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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Dark & Delicious Tour 2014

Sorry this has taken so long to get written.  I had every intention to write each night on the trip, but I was usually too exhausted by the end of the day to do anything but sleep.  Several days we didn't even leave enough time for that!  So now, here we are two months later, and you finally get the story!  This is a long read, but one of the best trips of my life!!  Enjoy the pictures of food!  Welcome to:

  ITALY: The Dark & Delicious Tour

Excited for our trip!!
Plane Ride

Setting the scene ... Bri and I are at the airport with plenty of time.  We grab a quick dinner before we find out our fight has been delayed 45 minutes.  That's ok.  We head to the uber cool Delta lounge and have a quick glass of wine before heading to the gate.  Bri has seat 6D showing on her delta app, which is confusing because we are sitting next to each other in row 22.  She asks at the delta lounge, and everyone chalks it up to a computer glitch.  As we make our way back and stand at the gate, we realize that people are lining up kind of behind us.  Then they are crowding us.  Then they are pushing us.  One guy is talking loudly on I his phone.  I say, "he's a jerk," Bri says, "no, he's Italian."  Oh boy!  Two tiny Italian women are slowly but deliberately sliding in front of us, and a crowd of other people are doing the same.  The announcers call for boarding for people who need assistance with wheelchairs and strollers.   Then first class.  Several people are turned away because they are neither of these things.  We finally reach the front, and the woman tells Bri that she has been upgraded to first class.  She jumps up and down and says that she has never been upgraded and insists that I take it.  This is not my seat, this is hers!  She refuses to take no for an answer, and thus I am, for the first time, in wonderful international first class.

I find my seat and they hand me a glass of champagne.  In a real glass!  I don't mean to sound like a 10 year old on Christmas, but this is REALLY COOL!  I've been in first class a couple of times, but it was domestic, and some extra foot room, but not like THIS!  I'm not in a seat, I'm in a cubicle!  There Is a pillow, blanket, and headphones.  There is a care kit with socks, sleep mask, toothbrush, face and lip lotion, and various other necessities.  My seat reclines to supine (flat) position to sleep.  There is a MENU for dinner, breakfast, and snacks.  This is amazing.  Did I mention the chair was a massaging chair?  So I kicked back, reclined, chose from dozens of new movies (I watched maleficent & the fault in our stars), and waited for my delicious dinner!  Can you believe an airline could serve this?  And the breakfast ... oh the breakfast.  Sorry for the food pictures of plane food, but I was AMAZED, and after all, it IS the "Dark & Delicious" Tour!

Check out these dinner options!
Roasted shrimp with grilled corn salad
Filet, mashed potatoes, baby veggies, and pattypan squash
Sundried tomato quiche, roasted tomato, grilled mushrooms, sausage, and fresh fruit







During breakfast I looked out the window at the Swiss Alps and silently wished to never get off this plane.  But Italy was waiting!











Rome

The upgrade with a bed and leg elevation turned out to be excellent since we jumped right into our day when we arrived.  We hopped the train and headed into the city and our hotel, Hotel Rome Excel St. Peter.  We changed and set off to find pizza, which is almost everywhere, and so so so good.


We found this little shop not far from our hotel and ordered several slices of different flavors.  This is the first, and far from only, time that I really appreciated that Bri speaks Italian because most people there certainly do not speak English, and some of the toppings were questionable (anchovies anyone?).  Obviously my eyes were bigger than my stomach!  And mind you, I had already passed one of my pieces over to Bri.  But oh so good.  Topped with fruity olive oil and fresh basil!





I learned quickly that we would be making several stops a day for cafe'.  Now, I am not a coffee drinker.  As much as my mother wishes all of her kids would sit at the table and drink coffee with her in the morning, none of us do.  But this isn't American coffee.  This is CAFE'!  It is a rich (not bitter), slightly dark-chocolatey shot of deliciousness with a layer of creamy foam on top.  Now, there is no cream in it, it's just made like that and it is wonderful.  It's a buck a cup.  Can't go wrong.  And everyone drinks it everywhere.  So Mom, this is for you!!  (seriously, I took this very picture because I said my Mom would never believe it!)

Cafe' keeps the yawns away!

We then found a cab and headed to the Catacombes of San Callisto.  (http://www.catacombe.roma.it/en/catacombe.php)  These were different than the skeletons on the wall that I saw in the catacombs of Palermo, Italy, many years ago.  (If you ever find yourself in Palermo, you HAVE to go see this!)  In this example, they started by digging a narrow tunnel.  They would dig body-sized holes in the side of the wall, and place a body.  Yes, there were small holes too.  They only used the space they needed.  They eventually had to dig the walkway farther down, freeing up more wall space.  Then added stairs to be able to get back up.  But it's not just straight down.  There are turns and alleys.  They kept going for hundreds of thousands of bodies. I think they said there were at least 7 stories down.  The picture below shows a field.  All area underneath are catacombs.  And this was just a fraction of the space.  This is where Popes and Bishops and other members of the church were buried for centuries.  There was a lot of turmoil in the 10th century, and these graves were pillaged, but eventually the entrances were blocked and forgotten.  They were rediscovered on accident in 1578, and were then explored and mapped.  There are no bodies there anymore, but it is a very cool tour!  For more info,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Rome


The road to the Catacombs

Next we headed to this very cool fortress called Castel Sant'Angelo. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant'Angelo)  It was amazing to see the ballroom, library, and meeting rooms.  We were also really enamored with doors during this trip.  I think on my next house I would like a giant iron door with spikes on it.  I think it makes a statement!  




I want these doors

Entrance to castle
This reminded me of one of those paintings where the stairs going down end at the top - Escherian staircase!

The view of the Vatican from inside the castle

The Vatican!
Protecting the castle

These very intact paintings were on the ceiling of one of the meeting rooms.  I think they got a little kinky with sea serpents and unicorns back then ... 



The Cannon Deck!


This was from right above the cannon balcony overlooking the city

And this was the beginning of the handstands of the trip!  We found a nice little cove and amazingly, people weren't walking through, so we decided to steal this picture:






On our way home, we see one of the funniest moments of our entire trip.  We were crossing the road outside the castle, and we pass a man on a motorcycle banging on the hood of the car next to him.  We are right in front of him, so we kind of stop and watch quizzically.  Then we realize that because everyone drives like jackasses, this woman in the car was inching forward to squeeze into a very small space, and was actually ON this man's foot!  He couldn't pull it out!  She backs up slightly and we keep going, laughing our heads off.  We're PRETTY sure it was just the shoe because looked more pissed than in pain.  We motorcycle guy below ...









We head home to rest and ice my leg (did I mention that I had a stress fracture and didn't know it, so I walked all over Italy on it?)  Bri asked the hotel for ice for me ... and it is Europe, where they don't really use ice, so she came back with this ... A bag with 6 mini ice cubes.  It was melted in 7 minutes:

















We cleaned up a tad and headed out for the first real Italian dinner.












We only had to walk a couple of blocks before finding a quaint little place called "Pizzeria Ristorante" with sidewalk seating.  We immediately sat down and perused the menu.  I took an educated guess at what we were ordering.  I was very excited!




While we were waiting for our food, as well as while we were eating, we seemed to be somewhat of a novelty.  We had two waiters come over to help us, and the owner himself came over and adorned me with kisses on the cheek.  He was speaking to Bri in Italian and I didn't understand, but later she told me that he said I was beautiful, and that the waiter could have her, but he wanted me.  It was quite funny.  We also had their in-house wine which was amazing.  I could live on pasta and wine for a very long time!  Check out these dishes (Italian names escape me now):

Appetizer:  Risotto balls & Fried zucchini flowers, stuffed with cheese

Yes, we're children ...

Their OWN wine!!  It was fabulous

The BEST steak I've ever had!  Rosemary steak medallions

Pasta.  Local ragu sauce.  I don't know what.  It was awesome. My first Italy pasta!

Ist Taste
Oh yeah .....

Definitely awesome

Caramel creme brulee' for dessert



Cafe' with dessert!


Last Hours in Rome

Breakfast with cafe'.  Of course.  It was here that I learned that breakfast in Italian hotels is VERY tuned into it's clientele.  There is yogurt, granola, and nuts, for the Germans.  Dolce (sweets), such as chocolate croissants and brioche, for the Italians, along with this weird super-sweet "juice" (kind of like a sweetened rice juice, if you ever had that as a child).  Plain croissants and fruit for the French.   Meats (sausage & prosciutto) and cheese with croissants and rolls for the Spanish. Tea for the British.  Eggs and bacon (or a frankenbacon made out of prosciutto) and bad coffee for the Americans.  And of course Espresso & Cappuccino, because breakfast is the ONLY time you should drink Cappuccino! (I learned this at this breakfast as well).  This is also the time that Bri had to stuff 3 bags full of beautiful Italian suits into one tiny duffel bag.  Well done, Bri!



Drive to Naples

Just for the record, driving in Italy is INSANE.  Bri, I really don't know how you did it.  We make our way to the Rome train station to pick up our car.  We get in our tiny Fiat 500, which was a godsend considering the very small roads we had to make it through later in the day.  We started driving on what looks like a 3-lane city road, but there aren't actually any lines.  If there are, nobody pays any attention to them, including the motorcycles (in between cars) and the occasional insane bicyclist.  People fit where they can and edge in, with every car having dents because they just don't care if they hit you.  White knuckled and barely breathing, Bri makes her way out of the city and onto the freeway where there ARE actual lines.  First stop, what we would call a travel plaza a freeway rest stop.  A plaza with gas station, gift shop, food.  We ordered this pizza.  This pizza was the BEST I have ever had.  I didn't want to stop eating it.  I don't know what they do differently, but seriously, can someone just find out and I will pay big money!  A few gifts purchased, grabbed our pizzas, and then we were off!  Bri was even talented enough to eat and drive!


Seriously the Best piece of pizza I've EVER had!

Now that's talent!

Naples / Gragnano

We had every intention of going on this really cool underground tunnel tour.  There are miles of tunnels under Naples with various junk from almost a century ago.  We were both really looking forward to it.  For lodging, we had booked an Agritourismo (farm that rents out rooms to supplement income) in Gragnano, which is at the top of the mountain near Naples.  We were running a tad late, and then we were running a LOT late, but we figured we would go find our place on the mountain, change, and head back down to our tour.  Yeah, that didn't happen.

Driving up the mountain, through tiny towns and tiny 1-lane roads, we had to dodge people that would walk across the road without looking, or simply stand in the middle.  If a car was coming the other direction, we had to go in reverse till we found a parking spot or other break, so the other car could pass.  It was NUTS!  This driving made Rome seem easy.  Men watched us crazy blonde white girls navigating through the streets and laughed.


Where do you want to go?

Tiny streets

Gorgeous views!  And yes, we'll be driving over that bridge in a minute

On our way in, we took a sharp turn around a wall (see pic below), which turned out to be one of our last turns, and the tunnel was so narrow that we actually hit the mirror on the wall as we turned.  As we have been told, this mountain hasn't seen Americans (because nobody is crazy enough to drive up there) since World War II.  Everyone thought we were Australian or British.  To them, English all sounds the same.  One person thought we were German.  I guess I could see that with our fair skin and blue eyes.  I do have Schemenauer (Granny's mother) blood in me!  

Did we make it?  YES!  But we clipped the mirror

Finally reaching the top of the mountain and our destination, which we NEVER thought we would make it to, we check into our room.  Now, this was easier said than done!  The way Bri describes it, Enzo was not speaking normal Italian, but more like a "down-south, back-woods, hick" version of Italian.  If you ever been to the back woods of the south, and can barely understand their dialect, you can understand this.  They give us this VERY COOL key, and showed us to our room.  There are only a few rooms, only a few guests tonight, and we are the first to arrive.  We take a well-deserved rest in the room.  (Im pretty sure Bri could have used a pretty stiff drink at this point).  First we had to get a phone signal and call the Naples underground tour and tell them there was no way we were going to go all the way back down the mountain, and back up.  So sorry we won't be coming!



So happy to arrive!

Hard to see, but this is Casa Scola!
Well-deserved rest

Amalfi room key







Amalfi coast / Mountain handstand

Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta - XI Sec



After we rest a bit (Bri took a 30 minute nap), we decide to explore this tiny city.  We stumbled upon this very cool, really old, church in the middle of the square.  There was a crypt-type block of cement on the outside with a painting of a man, and some strange writing.  We're pretty sure there was a body in there.

We kept walking, and found ourselves venturing through this fantasy-like brick archway.  On the other side we found a dirt inclining walkway.  We kept walking and found ourselves amidst a GRAPE VINEYARD!  How cool!  We ventured pretty far up, not having any idea who's land it was.  At one point we saw a little brick building, and a truck outside.  There was a man working.  We're thinking he was making wine in there, and we're not sure if he saw us.  We were, after all, trespassing!  There was a house about a 1/4 mile up, with little boys running around, so we retreated back down.  It may have belonged to the church, as it was right behind it. 







During our walk, we also came through the very tunnel that brought us to our Agritourismo!  This is the tunnel that we scraped our mirror on.  Do you think my Ford SUV would fit through there?  Probably not ...


Just a side note, we were walking through the "alleys" of this broken city, and there was a cat on the side of the path staring straight ahead.  I thought he was kind of cute, and said he was probably blind.  Bri is convinced that it was a devil cat that was going to steal our souls, and insisted that we couldn't look it right in the eyes.

We headed back to the casa, and Bri decides that she can drive again - but just down the mountain a tad to the city.  We pass some kind of pasta tour sign, and think that maybe it looks interesting we pull into a parking lot to turn around.  We realize that there are too many cars, and we can't go back, so we decide to continue on to the agritourismo.  We turn the very tight corner, and hear *POP* ... **hisssssssss**.  Oh yes, you heard right.  Bri takes off as men are watching us from the side of the road.  I say, "Don't you want to stop and check it out?"  She says, "Not a chance are we stopping."  So we didn't!  We drove all the way back up the mountain to our Casa.  We ask Enzo for help, and he calls the local "handy guy."  Meanwhile, Enzo's son comes out to make our acquaintance.  Of course I couldn't understand a damn word he said, but he was quite enamored with us.  He was proud of his fig trees, and started climbing quite high up to get us the best fruits.  He also showed us the walnut tree and gave us some of those as well.  We also ask about the very shy, very beautiful, white dog that has followed us around at a distance.  He says, "oh that dog.  He's a dog.  He doesn't have a name."  But they do have a tiny pet chihuahua, and his name is Fritz.  We decide that the white dog's name is Lupo Bianco, which translates to "White Wolf."  Bri also translates when we part and he says to me, "I am always at your service."  Internal eye-roll .....

Meanwhile the elderly gentleman comes to fix our tire.  He says it can't be fixed, but that he can put the donut on for us, which he does, with help from the Lupo Bianco.  He says that we could go to town for a new one, but it wouldn't be until the next day, and we really don't have time for that.  We make the decision to try the 6-hour drive on the donut.  When he finishes, Bri asks what we owe him.  He won't take payment, but wants to take us to dinner.  Right now.  She politely declines, and he says ok let's get cafe'.  It was actually a little creepy at this point, and we kind of smile and wave as we escape to our room.

Stupid Americans get flat tire

Local handyman & Lupo Bianco

In addition to these adorable doggie friends, there were also TONS of cats around the grounds.  Gatti.  I enjoyed saying hello to them and scratching their necks, but everyone else pretty much ignored them.  They did have plenty of water and food dishes spread around.


Lupo Bianco & Fritz


Lots of gatti everywhere!  (cats)


We went back and followed the sign for a pasta factory tour, and decided to check it out.  We go up this hill, and this is at the top.  Now, we couldn't keep going because there was a gate blocking the road as well.  We pull into a tiny little spot that wouldn't have fit more than our Fiat, going forward, and backing up, and turning slightly, and forward, and back ... you get the picture.  Im not actually sure how we got OUT of the car.  Oh!  Bri let me out before she pulled in for the final time, and she's skinny, so she put as much room on her side to get out.  We ring the buzzer on this gate, and it opens.  Then we try a door.  Nope.  Then try another door.  Nope.  Locked, and no answer when we knock.  We walk all the way around this very industrial building, and realize that on the opposite side (right on the other side of the original gated road), we find a front door, and a cute little pasta shop.  The manager says they are closed for tours, but takes us through anyway, talking about local ingredients and the pride that they take.  I tuned out after a while, but Im sure Bri can tell you a lot about it!  We ended up buying some pasta, and we notice they had terra cotta red peppers (Cornicello) above the doorway.  They told us these were seen as devil horns, and were supposed to keep the evil eye away.  They gave us each a horn to remember our journey.  You will soon see that we are pretty sure they were cursed.

Pasta Factory:  Pasta di Gragnano

Back at the casa, we change and head down for Lena's dinner.  It didn't disappoint as a several-course meal experience that Bri ate pretty much all of.  I struggled.  This was our antipasti dish, which I also think we should implement in the states.  She continued with her special zucchini and pancetta pasta (pasta from the factory we were at!) and house-made wine, which I had to take a few bottles of!

Bread & wine - soooo ready for dinner!

Antipasti

Lena's famous zucchini pasta

She finished it.  All of it!

This is how far I made it

Divine chocolate custard pastry dessert

Close up dessert

Big Winner!  Clean Plate Club!

Earlier while admiring the mountains from our balcony, I notice this far-off castle on the top of the mountain.  I am so curious about it that I ask Lena at dinner.  She explains that it's just some ruined castle, and it's only about 10 minutes away.  Are we up for an adventure.  Oh yeah, we're all about the adventure.  So we mentally prep ourselves, and head down the mountain, to head up the other side.  Easier said than done.  We get to the other side, and we have NO idea which road heads up to where we need to go.  There were tons of men walking around the town square.  We didn't realize there was a big football game going on.  We later asked why we didn't see any women.  The answer was, "Oh women don't go out on weeknights."  And there we were driving around.

We headed up one road and figured out quickly that we were heading in the wrong direction.  We went back to the square and headed up another road.  A very narrow road that seemed to be getting more narrow as we drove up.  It also started to get much steeper.  We got very high up and wanted to turn around.  But there was nowhere to turn around.  And there was a cliff.  Bri has some seriously good driving skills, and turned around in a space the size of a garbage can.  This was the only time I was actually scared.  We were on a mountain with nowhere to turn around.  We tried one last road.  Now, this road was set at close to a 45 degree angle.  On our way up we actually started spinning our tires and rolling backwards.  I nearly peed my pants.  We get up and turn this hairpin turns and we figure out that there is actually no way to get to the castle.  At some point we make a hard decision that we have been defeated.  We stop at a large solid gate and try to climb or get a glimpse to see if we are actually close.  Bri tried to peek around the wall, through a small opening, and saw eyes looking back from the other side.  She nearly fell over.  We gave up and headed home.  On the way DOWN those roads, I literally closed my eyes.  Thanks Bri, for trying to get me to my ruined castle!

Mysterious Castle

Zoomed in version of castle

We turned in for the evening.  We didn't actually have that many hours until needing to get up for our drive to Bologna.

Sleeping that evening turned out to be harder than expected.  All of the windows were open, but the temperature was quite nice.  BUT in the middle of the night, we started to hear this insane barking.  It sounded like our doggie friends had a lot of other doggie friends.  They were going insane, running from one side of the casa to the other, so we could hear them from the opposite windows.  We later found out that there are wolves and coyotes around, and they were probably protecting the grounds.  They had to have barked for 2 hours straight.

In the morning, we headed down for breakfast and saw that the German couple who were planning on staying two days were all packed up and ready to go!  I guess they heard the dogs too.


Drive to Bologna

After the lovely breakfast from Lena, we head to the car to check on it.  We find creepy old dude from yesterday lurking around.  He's there to make sure our tire is ok, and wants to know if we want to have coffee with him. Sorry dude, time to hit the road!  BYE gatto!  BYE Lupo Bianco!  BYE Fritz!  BYE figs!  BYE Lena!!


And we head down the hill on our tiny car with a donut.  But these aren't ordinary roads down the other side of the mountain either!  Void of people for the most part, they are barely more than one lane, with death-defying hairpin turns, not knowing what is coming up the other side.  So here we are inching down the mountain, and we see this blue light shining on the side of the mountain.  We stop and get out, kind of in the ditch as a car zooms past us going the other direction.  It turns out it is an ancient castle built in the side of the mountain.  Ok, in all fairness, we saw the blue light, and stopped, the night before.  But it was too dark to go inside and explore, so these pictures are actually night shots.  During daytime, we got out and explored the entrance, which is dirt-floored with stone walls.  Inside looks like this is where they would greet people before allowing them through the actual castle doors, which were now covered up.  I would love to see the life, the grand clothing, the torture, that must have occurred in this castle during another time.

Mountain view


Part of the ancient castle - see the rounded brick to the left

Ancient castle entrance - the inside is dirt floors - actually entrance has a wall up now

Inside the castle!!

View from inside the castle entrance

After this we jump on the freeway, and Bri lets me sleep, bless her heart!  She claims she is happy to drive and is enjoying the countryside.  Yeah, like I could drive there if I wanted to!!    I float in and out of sleep, so I get to see some of the countryside as well.  I even got to wave to Mt. Vesuvius as we go by.

Mt. Vesuvius

She did wake me up to see this car ... she was very excited about it ... car nerd.  ; )




Around lunchtime, we decide that we are going to try to find pizza again.  We drive for a while till we see a promising exit.  Turns out it was just a little hick mountainside town.  We follow a sign for a restaurant that turns out to be at the very top of said mountain ... and it's closed.  And here we are going back down the mountain.  Let's turn right at the bottom and see what we find before getting back on the freeway.  OH!  A little restaurant.  With people!  We pull over and head into the tiny restaurant where we are the only patrons.  We pass a few older Italian men sitting and having cafe' outside.  Apparently they said some very interesting things as we passed by, unaware that Bri spoke Italian.  At one point I got a little chilly, so I ran out to the car to grab my shawl.  It had also started to rain.  Im running to the car, and running back in.  The men say "Mama Mia" and make hand motions.  Yeah buddy, I know what that means.  Back inside we order the local specialty, which is pasta and some type of ragu.  We see an animal head on the wall and decide that this mountain antelope/dear must be what we are eating.  (This comes up later in the trip!)  We were also served a garlic toast / bruschetta bread, fresh parmesan, and a pitcher of red wine.  I can't get enough of these house wines.  So good.  This is the first and only time that I will have eaten more than Bri.  I ate the whole thing.  I wanted more.  I also would have finished the wine, but a fly and jumped in for the last of it.  Yay to mountain towns!

The best bruschetta I've ever had!

Im such a happy girl at this moment

The best pasta & Ragu I've ever had, and of course red wine

I finished it!  The first and only time of the trip

You can't see it well, but the fly is floating next to the handle

Bologna

After a fast change of clothes, and dropping off our luggage at our hotel, Hotel Touring Bologna, we head off to dinner in a castle!  We are going to meet Bri's friends, affectionately called "the boys", at their apartment for dinner.  But it's not just an ordinary apartment.  It's in a CASTLE!  Castelvetro di Modena to be exact.  So we leave the hotel, looking forward to a short 45-60 minute drive.  Now, we are still driving on the tire donut because we didn't see the point in switching cars since we will be handing this one in soon.  We are driving on the freeway, and Bri says, "Holy shit my phone just died."  I say "WHAT?"  Apparently the charging cord stopping working and we didn't notice.  Unfortunately, her GPS was on that phone, as was any contact information to call the boys.  I turn my phone on, which is off because it's an expensive signal, but this is an emergency!  I try to pull up the GPS, but now we have no cell phone signal!  So at this point we are just guessing at the direction.  Bri realizes that she had send Allessandro an email and had included me on it, so I look up my email and actually find it!  So I send him an email (somehow I had service at this point) and give him my phone number.  Meantime, Bri looks down and says "Holy shit we're out of gas."  Now, this isn't possible, because we just got gas on our way from Naples.  And it was full serve!  Well the guy hadn't put the gas cap on correctly, and the gas was just splashing out this whole time.  And we have no idea where we are or where a gas station is.  By some miracle, we see a sign for gas and we pull over.  We get back in the car and start driving in the general direction.  Suddenly we see signs for the castle, which we follow.  We must have stumbled on a different route because Bri said she has NEVER seen a sign to Castle Vetro before.  We get close, and my phone rings!  It's Allesandro!!  They tell us to drive up to the castle, and just PARK.  She describes our surroundings, and we hear them RUNNING down the street to us!  YAY!  We are found!!  They give hugs and kisses (on both cheeks, of course), they look at our half-tire and laugh, and we get in the car and they drive us to their apartment.  Since we had purchased a couple of bottles of wine from Casa Scola, we grabbed one and headed inside.

Ok, I stole this from the internet - I wanted you to see how cool this castle is!

Since we are about an hour and a half late, Stefano tells us that he has cooked, and has had the antipasto ready, and has had to slap Alesandro's hand with a wooden spoon to get him from eating the food.  Alessandro said it was torture to have the food on the table and not be able to eat it!

I was so hungry, and so ready to just chill, I didn't take pictures of the food.  SO SORRY!  They had this amazing antipasto tray for us, goat cheese with honey & balsamic (amazing!), bread, wine.  We also had pasta, then a beef stew.  There was something else but I can't remember.  See, this is why I need pictures!  They asked if we wanted to dessert, and started to opening cupboards to see what kind of client gifts they might have in there (they work in the automotive industry).  I was good with the wine!

Antipasti
Beef stew

Meats & cheeses

We were going to a group picture, and I mentioned that I had just bought a camera remote for my iPhone.  Well Allesandro thought this was the greatest thing!  We set the camera up on the countertop and get ready for the picture, and he just keeps snapping away!  These are just too funny to not post almost all of them!  He just kept clicking away!  He even put it behind his back to make sure it would still work.  Bri sent them each one when we got home as a thank you gift.  I hope they got them!  This had to be one of the funniest parts of the trips.















After dinner we went out to the courtyard.  This place is amazing and I really want to have a game of real people chess.  Everyone would be dressed up in their appropriate chess costumes, and everyone else would be dressed up in grand ballroom costumes and drinking champagne while we watch.

Castle Courtyard Chess!
I love this shot!
Me & The Boys!

Thanks Stefano Lungini, Allesandro Della Franceso, and Unberto Cesare for the fun night!

After a very VERY early morning cafe', we jumped on the bus that took us to Alessandro's Food Experience.  Everything on this tour is certified DOP (sorry, I don't know that it stands for), which basically means that everything is made locally.  For instance, for the cheese, not only are the cows for the milk local, so is the grain that is fed to the cows.  These were TRUE Modena products.  We started at the parmisiano-reggiano factory and learned about the steps that it takes to make this very tasty product.  Bri and I even got to help with the new cheese in the water bath!  Bri named hers and said she wants some when it ages in a couple of years.  We learned the process, as well as the inspections they have to pass (thumping on the cheese to make sure there are no air bubbles, which will make the cheese go bad eventually).  We saw the room of cheese wheels worth millions of dollars.  We got to taste the Grade 1 and Grade 2 cheese (aged slightly less because of a slight imperfection).  All three grades are perfectly good to eat, but only the grade 1 can handle the longer aging process.  The grade 2 has to be consumed in slightly less time, and grade 3 should be consumed much sooner.  It was amazing!  We both took home a large chunk of cheese.  She went for grade 1, and I went for grade 2.  I liked it because it was a little bit creamier.


We're ready for this tour!

Cooking the whey off to get the wheel of cheese
Bri making parmisiano-reggiano!

Allesandro explaining the cheese process
Forming the cheese

Appreciating the aroma of the cheese room

Millions of dollars of cheese

Explaining the differences between grades - each wheel is stamped with the factory, the date, and everything else to know exactly when and where it came from

Grade 1 - no lines

Grade 2 - lines but readable

Grade 3 - lines across all information

Parmesan-Reggiano handstand!

Im not going to lie, the prosciutto factory freaked me out a little bit.  It was very interesting to hear about the care they take with the animals, free range and eating well.  Then the legs are hung up, coated with a sealer, and aged.  It smelled kind of funky.  As they age, they put salt and more sealer so that it can age in peace and not go bad.  There were a LOT of legs in that place.  They really take pride in it.  We got to taste, and it literally melted in my mouth.  I've never really liked prosciutto before.  Im not going to say Im going to attack it, but I can definitely appreciate the care that goes into this very popular dish.




The balsamic production was very cool.  They are in small rooms, and set up as a production line of wooden barrels, but one that takes a very long time.  What you see are towels over the hole in the barrel so that the air can get in and age the liquid.  They have the large barrel with the youngest vinegar.  When that reduces, they take some of it and put it into the next size down, and down, and down.  I know there is some variance, but these productions typically had 5-6 barrels.  The smallest barrel has the thickest, best, balsamic vinegar.  You can continue to take vinegar off the top.  Many people will start a production when a child is born, and then they have this great legacy to give the when they are older.  We tried the various aged vinegars with cheese, bread, and over ice cream.  I don't think I can ever use crappy American balsamic vinegar again.  Its not even the same thing.

Family of balsamic barrels

Another room of barrels

The opening where they continue to exchange the liquids

Balsamic Handstand!

We were then brought up a mountain to an adorable restaurant to have a "light" lunch.  It was the most never-ending meal I could ever imagine.  They don't bring out appetizers.  They bring out 4 rounds of appetizers.  If I would have known, I would have saved more room in my stomach!  Same for entrees and desserts.  So amazingly good.  No wonder it took 3 hours!  We also met some crazy Swedish business men that were getting pretty drunk throughout the meal.  Entertaining and slightly obnoxious.

View from the restaurant

Our tour group ready for lunch!














Italian ladies in the kitchen making tortellini

Lots of tortellini!

Stick a fork in me!  Im done!

After-lunch Handstands


After lunch we headed back to the hotel and both took naps.  We had every intention to go to Bri's favorite restaurant in the world, Montana, but we were just too incredibly full.  We met up with Bri's friend Adrianna and toured the shops and square of "downtown" Bologna, called Piazza Maggiore.  It was full of people and energy.  We stopped into a sort of gourmet grocery store that had a restaurant in it.  I just couldn't eat any more, so I sat this one out.  I regretted it, as the pizza I was planning on having later was closed.  We enjoyed Adrianna's company for quite a while, and again were asked if we were Australian ... British ... German ... anything but American.  I guess that's a compliment.

Statue of Neptune

We also got to see Bologna's leaning tower.  Very cool.  Hard to see because of the night time picture, but just trust me!   The other picture was of a meditation sit-in.  They were asking people to sit and meditate for as little or as long as they felt necessary - just to put peace and good energy out into the universe.  Last stop before bed was one last taste of Italian gelato.  The place was packed, and I could see why.  I tried two different flavors, grapefruit and I regret to inform you that I can't remember the other flavor.  All I know is that it was really really good!!


Leaning tower of Bologna
Meditation "sit-in"

We had a little bit of time in the morning after our last international-style breakfast and I was just DYING for some Italian shopping since we had not had the chance yet.  I was determined to buy some Italian heels, but it just wasn't in the stars for me.  I found some that I really liked, but they just didn't fit my foot the right way .... so Bri bought them.  HAHA!  At least they can be admired!  I settled for a terra cotta necklace from a street vendor, Italian panties and bra (oh yes, I had to!) and some BEAUTIFUL sweaters and jackets from a local store with Italian designers.  They were not selling clothes.  They sold THEIR clothes.  Im in love with Italian fashion!  We made it back JUST in time to check out, return the car, RUN to the airport, check in for our flight, and relaxed in the Delta lounge.  Arrivederci Italia!


Amsterdam

Finally arrived in Amsterdam after a quick flight (which I slept almost the entire way), then a train ride.  Amsterdam is a very cool city.  I wish we had more time to explore.




We weren't far from our hotel and decided to walk.  And this is where we ran into our first FEBO fries.  Let me explain this place.  You walk in, and in front of you there is a wall of pre-cut fries and several fryers.  On your right are hospital-style round-about vending machines with all kinds of weird sandwiches and burritos.  We stayed clear of that, but apparently that is part of the popularity of this place.  We stuck to the fries.  The amazing fries.  With the amazing mouth watering sauce.  Oh the sauce.  Was it mayo?  Or garlic?  Or tartar?  Who knows.  It was sweet and salty and paired perfectly with the hot salty fries.  We parked our suitcases, saddled up the bar, and enjoyed our first FEBO fries of the day.  We're pretty sure they season the fries with crack.  Then kept going to our hotel, mouth still watering and eyes glazed over.



WOW whadda hotel!  Marriott's Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel - It was fancy, and classy, and BIG!  And BIG rooms!  I decided it was time to put on the cozy hotel-provided robe and relax.  We talked about all the fun we had in Italy, and after a flat tire, running out of gas, phone dying, crashing into a wall, and nearly missing our flight ... we decided the devil horns were not, in fact, good luck, and they went right in the trash!





Resting in Amsterdam!

Bad Luck Horns

After the rest and a nice hot shower, it was time to hit the town!  We were going to make this sparse 12 hours in Amsterdam worth it!!  I went with my motorcycle tank top and my faux-hawk.  I thought Amsterdam was worthy of some funk.  And I loved every minute of it.  Maybe I should be more funky at home ... if I ever went somewhere worthy of this kind of funk!

Amsterdam faux-hawk

We headed down the street, which was a walking street, which most of them are.  Except for the million bikes driving around this city.  We passed souvenir shops, bars, a lot of pot paraphernalia, and several pot bars.  Where did we go?  Where else?  An Irish bar!!  We toasted our beers and enjoyed the people watching.  There was a dude sitting next to us who was clearly on something, and telling us how he comes to Amsterdam several times a year .... alone.  Yeah, that's not creepy at all.





We finished our beers and headed on our way to buy souvies and find some real dinner.  Since everyone is walking around these streets with no cars, we enjoyed walking up and down the block, until we found this really cool authentic Turkish restaurant.  We sit and check out the menu, completely hungry at this point.  It had also gotten dark, and of course we were freezing because since it was so nice, we left the hotel in tank tops and light sweaters.  It wasn't so warm out anymore!  So the waiter showed up with a fleece blanket for each of us to wrap around our shoulders.  Awwwww.  We ate salad and soup and amazing rice and chicken.  Time to put on warmer clothes and see what this Amsterdam nightlife is all about!


Turkish salad (pretty much awesome Green salad)

Spiced chicken, rice, slaw, cabbage

We just thought this was funny

So we only have about 9 hours left in this wonderful city, and we still have to sleep and get back to the airport.  Doesn't leave much time, you say, oh I disagree!   This was the last leg of our magnificent trip, and we weren't going to waste any time.

We started out by perusing some of the local goods and kind of learning local culture about pot (weed, grass, gonga, dope, herb, reefer, cannabis, buds, nuggets, blaze, skunk, blunt).  We went into one place, through a gauzy curtain, indian rugs on the floor, sat on a couch with embroidered and beaded hippy pillows, and opened the menu.  Then we learned that you can BUY pot in the bars.  Only in the pot places.  Kind of like liquor in Canada.  So we headed back out, found the right shop, told the nice man in rasta braids that we wanted something simple and fairly light.  He chose a very fat joint for us to share, probably the width of 2 cigarettes, not even close to the size of a cigar.  This cost us  3.  THREE EURO.  Let me repeat that ... we spent  Three  Euro.  It was all we needed for the rest of the night, and Im pretty sure we put the blunt out on the stoop we were sitting on later in the night.  We didn't even finish it!!   So we grab our little package and head to the back of the bar.  Then I get sent back to the front to buy a lighter.  We are SUCH amateurs.  We get a little giggly and head back out to the street with the warm feeling and a smile on our faces.




Our next detour was into this bar with good music wafting out onto the street, Cafe Remember.  It was a cool mix of 90s rock and American Top 40.  We had a couple of beers, and smoked a little bit more in the "smoking room", which I didn't find comfortable at all.  It was a glass box at the back of the bar where everyone could see you.  It was just us and 2 other random guys.  I felt like an ant under a microscope.  In reality, Im sure nobody gave us a second look.  We went back to our bar stools, finished our beers, and moved along.



We stopped in a souvenir shop with every kind of ornament, scarf, trinket, and souvenir.  They had more expensive Holland dishes upstairs.  They also had these giant unstable wooden shoes.  Trust me ... I know ... I tried to stand IN them for the shot.  Then we got kicked out because apparently the upstairs was already closed.  Oops!


Holland wooden shoes!

We headed towards the Red Light District, and stumbled upon this sex museum.  It had all kinds of drawings, sculptures, art, from every country, all the way back to ancient times.  It was very interesting.  This is apparently an erotic torture chair?  No, the chick isn't real.

Sex museum chair

We finally made it over to the red light district.  You won't see a lot of pictures because they frown upon that.  If any of the owners of these establishments catch you taking a picture, they will chase you down and take your camera, phone, and probably everything else you have.  I would hate to see what else they would do.  What I was surprised was that while there was a main street, which had a canal down the middle, there was also sex houses down every side street and alley.  There were girls for sale EVERYWHERE.  So you can see that they houses are marked by red lights.  This picture is of a sex show, so there aren't any girls in front.  On the first floor, you see 3 tall windows.  Normally, there is a girl for each window.  They were actually glass doors that opened.  Some houses had girls upstairs as well.  They stood there in bikinis with dead eyes.  Some smoked, a few sat down and texted.  But mostly they stood there.  If someone made eye contact they would perk up a little bit.  We walked around and watched the interaction.  There were thousands of people on the sidewalks, even making it hard to move around.  Amidst all this, people would walk up and negotiate.  I say people because although it was predominately men, we did see a few women go in as well.  We would see someone go up and talk to the girl.  Sometimes they would point to a friend.  Sometimes they would walk away.  When they agreed on a price, we saw that man disappear into the house and the girl would pull a curtain across her window.  They would usually be back out 15 minutes later.  We saw some girls go inside several times in an hour.

Red light district




At one point, Bri decided that she wanted this fruity waffle from a little bakery shop amidst all the sex.  It seemed to be quite popular among the drunk and high.  So we sat on a stoop right on the river and watched the negotiations.  We even noticed that some bikinis did better than others.  After watching one girl with a slingshot bikini (I had to google it to see what it was called) get "hired" 3 times over her neighbor, we saw the neighbor girl leave and come back with her own slingshot bikini - and got hired within 5 minutes!!  We also noticed that nerdy glasses were trending.  Some regular, and some black and thick.  Those girls seemed to do particularly well.


One of the many peep show reviews

After watching many negotiations and walking up and down the street, we decided that we had seen all the sex and prostituting that we wanted, and we had finished the blunt with the waffle.  Actually, we finished almost all of it, didn't want anymore, and out the last half inch of it out on the street and threw it in the canal.  A well-spent  3!




We sat and reflected for just a moment, as the next day we would be heading back to the States.  Ok, time to go.  Walking?  Errr.  No thanks.  Bike rickshaw?  Yes, please!!  This is what it looks like.  This was not ours, it's from the internet, but obviously I was not as good at taking the pictures on this last night.




We jumped into a guy's cab and enjoyed watching the blur of people fly by (These are my pictures).  Man that dude could pedal!  What a great way to get our last looks of the city.  Where is our hotel?  Hmm.   Yeah.  Drop us off at FEBO fries.  For the third and last time today.




3rd FEBO fry of the day!

So we're done.  Rest in this amazing lobby with this amazing fireplace.   Seabrook, we think you should put this in your next house.

Fancy hotel lobby

Fancy hotel fireplace

After a few hours sleep, we headed downstairs for our last international breakfast.  This one rivaled the buffets I've had at the golf club at home, and I wish I could eat all day.  Every kind of roll and pastry you could think of, salads, omelet station, meats, cheeses, fruits, cappuchino, espresso, tea, soda, 10 kinds of juices, quiche, breakfast sausages and potatoes, eggs benedict ... it goes on and on.  Perfect meal to put us on the plane to go home.

Last stop - Amsterdam airport - Holland tulips for my Mom and I.  I can't wait to see these beauties come up in the garden in the spring!




If you wonder why we didn't see the Vatican, Colosseum, Pantheon,  Trevi fountain, La Bocca della Verita (mouth of truth),  and the Spanish steps, it's because I have been to Rome before with my Mom (had more time in the city), and I got to see these amazing sites.  With limited time, I wanted to add to my traveling repertoire.  Please PLEASE do not miss the before-mentioned sites if you get to go to Rome.  They are definitely MUST-sees.

Can you believe that besides the travel time, we were only actually there for 5 full days?  And amazing trip great fun and great memories!  Coming home with a suitcase full of italian clothes, wine, cheese, and jewelry.  I can't imagine a better travel partner!  Thanks Bri!  You rock!


Peace.  Love.  Italy.  Serene.