On Sunday, the 25th of June, we drove to Milano to pick up our daughter Jessica and her husband Nick. The plan was to spend a week here in Verona with us and then together we would drive to Germany, spending the night in Dinkelsbuhl before arriving in Cologne (Köln) for Andrea and Vincent's wedding.
Their flight was right on time, arriving around 11am and we drove home to Verona, they got settled in and we took them on a little tour around the city, showing them some of the places we had visited, just a taste of what Verona has to offer.
On Monday Bob took them back into the city while I waited at home for Andrea's gift to arrive. When we there in Perugia, on the way here, we stopped at Giuditta Brozzetti's, (www.brozzetti.com) where the lovely Marta continues her family's tradition of making beautiful hand woven textiles on ancient looms in the most scrumptious designs of historic origin in the setting of an ex-chiesa (a former church). We have written about this place before as one of our favorites in Perugia and thought it would make the perfect gift for Andrea. With Marta's help we selected the exact colors and patterns for an original one-of-a-kind gift for our one-of-a-kind friend, the exquisite Andrea! Marta promised to ship it so that it would arrive before we left for Germany and we had both hoped it would come on Saturday before Jessica and Nick got here but it did not and I had to remain behind, biting my nails, waiting for the post! By noon I was calling Marta, who tracked it down, called me back and assured me it was to arrive this day. Not 10 minutes after we spoke, the doorbell rang and there was the package! Gorgeous! I was thrilled with what she had made, called her back to tell her I got it and thanked her, tanto, tanto, grazie! for her beautiful work and help in making this gift for us.
On to Trento then, with a stop in the north side of Lago di Garda, the pretty city of Riva del Garda, so picturesque with its lively waterfront filled with cafes and brightly colored houses, flowers everywhere, the lake shimmering with reflections in the afternoon sun.
They enjoyed Trento but were disappointed to learn that the Buonconsiglio Castle was closed on Mondays! The evening's event was the "Masquerade of Ciusi and Gobj" which recalls a medieval fight between the people of Trento and those of nearby Feltre during the time of a great famine. Two competing teams, one wearing costumes of grey with black and white, the other reds and yellows, both with masks covering their faces, created a sort of play in which each team fights for the conquest of a big pot of polenta that had been cooked in a giant pot in the center of the main square, by a group of women also in medieval dress, at the start of the event. Flags were handed out to the crowd to cheer for each side and a kind of tug-of-war ensued with one team breaking through the ring formed by the other to protect the polenta from intruders! It was all good fun and interesting to watch and it was followed up by a terrific fireworks display along the river and a sleepy drive home.
With just one week to spend here, there was no time to lose, so Tuesday we had planned to combine a trip to Sirmione, on Lago di Garda to tour the 13th century castle and then a drive through the Valpolicella wine district and wine tasting. We had picked up a list of wineries in Lazise, another cute small town on the lake and armed with our Tom-Tom GPS system we were able to find the addresses of several scattered in the hills between the lake and Verona. This area is famous for its light red wine, Bardolino and I think the favorite place was the Zeni winery, a large operation where you can fill your glass from the many bottles. It was cool the way they had this set up - the various bottles of wine for tasting were upside down and you dispensed it by pushing your glass up and taking some. The more expensive wines could be tasted for a small fee and Jess and Nick took advantage of this. We all bought a few bottles to take home and continued on our way to visit a few other cantinas before they closed for the day. One of our other favorites was a very small operation that was also a bed and breakfast and the woman who greeted us was warm and friendly, the wine good and very inexpensive - we were startled to learn the one we tasted and liked cost 2.50 euros a bottle and of course, we bought some to take home!
Wednesday was our Venice day. Jess & Nick had spent time there on their honeymoon almost 6 years ago and, wanting to give them time to wander on their own, Bob and I visited the Doge's Palace that we had not seen before and we met later for lunch. We stopped at what appeared to be a simple local place and ended up being way too expensive for what we ate (100 euros for 4 simple pasta dishes and some drinks - yikes!) We complained too much afterwards and hope we didn't make the kids feel too uncomfortable. We know that for them, this was a vacation, while we are still trying to "live cheap" - two totally different concepts! After lunch they went off again on their own, bought some souvenirs and some things for themselves and in the early evening we headed home.
Hungry for dinner we stopped in Vicenza on the way home to try to find a place for dinner and not knowing this city, had trouble finding one! At first we input addresses of restaurants listed in our guidebook into the GPS, but when the addresses didn't work, we resorted to letting the GPS suggest one. Jessica thought this was the most hysterical thing, that your phone could recommend a restaurant and that you would actually go where it told you to go! We stopped at one place recommended in the guidebook and were told that if we wanted to eat there we would have to order an antipasto, a primi and a secondo - all three courses! We have never encountered this in any other restaurant except when you order from the "tourist menu" which for one price includes a 3-course meal with a set menu. We found this utterly ridiculous and of course did not stay. We finally found a small local place where the owners were delighted to have us and the food was not great but pretty good. They were watching a silly TV show where scantily clad young women demonstrated their talents, like roller skating, dancing or playing the recorder (mostly badly) for a prize. It was really astounding how bad they were, but they were shapely, cute and sexy and it seemed, the one who showed more "talents" won. Hilarious!
But the funniest part of the trip home from Vicenza was that we kept seeing hookers on the side of the road! Now I know that some of the styles young women are wearing these days can be pretty skimpy but there was no mistaking that these gals were "ladies of the night." In one place a policeman had one of the girls pulled aside by a patrol car while another stood nearby. All along the road we saw them and wondered about this city and why there were so many in this one place when we had never really seen them before, except for outside of Perugia south of the train station. We decided there must be an army base (US or Italian) nearby. Nick got the biggest kick out of it and thought no one back home in Milwaukee would believe that he had seen so many hookers, one after the other. Jessica snapped a quick photo and received a firm "hand gesture" from the lady in question. It became a joke whenever we saw a woman by herself on the street "do you think she is a hooker?" Especially funny when it was clear that they were obviously not, clothing styles notwithstanding.
Thursday we had tickets for the opera "Aida" at Verona's Roman Arena so it made sense to spend the day in Verona. We followed the tour in our book and when it started to rain we took shelter in a nice little restaurant with a courtyard in the back, near the Duomo, the 8th century Santa Maria Matricolare. The tables were sheltered under big umbrellas and we enjoyed simple sandwiches and sodas and stayed dry. By the time we finished eating the rain had pretty much stopped.
We returned home to rest and freshen up for the evening and ate dinner at home. I had prepared and frozen some of my meat sauce the week before that was easy to thaw and we served it with two different kinds of ravioli - ricotta with spinach and another filled with pumpkin that was very yummy. The opera was spectacular, the music, the sets, the staging, the lighting and costumes I believe Jessica appreciated very much. I must admit that none of us are avid fans of opera but simply had to take advantage of seeing a performance in the ancient Roman Area. I enjoyed it very much and would love to see another later in the summer even if I have to go myself (I don't think I can talk Bob into going again!).
Friday we took a beautiful drive through the Dolomites. This truly is a spectacular area and the scenery simply breathtaking. The strangest thing that happened was that we stopped for lunch in what looked more like a German village than an Italian one - sort of common for this area and in the restaurant everyone - including the owners and customers - were speaking German! I was so confused, I asked if they spoke Italian! Not if they spoke English, which is a more common thing for me to ask, but Italian, as I wasn't sure. They assured us they did and the simple sandwiches they made were good and we continued on our way, feeling a bit disoriented, as if we had crossed an imaginary border and weren't sure how or where. A bit "Twilight Zone-ish"!
Saturday was a drive to Padova to explore the city of St. Anthony. As usual, Jessica had done her homework and knew of a few places we hadn't yet seen and it was a full day of sightseeing. We made sure to get home relatively early because the next day we were off to Germany and the wedding and, for Bob, a lot more driving!
(to be continued: Germany with Jess & Nick)