400 days to travel the world…only stopping to eat, drink, and everything in-between.

Italy

Day 180 of 400: Venice – Italy

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The cruise arrived back in Venice early this morning and we took a taxi to our hotel which was near the airport.  As much as we wanted to go into Venice…we decided to spend our day catching up on the internet (since it was so expensive on the ship), doing laundry and re-packing our bags.  Our flight for Ireland leaves tomorrow morning!!


Day 171 of 400: Serralunga D’Alba, Monforte D’Alba and La Morra – Piedmont, Italy

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Today is our last day in Barolo…our Italian vacation is coming to an end!  After a slow breakfast we drove through the area to see some of the other local villages.

The first was Serralunga…another hilltop town.  We climbed our way to the top and stopped to take pictures.  There were barely any places open…we have been told that this month many Italians take there vacation, so some of the shops and restaurants are closed.  European vacation is much different from US vacation…on average we get about 2 weeks and Europeans seem to get about 4-6 weeks.

We continued onto our next place which was Monforte.  This town had its old center on one side and its newer part of town on the other.  We saw a large church in the newer area and stopped to take a look inside and snap some pictures before heading to the old center.  After walking through the wall that surrounded the center we saw this town was an uphill through the cobblestone streets.  As we walked up the main street, we saw an alley with a restaurant called, La Salita (www.lasalita.it).

We quickly realized we were in a restaurant which made very good food.  The breads were all homemade as was the pasta and ice-cream.  We ordered a tasting menu to split between us.  The first course was steak tartare and a Russian salad.  The tartare (raw meat) was served with a creamy goat cheese which was the consistency of butter.  The Russian salad had peas, carrots and potatoes all mixed into mayonnaise.  The tartare was the better dish.  The second course was their house made potato gnocchi…served in a light olive oil with shavings of parmesan cheese and black truffle.  The gnocchi was so chewy…it was like little pieces of doughy goodness.  The third course was lightly seared steak served with sliced grilled tomatoes and hand-cut fries.  Our tasting menu ended with a homemade strawberry ice-cream which was so light and creamy…and a chocolate cookie.  Oh and did I mention each course was served with a glass of local wine?  This restaurant was legit…

Since we decided it was necessary to eat a 4 course menu for lunch…it was nice to burn off those calories as we hiked to the top of the old town.  We recognized the same brick/clay colored roof-tops and buildings, and of course we were rewarded with a spectacular view once at the top.  After our climb back down, we drove through a couple other small villages before heading back to our B&B, which was holding a tasting in the wine cellar.

Of course we had a great time tasting the many many many wines of Cascina del Monestero (our B&B).  There was one other English speaking couple on the private tasting/tour and the wine maker…who spoke all Italian.  He walked us through the cellar having us taste the various types and vintages straight out of the barrels as we talked and tried to translate the Italian to English.  After the barrel tasting, he brought us into the old stone tasting room where he had 10 different bottles lined up for tasting!  He showed us the wine cork opener, pointed to the wine bottles and said he would be back.  The four of us looked at each with smiles and began pouring.  Now, maybe his intentions were for us to pick what we wanted to taste out of the line-up but how were we supposed to know which ones we liked without tasting them all?  Hours went by…the winemaker would come in and out watching us drink.  We decided to share a bottle of our Montefalco, Sagrintino with him, and we had to pour it through the little hand blown Murano glass decanter we had purchased in Chianti.  He liked the wine…asking where it was from as he poured himself a second glass, but he loved the decanter.  He made his wife come in to taste it and write down the website of the decanter for themselves.

Being it was after 9pm, we thanked everyone and walked up to our room where we ate some of our picnic foods and watched a movie before bed.


Day 170 of 400: Barolo and La Morra – Piedmont, Italy

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Red, itchy, rashy bumps…they started on Giff’s arms and then slowly creeped up around his neck and chest.  At first, it seemed like a mosquito attacked him (he had about 40 bites on his arm and hand ) but then tiny little bumps started forming around the “bug bites” and he was constantly scratching.  Giff started to research rashes on the Internet and then started researching bed bugs…what if?  After a couple weeks of freaking ourselves out with what the rash could be, we went to the hospital to have him checked.

The hospital seemed more organized than Barcelona.  It was similar to going to the DMV.  You take a number, wait for it to be called…go to the window and explain what is needed.  Then you go to a different part of the hospital depending on the need which in our case was the dermatologist, sign in at that counter and wait for the doctor.  Thankfully, there was one person who spoke English and assisted us through the system.  He took us to the second counter and spoke in Italian to the women who eventually had us take a seat. He came later to check in on us which was really nice.  After about an hour, the doctor called Giff, and I was not allowed to accompany him.  20 minutes later, Giff came out with a prescription for cortisone pills and was given a cortisone shot in the bootie.  He said the doctor didn’t speak a word of English…the trip was kind of a waste.  They gave us a piece of paper and told us to go pay at the front counter.  The English speaking guy at the front told us not to pay and if the rash didn’t settle down by the next day to come back.

We headed straight to Barolo to find lunch.  It was raining and the restaurant was packed.  We sat at a table and ordered risotto di Barolo which was an extremely rich creamy risotto infused with the local red wine.  We ate lunch chatting with the people sitting next to us and then decided to check out a few other small villages in the area.

First, we stopped at an Enoteca which we found out was a cooperative for the area…meaning they took grapes from numerous farmers, blended it all together and made wine.  We tasted a few of the wines and discussed the differences.  We weren’t overly impressed, so decided not to purchase any bottles .

As we continued our drive towards the village of La Morra, we couldn’t resist pulling over on the side of the road to appreciate the utter beauty surrounding us.  There were miles and miles of perfectly trimmed vines and farmland as far as the eye could see with little hilltop villages peppered throughout the landscape.  We pulled the tripod out and took some pictures inside the vineyards as we tried to capture the scenery on film.

The village of La Morra was teeny and very quiet.  We walked around a bit, buying an ice cream first and stopping at the lookout point which stood tall above the rest of the area.  We took pictures of the statues, church and clock tower and after our short walk had seen La Morra.

We drove back to our B&B to unwind and enjoy our relaxing evening, eating our left over Parmesan, peaches and wine for dinner.


Day 169 of 400: La Morra and Barolo – Piedmont, Italy

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We found La Cascina del Monestero ( http://www.cascinadelmonastero.it) and got settled into our new B&B.  We were excited to see it was a wine making property.  The rows and rows of vines surrounded the huge house on all sides. The rooms were spacious and the property also had a pool in the back with a large outside patio.   We sat out on the back patio staring at the vines, drinking a glass of wine and doing some “work” on the Internet.  We spent most of the day watching the time go by and enjoying the beautiful property.

For dinner, we drove to the well-known town of Barolo…home of some of the best wines in the world.  It was raining and a Sunday so many things were closed but we looked around the small streets and found a quaint restaurant for dinner, Enoteca Della Posta di Barolo.

This restaurant had a cute little patio with about 5 tables outside.  The rain had stopped, so we sat outside and ordered a big salad followed by one homemade pasta in Bolognese sauce and one homemade pasta in a cherry tomato/basil sauce.  The tomato sauce won the prize of one of the best pastas of our trip.  The sweet caramelized onion was cooked down until it formed a thick scrumptious sauce and balanced beautifully with the stewed fresh tomatoes and basil.  It sounds so simple but was so amazing….each bite one would just want to chew slowly and savor the divine juices flowing down one’s throat.  When the waiter came over to take away our dishes, he asked if we wanted dessert and we ordered the same tomato pasta dish again.  Who says dessert has to be sweet?

Well, having three pasta dishes seemed like a good idea at the time but once we were digesting…we realized we were extremely full.  It was dusk and turning dark but we finished looking at the small town walking to the end of the street and taking some pictures of the big church and view of the valley below.

After our evening stroll we went back to our place, watched a bit of TV and fell fast asleep.


Day 168 of 400: Barbaresco and Bra – Piedmont, Italy

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As we drove through the area of Piedmont we looked around pointing to which house we would like…is it the one in the bottom of the valley surrounded on all sides by perfectly groomed vines or the one at the top of the mountain looking down at all of the valley?  We have seen a lot of vineyards in a lot of countries but this area has some of the most beautiful of them all.  To add to the beauty…the grapes were starting to turn from green to a deep purple…we tasted a couple off the vine and they were already sweet.

Barbaresco was a darling village full of wine shops sitting on a hill surrounded by its vineyards.  After a quick visit to the tourist office, we walked into a cathedral that had been turned into a wine tasting building.  The ceilings and walls had ornate detail in both the paintings and woodwork, the way one would expect a church to look like…but inside were also numerous bottles of wine and a counter in the back of the room for tasting.  This town makes a living on wine…everywhere we turned was wine….wine…wine.  We tasted a couple of wines and chatted with the women who educated us on the various regions in the area.  She talked about the typical wine in the area being less “oaky” than typical CA wines.  We left looking for two other tasting rooms that had been recommended.

The village was basically one long street a few blocks long.  We saw the place we were looking for, Cantina Boffa (www.boffacarlo.it).  We picked out a couple of bottles we wanted to taste noting in the Chianti/Umbria area tastings were free vs Piedmont…the tastings were all at a charge more like the Napa Valley area at home although not as expensive.  They had us sit on the back patio which had sweeping views of the vineyards while we sipped our wine and relaxed in the sun.  They brought us some complimentary cheese and crackers and had us taste an additional wine before we purchased two bottles and went on our way.

We stopped in two additional tasting rooms, the first was Gigi Bianco (www.gigibianco.it) where the owner sat down and discussed her wines with us explaining the business had been in her family and was handed down to her.  We liked what we tasted and bought a bottle although we realized Barbaresco wine is not exactly a bargain wine…but tasty all the same.

The last wine shop we visited preferred we don’t mention their name but they spoke no English…not even a drop and it was quite comical nodding our heads as he spoke fast and assumed we were picking up some of what he was saying…but we weren’t.  It was very fun though tasting the different vintages.  He would write down on a piece of paper a year like 1995, he would disappear for a few minutes and come back with a glass of wine he had just gotten from the tank of 1995 red wine.  We would taste it as he talked about it in Italian and we nodded our heads, and then the whole scenario would repeat.  He would write down another year like 1990, disappear and be back again with a different wine.  Although we were having fun…we had an appointment with a vineyard in another town and were already very late…who knows how many years he would have gone back but we had to cut off the fun and head out of Barbaresco.

We were about 45 minutes late to our appointment in the city of Bra at a winemaker called Ascheri (www.ascherivini.it).  Thankfully, they were ok with our tardiness and jumped right into our tour.  One of the managers walked us through the warehouse showing us the machinery, huge metal tanks and dozens of barrels both the huge barrels and smaller ones.  He talked about their wine making process, the local grape varieties and impact of different soil on each vineyard.  He then walked us into the factory portion of their warehouse where they were actually bottling one of the white wines.  He talked us through what the machine was doing pointing from the start where the machine turned the bottle upside-down (to make sure nothing was inside) to the nitrogen placed in the bottle so that when the wine was being placed inside, it would not come into contact with oxygen.

After our full private tour, we followed our guide into the tasting room where they had a plate full of local cheese and the city’s local sausage which dates back many generations and is found homemade from secret recipes throughout Bra.  We picked a few wines to taste and he opened each bottle for us to compare and contrast.  We were a bit buzzing by this point…it was a very long day of tasting local wines!  We bought a few bottles and then walked around a bit to see the city.

For dinner, we just stayed in enjoying the property at our B&B and munching on the cheese and fruit we had purchased.  Tomorrow we will drive just about 30 minutes or so to our next B&B to stay in the Barolo area for a few days.