Saturday, July 23, 2011

How much is 3 hours in Venice worth?!

Our flight to Frankfurt left Venice airport at 8 pm so I had the brilliant idea of dropping off our rental car early in the day, checking in our luggage, storing our hand luggage and taking the vaporetto into Venice for lunch and a little wandering around.  We had spent 5 days in Venice on our last trip so didn't really feel the need to do much sightseeing.

The first indication of trouble was when Lufthansa refused to check us in earlier than 3 hours before our flight.  So we schlepped all our bags down to the luggage storage facility and left them there (after much security screening and id-checking).  Then we headed off to buy vaporetto tickets - well it turns out that the vaporetto to San Marco takes an hour and ten minutes.  Which would have given us maybe an hour in Venice before we had to head back for our flight.

So we took a water taxi for 100 direct to San Marco - which the girls just loved.  We cruised by the Danieli, where we had waterfront rooms last time, and glided into San Marco in about 30 minutes.  By this time it was past 2:30 pm and we went in search of lunch, only to be turned away by a few restaurants.  We finally ended up at the cafe of the Bauer Palazzo hotel, overlooking the Grand Canal.  We had a long and pleasant lunch watching the gondolas and boats go by.

After lunch, we wandered through San Marco, which seemed to be less beautiful than in the past.  Perhaps I just like it better in the mornings and evenings.  Or perhaps the huge section of walled off construction had something to do with it.

A little more shopping, some gelato and a stroll over the Rialto Bridge.  Then we boarded a water taxi many hundreds of euros poorer, and headed back to the airport in good time for our flight to Frankfurt, then on to Bangkok.

Visiting Verona

On our last full day in the Veneto, we headed off to see Verona in the daylight.  It's really a lovely city and although parts were very crowded (by Juliet's house, mostly), most of the city was not very heavily touristed.

The ruling family in Verona were the Scaligieri (similar to the Medicis in Florence) and the Scaligieri Bridge leading up to the old castle was really lovely.  Looking down at the Adige river (the same one that runs by our Villa) from the bridge very much reminded me of Florence as well.

We then went to see Juliet's house and balcony - a tourist attraction that was set up in the 1930s.  The house had been an inn belonging to the Capuleti family who were famously feuding with the Montecchia family (and were the inspiration for Shakespeare and many other authors).  So the balcony was added in the 1930s to add to the mystique and the whole thing was renamed Juliet's House and added to the standard tourist destination list.  The odd little tradition is to rub the right breast of the statue of Juliet in the courtyard!  We stood in line after a passel of Asian tourists, all happily snapping away with their cameras.

We had lunch in Piazza dei Signori at Antico Caffe Dante, some lovely seafood risotto and fettuccini - and watched an Italian commercial being filmed by Dante's rather creepy statue.  We also had a lovely dessert of chocolate gnocchi - very yummy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bravissima Aida!

Dave Morris, in his infinite wisdom, bought us Aida tickets many, many months ago.  Which is why we packed the adults up into two cars and headed into Verona, sans children, one evening.

We did not recognize any of the famous Italians in the photo :(
We started off with a nice dinner at Trattoria al Pompiere, a Chowhound recommendation that managed to fit the 10 of us into it's smallish space with only a day's notice.  We had yet another excellent Italian meal, with yet another fabulous salumi platter, and the local specialty, risotto alla amarone (the local robust red wine).
Prosciutto, Lardo, Mortadella, Sopressatta...
Then we strolled over to the 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater known as the Arena, armed with little padded cushioned seats, English libretto and a fan.  The capacity was 25,000 for the audience, but we were a lot less than that - probably only about 75-80% full.  There was a lot of choice - La Traviata had been playing the prior evening, Barber of Seville was the next night.

Seeing Aida there was simply magnificent, under the almost full moon.  The cast of hundreds displayed phenomenal pomp and circumstance in the triumphal march in Act II, with dancing girls, solders and 4 very well-behaved live horses on stage.  Radames was suitably noble, Aida suitably wistful and Amneris suitably dramatic and scorned.

Since the opera started at 9:15 pm, it ran quite late.  I fortified myself with a cornetto ice cream for the roving vendors who appeared magically during the breaks between acts.

A night to remember!


I guess this is a big thing while holidaying in Italy - agriturismo are farms who are allowed to function either as B&Bs or to open up to serve food to the public Thurs-Sundays.  They are very popular with families since the associated activities usually include a farm tour and lots of outside play areas for the kiddies.

We went to one close by for dinner on Sunday night, to Tre Rondini (or the three swallows).  The kids enjoyed the trampolines, playground and this highly coveted bike thingy (I really thought someone was going to get hurt!).

The adults enjoyed some fabulous risotto and nice salumi platters.  It made for a very relaxing and laid back dinner, with lots of other Italian families.  Not a big thing for the foreign tourists apparently...

Busy in Bologna

Bologna is an old university town.  I read that of the major medieval universities, Oxford was renowned for science, Paris was known for theology, and Bologna was known for law.  Nowadays, it's also known for food as the biggest town in Emilia-Romana.

Cheese display at Eataly
We headed into Bologna on a 90 degree day and ended up at Eataly, the food emporium, for lunch.  Not the most atmospheric, but their air-conditioning was excellent!  We had the local specialities - tagliatelle alla bolognese for Narisa (it's her favorite pasta and I told her she really needed to have it when it was invented, in Bologna!), tortellini in Brodo (small tortellini served in soup), some local fish and a meat patty that was prepared to Slow Food standards.

This part of Italy is the cradle of the Slow Food movement - the precursor to the locavore movement in California.  More on that at a later restaurant...

The Trabosh, Morris and McAdams kids

Bologna was surprisingly untouristy.  We wandered around the mercato di mezzo in Bologna and into the old San Petronio cathedral, which was enormous.  The interesting thing about Bologna is that almost everything was built in red brick but not faced in marble like other Italian cities.  So the Bolognese are reputed to be very straight forward without a lot of pretense - plus a hotbed of leftist politics.
Gelato bars - the blood orange was yummy
After a nice wander, a little shopping and the requisite gelato, we called it a day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lake Garda and Sirmione

Last Sunday, we drove up to Lake Garda, the easternmost of the northern Italian lakes (Lake Como is the westernmost and probably the most famous of the lakes - where George Clooney has a house ;).

It was a beautiful, albeit very hot day.  We had lunch at a small restaurant lakeside with a dock and boat mooring - where Narisa stuck her feet into the water (it was not as cold as we thought it would be).

Then we walked and walked to the small town of Sirmione that was lovely but extremely crowded.  It was a small medieval town, so cars had to park outside the walls of the old town.  Inside, there were narrow cobblestone streets with charming shops.  Check out the most magnificent bougainvillea in the photo below.

And we ended up at the ruins at the tip of the little peninsula with lovely views.

Villa Bartolomea!

My apologies for being so behind in my posts, but it's been awfully busy and blogging does have a lower priority than sightseeing, shopping, eating, gelato and doing work emails!

We arrived on Saturday evening to Villa Mira, our 13 bedroom villa in the small town of Villa Bartolomea, located about 30 miles southeast of Verona.  It's a huge and rambling villa from the late 1800s belonging to a prominent Roman family who rent out part of the property - there are some parts that are just sealed off (although we did break in to explore the old chapel ;) and parts that just seem unused (the old stables).  There is an onsite caretaker, which is really useful when things break down - she gave us an hour's worth of instructions about the house.  130 year old houses have a lot of idiosyncrasies...

We have five families staying here this week - 10 adults + 11 teens and kids ranging from 5 to 18.  Every room in the house is fully occupied!  The ground floor has a large living room, music room, billiard room, conservatory room, dining room and enormous kitchen with a large marble topped table where we spend a lot of time.

Our bedroom are beautiful, look at our ceilings in the photo below.

The downside to the house is that not all the rooms have screens, and when unscreened windows are left open, we are often swarmed by mosquitos and wasps.

We are located right next to the Adige river which runs from Lake Garda in the north, down to meet the Po, running through Verona before it gets down by us.  There is a great bike path that runs along the river for miles - I went for a bike ride while our teenagers went for a run the other morning.