Siena

Gus and I got up early for the 2 hour trip to Siena, and it was well worth it. One thing that we are enjoying discovering is that there is so much beyond Rome, Venice, and Florence. And while we love those cities too, there are hidden gems far away from the throngs of people and tourist menus. When we arrived, we were hungry, so we headed down a side street and into a hole in the wall. Either every restaurant in Italy is good, or we have really good luck doing so. Gus had Cacio e Pepe (which is pasta in a cheese and pepper sauce famous in Rome), and I had Malfatti di Casa, which are balls of spinach and ricotta with parmesan cheese melted on top and dressed truffle shavings. Oh wow were they both delicious. After lunch, we started with the Duomo, which, in my opinion, rivals the great Duomo of Florence and St. Peter’s. It is simply stunning with alternating green and white marble. With the combo ticket, which was only 12 Euro, we got to see the Duomo, the baptistry, the crypts, and the museum of all of the important art they don’t have room for in the church. After touring all of that, we walked to the central square and took in the place where they have the famous Palio horse race. Each district of Siena has a mascot, and they compete twice a year in a horse race. You can see the crests of each of the districts on street signs, and they take their loyalties very seriously. We wandered around and found some great shopping–ceramics and other items hand made on-site before heading back to catch the train home. Until today, I hadn’t been to Siena, but it is high on my list of favorites.

Palaces & Polpette

Today Gus and I toured the communal palace, which is a series of palaces put together and serving as municipal buildings now. But, they still have impressive chandeliers, tapestried halls, and an impressive art gallery. For lunch, we went to a place that serves variations of the local specialty: polpette, or meatballs. Gus had his in a tomato sauce with peas. Mine were fried, like croquettes. Both were excellent, but the highlight was the cheese board we ordered for an antipasto. The parmesan is fantastic, as Parma is about 30 minutes away. It was hot today–almost 90, so we had a respite in our apartment until time for a little grocery shopping to stock up on essentials. Gus was on a mission for gnocchi tonight, so we found a place with gnocchi in a parmesan sauce with a balsamic vinegar glaze. The home of balsamic vinegar, Modena, is also about 30 minutes away. The consistency here is more syrupy, and it is outstanding. This is the best food town in Italy that I’ve encountered. Tomorrow we are taking a day trip to Siena.

Lazy Days of Summer

Yesterday was rainy, so there wasn’t much to report. Gus and I lazed around and caught up on work (practice and college essay writing for him and rec letter writing for me). We did get out for lunch and then a little shopping. We had seen an empanada stand a few days before, so we went there for dinner and then did our after-dinner passaggiata, or the fine Italian art of walking around leisurely and people watching. This morning we were up bright and early for a photoshoot for Gus’ senior pictures. I thought while we were here we might get some interesting shots. I don’t know exactly what comes over teenage boys when the camera is on them. They do this rigid face thing. Eventually, he relaxed, so I hope the pictures are good. The scenery was wonderful in the early morning light with no one around. After a stop at the cafe and a rest, we headed to the music museum of Bologna–another hidden gem. They had a wonderful collection of instruments from the 1500s-1800s and many original scores and manuscripts. Dinner was a gourmet burger place Italian style, which was a nice change of pace from pasta.

Tile Style

Today Gus and I went in search of mosaics, and we were not disappointed. They were incredible, and about 1500 years old. Ravenna is about an hour train ride from Bologna and was an important city as part of the Byzantine empire, hence all of the mosaics. I’m not sure what it is about this part of Italy, but the majority of the towers are leaning. It’s either the soil or the wine–perhaps both. At any rate, Ravenna was lovely but sleepy: no lines, no traffic, no entrance fees. We began to feel like the whole town was staged for us. We did have some lovely gnocchi with ragu (meat sauce) and a leisurely day walking around. The train home was the only problem–that’s where all of the people were (coming from the coast, I suppose). We had to stand the hour ride all the way home; mind you, that was after walking 8 miles today.

Again, with the food

Today we walked down to the weekly open-air market. It was disappointing. I was thinking of fruits, vegetables, books, and antiques. Mostly it was discounted clothes and shoes. So, we made our way to the archeological museum, which had a fantastic 3-part history of Bologna–prehistoric, Etruscan, and then Roman. It also had quite a few Egyptian artifacts from a local naturalist and collector. Bologna is such a wonderful town to be a tourist in because they aren’t expecting you–their churches, museums, and galleries are all free or very close to it. We enjoyed the exhibits until it was time for lunch, at which time we explored the food market section of town. There is an entire street devoted to the tagliere or the Italian version of charcuterie. Gus and I got a board with prosciutto and stracciatella (buffalo milk soft cheese) to share, and it was sublime. We rested/worked back at the apartment for a while and then headed out in search of another Bolognese treat–the polpette, which is a ball, usually of some meat and potato. The one that I got was tuna and potato covered in rice with black olive patè. It was excellent. Gus opted for some tortelloni with eggplant. Tomorrow we are headed on a day trip to Ravenna, which was an important Roman city and has many influences of Byzantine architecture. It’s about an hour train ride away.

Anything Gyoza

Last night, we made it to the outdoor showing of The Shape of Water, which was in English with Italian subtitles. The outdoor movies are apparently very popular because there were no seats to be had when we got there. Gus and I sat on the stone steps of the cathedral (I’m a little stiff this morning, but oh well). It started sprinkling about 3/4 through the movie, but Gus and I were prepared with our umbrella. The crowd thinned a little but mostly remained intact. The chain smokers in front of us regrettably stayed. Gus is very sensitive to the smoke, which makes anything outdoors here difficult. The e-cigarettes are catching on somewhat, but regular cigarettes are still the most prevalent. Luckily, you can’t smoke inside anymore. At any rate, it was a great evening sitting in a medieval square watching a movie with half of the town under the stars. This morning we were on a mission to do 2 things: walk the 2.5 miles to a monastery on a hill overlooking the city and have Gus try a cappuccino. He’s not one for much other than water, but when in Rome… He said the cappuccino was good–better than anything he’s tried in the U.S. The walk is through the longest portico in the world. There must have been about a mile and a half of one long portico with little side chapels built in along the way. All in all, the climb up was the equivalent of 37 flights of stairs. The views were worth it (pictures don’t do justice). We rested in the afternoon and finally had our sushi dinner at the restaurant next door. I’m really not that adventurous with a Japanese menu in general, much less one in Italian. Since Gus and I aren’t big raw food eaters, we ordered off the menu instead of availing ourselves of the dishes circulating on the conveyor belts. It was about what we usually get at Sushi Sam at home, so I think we’ll keep to the local food that has no equal in Southlake. We’ll definitely be doing another one of the movies. Tonight was a French new-wave film, which would do neither of us any good. I can’t read that fast and translate subtitles, and I’m sure it was a lot of intense staring and philosophical turmoil anyway. My vocabulary is not deep in philosophical turmoil. Upcoming options are Forrest Gump, Interstellar, and Pulp Fiction. Tomorrow we’re planning on walking to the open air market.

University of Bologna

Today we headed over to the University of Bologna (yes, another college tour!) founded in 1088–take that, Harvard! It’s the oldest university in the world. They have an incredible library that you can tour and a wood-paneled theater where anatomical lectures and dissections took place. We wandered around some more, exploring side streets and people-watching from an outdoor cafe where we sat next to a French group who had their 2 pugs in a dog stroller. Tonight we were going to see the outdoor movie after dinner, but the forecast calls for rain starting at 9, so we’ll have to play that by ear. The temperatures during the day are great. High was around 79 today, much different from last week and what I hear is happening at home. By the way, for those keeping track at home, the walking mile total for the past 10 days is 52.5. So, technically I have done 2 marathons.