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.

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churches, Italy, restaurant reviews, road trips

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

Meandering around Modena…

I mentioned in the previous post that Bill had decided against visiting Bologna on this trip, mainly because parking can be tricky there. Bologna has an area where it’s strictly prohibited for non-residents to park their vehicles. The areas supposedly aren’t well marked, and fines are steep. So, since Modena also looked like an interesting place, he decided we’d go there.

Modena, which, like Parma, is also located in Emilia-Romagna, is on the south side of the Po Valley. It was about a 40 minute drive from our castle accommodations, which took us through some areas that reminded me a little of Mississippi. Probably the most traumatizing thing about our drive to Modena was when we passed a roundabout where there were cop cars. There were dozens of shattered wine bottles on the road, because a guy in a truck went too fast around the corner and lost about half his load. The police were sweeping up the glass and directing traffic as we passed. I wasn’t prepared to take a picture, which is just as well. It was a very sad sight indeed.

Modena has a huge parking garage outside of the walls of the city. From the parking garage, it’s easy to access the town with a short walk. Modena is known for its balsamic vinegar and expensive sports cars. Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati are either based there now, or were in the past. Lamborghini has since moved from Modena to Bologna.

Again, because of COVID restrictions, we didn’t have any big plans to see anything specific. Our goal was to get a feel for the city, have lunch, and people watch. One thing that I noticed and liked about both Parma and Modena, but especially Modena, is that the town did not seem touristy, at least during our very brief visit. I didn’t hear any Americans at all during my visit to Modena.

Maybe it seems wrong to write this, since I am myself an American, but it really is nice to be in a very authentic Italian town where there aren’t shitloads of my countrymen milling around, talking too loudly, and being obnoxious and obvious. On the other hand, I remember being that way when I was a lot younger and less aware of myself. But anyway, if you like places that aren’t catering to tourists, Modena is a good bet. And there’s plenty to look at and smell while you’re there. Modena was the one place on our entire visit where I routinely caught the aromas of things that smelled heavenly. I think it was mostly pizza, though…

In the photos, you might notice several young people wearing garlands on their heads. I’m not sure what that was about, but I got the sense it had to do with graduation. Modena has a university that was founded in 1175.

Here are some photos from our visit…

Right after I took a picture of the anti-dog poop street painting, we discovered our lunch spot, La Brusca Caffe, which happened to be near the pizzeria take out place that was giving off such heavenly aromas. This little hole in the wall was nothing fancy, but offered good food at inexpensive prices. We took our time and sat outside, enjoying the atmosphere of “the real Italy”. By that, I mean this is a place where you can get an authentic feel for Italy.

As for the food… it was okay. I would say it was nothing to write home about. Looks like some people on Trip Advisor agree. But it satisfied us and didn’t cost much at all. And they had decent wine. If we ever go to Modena again, we will make a different restaurant choice.

We walked around a little bit more, then made our way back to Torrechiara. We stopped briefly at a rest area outisde of Modena, as we both had to process lunch. I note that when we stopped, mask rules were still in place. And, as is the custom in Italy, in order to leave the building, we had to walk through the food and gift store. On the way back out of Italy, a few days later, we stopped at the same rest stop. At that point, masks were over.

The next day was Wednesday, the 26th of April. It was time to move on to Florence. More on that in the next post.

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