beaches, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips

Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part six

Now comes the scenic part of our trip… moving from Emilia-Romagna to Florence by way of the west coast…

As we were preparing to leave La Locanda del Borgo at Torrechiara Castle, Bill asked me if I wanted to go to Florence by way of Bologna, or by way of the Italian coast. Bill knew that I had visited Viareggio in 1997, back when I was just 25 years old and had a second class one month Eurail pass. At that time, I was broke, and traveling with friends who are now married to each other, live in Northern Ireland, and have six kids! We stopped there by chance, mainly because it had a beach, and we wanted to swim.

I had been wanting to visit Viareggio again, mainly because I have such fond memories of the pension where we stayed. It was a one star place– very cheap! But you could get half board there, and the food was excellent. Plus, I remembered that they asked us what kind of wine we preferred. My friends preferred white wine, so that’s what we got. They brought out a big jug of it every time we ate, over our couple of nights there.

We didn’t have time to stay in Viareggio for more than just lunch, but I was excited to see it again. Going by way of the coast also meant that we could finally visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is only about a half an hour from Viareggio. I’ve been to Italy a bunch of times, but never managed to see that very well touristed monument before last week.

Another bonus to going by way of the coast was that it took us through some absolutely GORGEOUS terrain… much prettier than what we would have seen, and did see on the way back, going by way of Bologna. Below are some photos I managed to get on our way to the coast as we made our way to Florence. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to get a good shot of Torrechiara Castle from the drive out. The view of the castle was much better on that route, but there was never a convenient opportunity to catch a shot of it from the car, nor were there any good pull off points. Pity. But at least I got some very beautiful photos of the countryside.

As soon as we stopped in Viareggio, I noticed a small “healthy fish restaurant” called e.Dai near where we parked the car. I knew that was where we’d have lunch, after we went to the sea, so I could touch the water. It was confirmed when I saw the toilet near the door (not every place obviously had one, and we both needed one). It was still too chilly for swimming, but lots of people were walking on the beach, and there were guys there hawking their wares. One tried to sell us a beach blanket, but we were only there to look at the water for a minute. I would like to go an Italian beach and stay for a few days. But it was nice to smell the air and look at the water… I even enjoyed seeing the seagulls. I grew up near the ocean, and I have missed beaches in the time we’ve been in Germany. Below are some scenes from Viareggio. It has kind of a carnival vibe.

After our quick visit to the water, we headed to e.Dai, where we were promised “healthy fish” dishes. I don’t know about that, but it was a nice change of pace to have fish instead of Parma ham or meat from other hooved animals. I miss seafood, too. The fish place did offer something new, but it wasn’t a cheap place at all. We both had sandwiches and wine, and the bill was about the euro equivalent of $50.

After lunch, we made our way south to Pisa, where we found a very convenient pay parking lot with a sparkling clean public toilet. A kind looking lady was collecting one euro from those who needed to use the toilet. I heard one American guy grumble about the price and say he wouldn’t pay it. I was happy to pay, because I had a feeling it cost the same at Pisa; the facilities wouldn’t be nearly as clean; and there would be a line. Sure enough, I was right. So, if you ever find yourself at that parking lot in Pisa and you need the facilities, I’m telling you it’s a good deal. Go ahead and pay the euro for a glorious piss. At least it’s clean, and you don’t have to wait. The lady who collects the euros keeps it immaculately clean!

We chose not to buy a ticket to see the Tower of Pisa, the cathedral, and the baptistery up close, mainly because we were pressed for time. These photos are just of the exterior, which one can visit free of charge. We also knew that climbing the tower meant lots of heavy breathing in confined spaces while wearing masks. I would like to visit again and do a proper visit. I’d also like to see the city itself, which I know is very vibrant and interesting in its own right. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity. April is a nice time to visit. It’s not too hot!

After our brief visit, we got back on the road to Florence, where we would spend the next three nights, and meet our wine tour group. More on that in the next post.


knotty’s big trip to the mall…

I usually like to do new things on Saturdays. ¬†That’s the one day of the week when my husband is home and things are open. ¬†Bill is trying to write a paper for one of his cybersecurity classes, so he wasn’t all that keen to go on a long outing today. ¬†Since it was getting a bit late when I finally convinced him we needed to get out for a bit, this afternoon we visited the Mercaden Mall in¬†B√∂blingen for the very first time.

The Mercaden is a new mall. ¬†It didn’t exist the last time we lived here. ¬†Last time we were here, the only decent mall was Breunigerland in Sindelfingen (There is also Schwaben Galerie in Vaihingen, but that mall doesn’t thrill me much). ¬†Breunigerland is terminally crowded and offers a lot of European shops and eateries. ¬†We were last there at Christmas, when we rejoined ADAC (the German auto club).

ADAC, by the way, is well worth joining. ¬†We were members last time we lived here and our membership paid for itself when our car’s battery died on us while parked long term in a garage. ¬†We called ADAC and some guy came out, tested the car, found out what was wrong, and sold us a battery on the spot. ¬†That German battery lasted a good five years before it needed replacing. ¬†Aside from ADAC, Breunigerland also has upscale shopping. ¬†It kind of reminds me of Tyson’s II in the Washington, DC area.

By contrast, Mercaden doesn’t seem quite as upscale, even though it’s a lot newer and more pristine. ¬†The stores and eateries are more American. ¬†For instance, there’s a McDonald’s in the Mercaden Mall, while Breunigerland only has a freestanding McDonald’s in the parking lot. ¬†The Mercaden also has a nice Edeka grocery store and a Dunkin’ Donuts, which I know really gets Americans excited. ¬†We did stop by there today and picked up some donut holes. ¬†I am here to tell you that they aren’t really the same, though they aren’t bad, either.

Not quite like home, but satisfying enough… ¬†They aren’t as sweet as American ones. ¬†There is also a Dunkin’ Donuts in Tuebingen.

The Mercaden has plenty of parking in a garage, which you have to pay for. ¬†Breunigerland’s parking is free. ¬†Mercaden is right next to the Bahnhof in B√∂blingen, so you don’t have to fool with parking if you don’t want to. ¬†The first hour of parking at Mercaden is free, anyway.

I think– but am not positive– that the toilets at Breunigerland are also free, while they cost 70 cents at Mercaden. ¬†The price to pee has gone up. ¬†It used to be universally pretty much 50 cents everywhere, but now they have a fancy machine that takes the money that has to be paid for. ¬†On the plus side, the Mercaden’s toilets are very clean and modern. ¬†Someone was actually attending them, so I didn’t mind paying.

We ended up buying food today.  First, we had lunch at an Italian pizza and pasta place situated right in the middle of the corridor.  It made for good people watching.  I got to watch a guy walk his well-behaved labrador retriever around as Bill and I ate pasta washed down with beer.

Bill tells it like it is…

The menu.  On the other side, there was a pizza menu.  I probably should have gone for the pizza instead of pasta.

Sushi?  It also looked good.  And so did the doner kebab place next to it.

But I had spaghetti with tomato sauce and bacon…

And Bill had spaghetti with a light cream sauce and basil pesto…

And local suds… ¬†I love that a restaurant can be in the middle of a mall corridor and have a full bar.

After lunch, we bought some cheese, wine, deer salami, and Italian butter at an Italian deli. ¬†Then we bought a loaf of bread and a pretzel at a bakery. ¬†Finally, we got our Dunkin’ Donuts… or donut holes, as it turned out. ¬†I actually wanted donuts, but then when I saw them, I decided the holes would be better for my ass. ¬†Since they are European Dunkin’ Donuts, they aren’t as sweet anyway. ¬†Winning.

One other thing I noticed about Mercaden is that it was not really crowded today. ¬†In fact, it seems to be a very pleasant place to shop. ¬†Enclosed malls are disappearing in the United States, but they are still pretty popular in Europe, probably because the weather can really suck much of the time. ¬†But since today was relatively nice after the rain stopped, there weren’t so many people in the mall. ¬†If I’d wanted to, I could have spent a few hours there, but we were home within a couple of hours. ¬†After we picked up our stuff, it didn’t seem necessary to stay longer. ¬†There was a time in my life when I would have made up a reason to hang out at the mall. ¬†I guess I have evolved.

I could go back there again, though I really like shopping online now. ¬†The Italian deli might be enough of a reason to go back… and the bakeries, which were very impressive indeed and offered some enticing looking cakes. ¬†There were also a lot of ice cream stops… more than I would have expected, really.

Getting out of the garage was an adventure.  Bill made a wrong turn and had to circle back around the way he came in so we could leave.  But once we were out of the garage, it was very easy to get back on the autobahn and go home.  In fact, even though Breunigerland has free parking, Mercaden is an easier mall to navigate into and out of.  I give it a thumbs up.


Beautiful Seville by bullet train!

The morning of January 19th, we awoke to chilly, rainy weather in Madrid.  Not wanting to hunt around for food, we decided to have breakfast at Pans & Company, a Spanish fast food chain that emphasizes “healthy” options.  I discovered Pans & Company in 1997, when my travel buddies and I found it in Barcelona.  It’s especially known for its bocadillos, sandwiches that Spaniards like eating as snacks.

I had orange juice, coffee, and a chocolate pastry.  Bill had a more savory option.  While we were in there, a young couple with a cute little daughter came in.  I was heartened to see how her parents cooperated in looking after her.  She was basically well-behaved for her age, but I could also tell she was a bit of a handful.  For fast food, Pans & Company offers an inexpensive yet decent quality breakfast.  It was a lot more economical than the 10 euro per person buffet the hotel was offering.

Eats from Pans & Company…

We checked out of the hotel and took a cab to the train station.  I have to say, the Atocha station in Madrid seemed a lot nicer this time than it was when I was last there in 1997.  We were there a bit early for our train, so we hit a wine bar and enjoyed a nice glass of rioja.

Nice palm garden at the Atocha train station…

The view from our table…


Bill enjoys his vino…

After we had our wine, Bill visited the one and only pay toilet we encountered on our trip.  The train station had an automated toilet that cost 60 euro cents, but allowed you to go twice if you needed to.  Of course, once we went through security to get on the train, I noticed there were free toilets.  I guess they do that to keep the bums from abusing the train station’s public bathrooms.  


I had taken the AVE train to Seville before and it was in second class.  I remember it being a decent experience.  It was this time, too.  The seats were comfortable and our car wasn’t full of people.  The 300+ mile journey was knocked out in about two hours and twenty minutes and we whizzed through beautiful Spanish countryside.  I listened to music the whole way, enjoying the ride immensely.


Bill prepares to take his seat on the train…

We arrived in Seville to sunny skies and relative warmth.  It wasn’t *warm* per se, but it was definitely not as cold and bitter as Madrid was.  A cab took us to our hotel, Hotel Casa 1800, a cute boutique hotel in the Jewish Quarter.  I promised Bill he would love Seville.  It is my favorite Spanish city.

Bill’s first gaze at Seville‚Ķ


After we checked in, we went across the street for a late lunch, where we were immediately confronted by a waiter who had obviously dealt with a lot of Americans.  He was kind of pushy about what he thought we wanted.  We had some cava and he was pushing a fish platter, but I opted for a meat platter instead, which Bill and I shared.  It was actually very good.  There was chicken, skirt steak, and pork, as well as salad.  It really hit the spot.

Mucho meat!


We walked around the Santa Cruz area and I showed Bill the very no frills hostel Becky and I stayed in during our last visit.  Then we ran across Aire, a hammam (Turkish bath).  I had read about this spa as I was researching our Space A trip in 2012.  I thought we might end up in Spain then.  But then I forgot about it.  This spa/hammam is located on a very secluded street.  I knew I wanted to try it.  Bill hadn’t brought a bathing suit, but the hammam provides them if you need one.  I booked us an appointment for the next morning.

Camembert and strawberry sauce…

Tapas sized paella…

Potatoes and cheese…

Ham croquettes

Later, we went to another tapas place and ordered way too much food.  We actually went in there because I needed to pee, but stayed because it was kind of an interesting place.  A street musician came in and asked if he could play for money.  He turned out to be kind of a funny guy.  We gave him a couple of euros and watched as people went to mass.  A large chapel was close to the bar and it was easy to see people come and go to church.

As we walked back to the hotel, I gazed around Seville at the bountiful orange trees that hung heavy with fruit.  Some of the oranges had fallen and were smashed by passing cars navigating the winding, tight streets of Seville’s barrio.  We passed Seville’s enormous cathedral and enjoyed the sights and sounds of mostly local people.  January is a great time to visit Seville.

These tiles are all over the place in Seville…

The tower at Seville’s cathedral…

I had to take a picture of this‚Ķ it’s kind of a Carlin quote.