminded me of a beef bourguignon with a more liberal dose of pepper (there were black peppercorns hiding in the broth. Biting into one was not all that pleasant). It was accompanied by a side of long, wide green beans, drizzled with olive oil. I didn’t catch the Italian name of the vegetable, but was told by the customer at the table next to us (an American college professor who spends part of the year in Italy with his wife who is from Florence) that they only grow in the spring time and their name translates into “eat it all.” I did. Chester, in the meantime, enjoyed the osso bucco, a generous portion which was so tender that it fell right off the bone.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori seems to be a favorite with the locals—there was quite the rowdy birthday celebration going on at the table across the way from us. In a touristy city like Florence, this is the mark of a place worth checking out, in my opinion.

But, it was of course was not the only good eating we did during our three days in Florence. On one of our days in the area, we took a short train ride to Bologna. Nicknamed “La Grassa” (“the fat”), it is Italy’s culinary capital.

I talked a bit about what we ate previously, but we also spent a lot of time wandering around through the Quadrilatero District, which is filled with shop after shop selling fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade tortellini, pastries, meats, cheeses, wine and just about any other gourmet delicacy your heart might desire. I couldn’t resist snapping a ton of photos, like so:

Aside from the food, Bologna has character in many other ways. It is home to Europe’s oldest university so there is quite a diverse population. Many of the red-brick towers and other medieval structures are well preserved. And, there are miles of beautiful covered porticoes, lined with shops and cafes.

Of course, before we left, there was a stop for gelato. Cremeria Funiviva, which has two locations in Bologna, has fewer flavors than the average gelato shop, but the quality is outstanding. It might be the creamiest, most flavorful gelato I’ve ever had. They make several concoctions with a variety of add-ons and toppings. In this case, the cone was filled with a bittersweet chocolate and topped with black cherries.

Can I go back now?

On the Road: More from Rome

We arrived home on Sunday evening and have been slowly getting back into the swing of things after a whirlwind two weeks in Italy. As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks, our days were pretty full (In fact, I got to check off 33 places in my copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I should be finished in no time!). Since I was posting from a cell phone while I was away, I tried to kept things short  since the tiny keyboard and I are not really friends. But, I have a lot more to say, especially about the most important element of this trip: the food!

So, here we go, starting with our five days in Rome.

As I mentioned previously, this was my second visit to Rome and while I was excited for the opportunity to see all of the sights again, what I was most looking forward to as we stepped off the plane was the pizza.

I’ve heard many theories about why the pizza in Italy is so amazing. Some people say it’s the water and flour that are used for the dough. Others swear that it’s the bricks that are used to construct the ovens. One thing that I noticed is that the tomatoes in Italy are not very acidic, so that makes for a very mild tasting sauce that doesn’t overpower the other flavors of the dough, the buffalo mozzarella and the toppings.

Whatever the reason, it really must be something that you can only find “over there” because I’ve yet to have any other pizza that even comes close to what I’ve had in Rome, where it’s wafer-thin, crispy and cooked in a wood burning oven. And, since it is sometimes larger than the plate it’s served on, it definitely requires a knife and fork.

Pictured below are two of the classic combinations—the Margherita and the Capricciosa, which translates roughly to “everything in the house” and thus features a pretty random assortment of toppings.

I imagine you can’t go wrong with any pizzeria that you come across, but two that we really enjoyed were Porta Castello (where we snapped the photo) and Dal Pollarollo.

Oh wait. There was one other thing I was looking forward to as I stepped off the plane: gelato.

You know how there’s at least one Starbucks on every block in Philly? Well, that’s kind of how it is with the gelato shops in Italy. And, everyone seems to be eating it—locals and tourists alike—at all hours of the day.

Giolitti, located near the Pantheon, has been around since 1900 making it the oldest ice cream store in Rome. If you go, chances are it will be packed with people and they won’t be organized into any kind of orderly line. So, make sure to pay at the little desk when you first walk in the door, jostle for your place in front of the cases and decide on your flavor combination from the seemingly endless options so you’ll be ready to place your order as soon as one of the servers behind the counter catches your eye. Resist the urge to turn around and head to the place two doors down. Giolitti is one of the best places anywhere to get your gelato fix, if you ask me. The gelato is smooth and creamy, but not too dense or too sweet.

As much as I would have loved to eat pizza and gelato for the duration of the trip, we did venture to other places. The Trastevere neighborhood seemed to be quite the restaurant hotspot and we had two of my favorite dinners of the trip there.

L’Invincible is a wine bar that features simple dishes that make the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients. First course options included triangles of buffalo mozzarella lightly fried and stacked together, for more sophisticated, grown-up version of grilled cheese sandwich. Another highlight was the creamed pea appetizer, topped with a poached egg and fresh ricotta cheese. I also really enjoyed the Bucatini All’Amatriciana, a classic dish featuring thick spaghetti, topped with a spicy tomato sauce that gets a bit of heartiness from bits of pork that are simmered in the sauce. Even the bread was homemade and included interesting flavors such as apricot and chestnut. and the service was very friendly.

Antico Arco offers more contemporary takes on traditional dishes. My favorite dish was the lasagna. Instead of traditional lasagna noodles the layers were comprised of thin slices of potato, layered with asparagus and guinea fowl and topped with a bechamel sauce. I had never had guinea fowl before, but it was rich and flavorful in a way that reminded me of braised short ribs. I also tried the amber jack filet, which is a fish that is kind of a cross between halibut (in texture and flavor) and tuna (in that it is a darker meat). It was paired with a flavorful fennel sauce and accompanied by thinly sliced zucchini that was simply dressed in olive oil and sauce. Chester really enjoyed the pea soup, which included rings of tender squid and the lamb tenderloin wrapped in a crunchy, herb crust. A rich chocolate soufflé cake with vanilla ice cream and a light ricotta mousse with dark cherry sauce were the perfect desserts to finish the meal with.

Of course, food is not the only reason to visit Rome, and there are enough museums, churches and ancient sites to keep you busy for several weeks. You can find some ideas about things to see and do in the Eternal City here, here and here.

I’m slowly working my way though the photos I took on the trip, and here are some of my favorites from Rome.

Trevi Fountain

Castel Sant'Angelo

Spanish Steps

Piazza Navona

Pantheon

On the Road: Venice and Milan

We spent the last two days in Venice. Sadly, the Internets did not cooperate with us while we were there, but everything else about that city is absolutely amazing.

We had a full itinerary planned of museums and other sites to see over our two days there, but the minute we stepped out of the train station and caught a glimpse of the Grand Canal in front of us, those plans went out the window. Instead, we just wandered wherever the city took us.

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Have you guys ever seen the great ’80s movie Labyrinth? Well, Venice is kind of like that (if you haven’t seen this fine film, I’m sad for you. Put it on your summer movie list, stat). It’s basically a series of little islands connected by bridges. And, within each section, there are little narrow alleys and passageways that lead to the city’s main squares.

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Of course, this makes it pretty easy to get lost. Thankfully, my husband is pretty handy with a map.

We saw a few of the sites, like St. Mark’s Church and the Doges Palace, but, our favorite moments were just watching the boat traffic and the way that the water sparkled under the sun. We took a gondola ride as well, and yes, it’s touristy and overpriced, but it’s a lot of fun and a great way to appreciate the city.

In short, you need to put Venice on your travel bucket list. Someday, it will probably sink into the Adriatic Sea and you won’t want to have missed out.

Today, we arrived in Milan, which is our final stop before heading home on Sunday. The highlight for today was seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”

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It’s been a wonderful trip and we feel really fortunate to have been able to take it together and see and do so many awesome things. Traveling is truly one of my favorite things in the world.

If I don’t get around to posting tomorrow, hope you have enjoyed following along. I will have plenty more to share–including a lot of stuff about food and some of the 1000-plus photos I have taken–when I get back to the PHL!

On the Road: Town Hopping in Tuscany

Tuscany may be one of my favorite places ever.

We’ve been out and about exploring small towns for the last few days and each one is more charming and has more beautiful views than the last. The only drawback is that it has been raining off and on throughout the day, sometimes very heavily, but we are making the best of it. We purchased attractive ponchos and I’ve been singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” in full Annie voice. It seems to help, and I know Chester is a huge fan of my vocal talents.

Yesterday, we stopped in Volterra, which is located way, way high up on top of a mountain.

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Several scenes for New Moon were filmed in this gorgeous town. Sadly, I did not see anyone resembling Edward Cullen anywhere around. Some enterprising street performer could make a killing posing for photos with tourists.

Today, we were in Siena. We climbed up to the top of the bell tower at the city hall. It was windy and cold, but once again the views were amazing. We’ve probably climbed more than 1,000 stairs on this trip so far, but that’s how I justify my frequent gelato stops.

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Our last day in Tuscany before heading to Venice is tomorrow and we are hoping that the weather cooperates so that we can just sit out and enjoy the farm. I have pretty much decided that I  would take this over a beach vacation any day.

On the Road: Down on the Farm in San Gimignano and a Visit to Pisa

Well, friends, we made it to the countryside. I am writing this from a farm near San Gimignano in Tuscany, where we are staying for the next few days. This is my view at the moment:

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Seriously. I may never leave. It’s pretty frickin’ amazing.

Before you start with the jokes about how I’m not cut out for roughing it, this place is totally modern. It has a real bathroom and electricity (not like that one–and only–time I went camping. But, I can hear farm animals from time to time and last night I looked up and saw hundreds of stars. That I can handle.

The nice thing about this part of the trip is that we’ve been in busy cities for the last week, and this is so much more relaxed. We have our own kitchen so we can buy our food from the market and cook it instead of eating in a restaurant.

We are driving distance from a bunch of small towns, that can be explored easily in a few hours time. Can you guess where we went today?

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Climbing to the top of the tower is pretty cool. You seriously can feel it leaning to one side, and when you come down, it takes awhile to be able to walk and stand straight again. It was the oddest feeling!

Yes, we took the typical touristy photo of ourselves pretending to hold it up. But, that’s on my real camera, so for now, you will have to settle for this shot of us at the top:

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On The Road: Florence, Part 2

Since it was the hub of the Renaissance, Florence is bursting at the seams the amazing art, architecture, literature and scientific discoveries of that time period. The whole city is pretty much like a museum.

Yesterday, we visited the Accademia to see Michaelanglo’s David, which is spectacular in person. I pretty much have no words for it other than that. We visited the Chapel of the Medici family and San Marco Church, where Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo and others are buried.

Finally, we climbed the 463 steps to the top of the dome at the Duomo for some of the best views of the city. It’s a bit harrowing on the way up. The staircases are windy and steep, the space gets very narrow the higher you go, and since there is only one staircase to get up and come down, you are sharing close personal space with others. In short, it’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare.

I got a bit of vertigo and had to hold on to the wall for a bit at the top before I was able to look out and see this:

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And, this:

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Totally worth it.

Today, we are picking up a rental car and are heading out for a few days in the countryside of Tuscany, so that’s all for now!

On the Road: Florence and Bologna

Yesterday, we took the train from Rome to Florence. I have to say that I am a huge fan of train travel over here. You get an assigned seat, the trains are super fast and they leave and arrive exactly on time.

After we dropped our bags at the hotel, we spent some time just wandering, and I pointed out a lot of jewelry that Chester could buy me in the expensive stores that line the winding streets. We also visited the Uffizi Gallery, which holds the art collection of the Medici family. The collection mostly consists of religious art (I am officially on Baby Jesus overload at this point) but also includes several more well known paintings such as The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

It’s truly a beautiful city and I doubt that my cell phone photos will do it justice, but here are just a couple:

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Ponte Vecchio

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Duomo

Today, we took another short train ride to Bologna, 30 minutes from Florence. It’s a really charming city, with lots of arcaded passageways, medieval architecture and good shopping. Our guidebook described it as one of Italy’s hidden gems, and I guess it must be, because it was not at all packed with tourists.

What makes this city pretty amazing is the food, though, and that’s the main reason we wanted to visit (are you shocked?). Among other things, Bologna is the birthplace of tortellini, Bolognese sauce, and mortadella.

We sampled everything we could, starting with a stop at Tamburini, which has been selling meats, cheeses and other delicacies since 1932:

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Clockwise from the top: Bresaola (dried beef), Prosciutto, Mortadella, Provolone, and Fontina cheese; Salami in the center

We had lunch at Osteria dei Poeti, a restaurant off the beaten path. The meat filled tortellini were not as thick as the versions of this pasta I’ve had here at home and the broth was flavorful without being too salty. A couple of spoonfuls of Pecorino Romano enhanced the flavor. The tagliatelle featured a hearty ragu, which stood up well to the slightly chewy pasty.

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Oh, and in case you were wondering, they have Dr. Seuss over here:

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Ciao for now!