Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tuscany and Rome (Or, Zack's quest for the perfect gelato) - Part 1

When we left Venice, we moved on to Lucca by train.

Lucca is beautiful.  It is surrounded by an immaculate tree-lined wall (that you can walk on, bike on, and eat pizza on -- which we did) and contains narrow cobble stoned streets and lovely piazzas.  Most people there get around by bicycle, and the population is, apparently, very affluent, as I counted quite a few stylish older women riding vintage bicycles with Hermes handbags casually hanging from the handlebars.

Lucca is also the hometown of Puccini! I dragged Zack to all of the Puccini sites and then to a concert that evening featuring Mozart and Puccini arias.  Zack, unfortunately, preferred Mozart to Puccini.... my heart, of course, has always been with Giacomo.

The next day, we rented bikes and took to the streets! (...and then a pretty park along a river outside of Lucca).  We biked around for about 5 hours straight, which is good, since I believe we doubled-down on the gelato that day (we contemplated eating just gelato for one complete day, but never carried out the plan).

Then we were off to Siena to check out the Duomo (which was seriously tricked out!) and spend the night before we picked up our car the following morning:

Piazza del Campo-ing-out to check the iPad.

(Fiat) Panda in the wild.

The next day was ambitious - perhaps too ambitious...

Spain and Cortina (Redux)

Some random additional thoughts:

  • The Dali museum was awesome, much cooler than the Picasso museum, which was underwhelming (Sharon, upon viewing Picasso's study of  Las Meninas: "It's like that scene in Beetlejuice when everyone's head got shrunk;" Sharon, upon learning that Picasso's ceramic experiments had been gifted to the museum by the artist's widow: "Ugh, the widow Picasso was like, 'get it out of the house!'").
  • After our snack at Quimet y Quimet, we spent a few hours knocking back glasses of the house cava at El Xampanyet (ham was also consumed).  We made a temporary Japanese friend, who bought us cava and sardines and gave us some cryptic marriage advice: "It's really meaningful, but also not that meaningful."  He kept rubbing his belly; I thought he was encouraging us to procreate, but it turns out he just wanted a photo.
  • The train ride from Genoa (really great Gelato; also, we strolled down dank, narrow streets, past kebab shops and 500 year-old facades covered in political graffiti -- although the youth of the city aren't without a sense of whimsy: they also drew some dicks on the wall of Christopher Columbus' house  -- and then squirted us out onto ancient, sun-drenched plazas; we met a septuagenarian from Lucca who sang us snatches of Puccini and told us about his business partner, who lived about 500 feet away from our Brooklyn apartment) to Cortina was pretty spectacular.  Well, the scenery was pretty spectacular; the seven-hour trip, not so much.
  • Cortina was a great little resort town, definitely ritzy, but flexibly so; you could buy $2000 sweaters at the Brunello Cuccinelli store across the street from our hotel, or treat yourself to an amazing glass of $6 pinot nero on the hotel's patio -- the only red wine that our twitchy, effusive waiter, Lorenzo, would deign to drink.  The food was phenomenal:  pizza with sausage and radicchio, ravioli with beets, ewe's milk cheese, and poppy seeds, spaetzle with spinach and speck, gnocchi in pomodoro sauce.
  • Sharon, of course, made friends wherever we went.  The first night in Cortina, her veal chop was a little too big to finish.  Fortunately, Sharon spotted another diner who might enjoy her leftovers:  a big, friendly golden retriever who sat patiently next to a nearby table, waiting for his owners to finish their french fries and mayonnaise.  
  • (Before we continue, let's take a moment to reflect on and appreciate the self-control exhibited by this noble animal, whose name we never learned.  Imagine that you're a dog.  You have maybe five major passions in life; three of those passions are eating, running around, and investigating new smells.  Your owners take you to a crowded restaurant, which is like ground zero for eating and running around and smelling things; all around you strangers are eating delicious food and making interesting noises, your doggy brain is awash in sensory input, every impulse you have is impelling you to jump on people, eat their beef medallions, root through their handbags.  But you don't, you resist, because you're a good dog.)  
  • The waitress seemed somewhat skeptical, but dutifully transferred the veal to an aluminum to-go container and presented it to the dog.  Events quickly acheived an unstoppable momentum.  The dog finished his veal in about two seconds.  Fifteen seconds later, he'd licked the container clean; over the next ten or so minutes, his owners had to periodically restrain him from roving the dining room in search of more veal.  But he appeared to settle down, and we returned to our dinner.  However:  during dessert we heard a kind of scraping metallic crunch, and looked over to see the dog just shredding the now completely clean veal container; by the time he was done it looked like a ball of steel wool.  His owners did not seem thrilled.         

Sunday, September 16, 2012

From Mediterranean beaches to snow capped mountains in 10 days...

We've been gone now for about 13 days, and a lot's happened!

Just to recap a bit:  we started in Sitges, Spain, where we beached out for a day in the sun while getting over our jetlag.  That first day was surprisingly great - lots of jambon and cava at places like this:

Hoofing it around Spain

We spent the next few days in Barcelona.  We saw a lot of Gaudi architecture (La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and La Pedrera by night with some jazz) and a lot of art (Museu Picasso and the Dali museum in Figueres).  The food was also fantastic.  (We took a reco from Anthony Bourdain and went to Quimet & Quimet for mercaditos and vermouth -- who would have thought that vermouth, soda, and a slice of lemon would make an awesome summer drink?)

Next, we left the big city and started making our way to northern Italy for our Dolomites hike.  This journey ended up being a bit more circuitous than we had initially planned.  We had originally thought we'd take an overnight train to Venice from Dijon, but we ended up -- for reasons that are too painful to type (not really) -- traveling along the French and Italian rivieras and stopping in Genova, Italy for a couple of nights before heading to Cortina, Italy a day early.  This ended up being a great diversion for two reasons:  (1) the best gelato by far has been in Genova near Piazza Del Erbe -- seriously, it was ridiculous!  (2)  Cortina was amazing, and spending an extra day there allowed us to take a cable car up to Rifugio Faloria where we did some extra hiking and had the best pasta of the trip so far.

From Cortina, we started our 4-day hike through the Dolomites.  We finished up yesterday, and spent the night in Venice.

As for the hike, it was amazing!  I've already started conversing in the parlance of "When we go back next summer..."  In short, we hiked every day with our packs to a new Rifugio (a rifugio is a mountain hut that has guest rooms and great restaurants attached).  The first day we went from Ra Stua to Fodara -- it drizzled a bit during the hike, but the temperature was perfect.  When we got to Fodara, however, it started pouring.  This put the kibosh on our day hike, but it was a good excuse to finish my book (I can highly recommend The Tiger's Wife).  Over that first night, the rain turned to snow and we woke up to this:

Fortunately, we made it down to the valley and back up to Rifugio Fanes without incident (although, we were happy that we brought our hat and gloves!)  The next few days were more like this:

Our third day from Fanes to Lagazuoi was pretty intense - we left at 8:30am and didn't arrive until about 4pm (we really only stopped once to eat some sandwiches that we had packed with us).  The last 4 hours of the hike was completely uphill and akin to being on a stairmaster that you couldn't get off of.  But fortunately, the views were pretty amazing from the top!

Yesterday we went from Lagazuoi to Cinque Torre, and then met up with our charming driver Toio to go back to Venice.
So, that's basically the recap.  I'm sure that Zack will want to add some details, so I'll leave that to him.  (I would imagine there will be a large paragraph devoted to all the cute foreign dogs that we've seen, e.g., Nico the Spanish lab and Toni the Italian German Shephard, and maybe another large paragraph devoted to the mountain cows, sheep, goats, and little varmint that we may need my Dad to identify from the photos...).