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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: one girl's quest to see the world

Back from Italy and on to San Francisco!

ITALY | Saturday, 29 March 2008 | Views [477]

I can definitely say this was my favorite trip to Europe by far. First of all, no tour bus or huge group of like-minded people (school trip, choir tour). Secondly, I had someone to talk to (very different from my solo backpacking trip last summer). It was truly lovely.

The first day Greg and I arrived in Milan and got our rental car. After a few minutes of intense map decoding I set our course for Barolo and then Cinque Terre. Greg made it his mission to taste all of the best wine in northern Italy on this trip so every stop was threefold: wine (usually the house red, to see what they made locally), espresso, and bathroom. We made it to Barolo in about 90 minutes and had a lovely lunch with *amazing* wine followed by a short walk around the town. There really isn't much to the little towns except acres and acres of vineyards. We then got back into our teeny compact car and headed south, along the Mediterranean coast to Cinque Terre. Now, Cinque Terre are these five (hence "cinque") rather unique villages set along the mountainous coast and connected by teeny, winding roads with hairpin curves and little-to-no guardrail. We also neglected to get a map detailed enough to show these little roads and thusly, it took us longer than expected to find the village of Manarola where we had our B&B for the night. Finally we made it and it was definitely worth the effort. I'll post a link to our pictures at the bottom of this entry and you'll see that more than half of our pictures were taken in Cinque Terre. 

The next morning, after a hike and some yummy breakfast, we got back in the car and drove south, toward Tuscany. We stopped in Pisa for a photo-op (as well as lunch, wine, espresso, and the bathroom) and continued to Certaldo, just a few miles outside of Florence. Greg had found an enoteca (winebar) online that was supposed to have hundreds of wines, all available to taste for a flat fee of 10 euros. This enoteca was in Greve, in Chianti, which was supposed to be quite near Certaldo. After checking into our B&B in Certaldo (which happened to be our own little villa!) we set out for Greve... except I wasn't reading the map correctly and it took us half an hour to realize that. So after a lovely scenic drive we arrive in Greve only to find the enoteca is closed because this is not the tourist season. Boo. We found a lovely trattoria for dinner anyway since we were celebrating our 6-month anniversary together!

On Wednesday we packed up yet again and set out for the long drive to Tarcento. We stopped in Bologna for a bologna sandwich (really! we did! and it was oh so amazingly good!) and wine/espresso/walk/bathroom. Then we had an early afternoon stroll and wine/espresso/bathroom stop in Verona, which was truly beautiful (I definitely want to make it back there). As evening was setting in we were outside of Venice and about 120km from Udine when we hit major traffic. It was bumper-to-bumper with economy cars in between giant semi trucks and it occurs to me to look at the gas meter. Sure enough, we were almost on empty. And as we crawl along through this mess I realize that there is a very good chance I will be pushing this teeny little car very soon with a semi trailing close behind me. There are no exits and no shoulders to pull over onto and I'm really starting to stress. Greg can sense my muscles tensing and he's trying to make it better, but I'm just freaking out internally. We continue to inch along and my eyes are glued to the dashboard as if suddenly the meter will drop entirely and we will just stop. And then, without signs or notice whatsoever, an exit appears and we wrangle across three solid lanes of traffic to freedom and gasoline. *whew!* After that ordeal it doesn't bother me when we get totally and utterly lost trying to find an alternative to the highway and it takes us three hours to get to Tarcento instead of 90 minutes. Finally we arrive in Sedlis and unload ourselves into Greg's cousin's house. Irene makes us pasta and Augusto pours wine from his vineyard and everything seems worth the effort. 

Thursday Irene and Augusto show us around the region. We check out Tarcento (the larger town that Sedilis is a part of) and Greg heads straight for the enoteca where we not only get the best wine in the region, Tocai Friulano and Refosco del Peduncolo Rosso, but we also get some amazing prosciutto di santanelli on fresh bread. And this at 11am! We also take a trip down to Trieste, a serene and picturesque resort village on the water, about 15 km from the border of Slovenia. Finally, we finish the day with dinner at Greg's favorite trout restaurant in Udine where everything from the appetizers to the salads to the main courses are trout, fresh from the stream out back. And yes, some of the dishes included fish with their heads and eyes still intact. (I made Greg fix those dishes for me so I didn't have to deal with the decapitation.) 

Friday it was cold and rainy so although we started the day with a stop in Cividale and the best pizza ever we soon gave up and headed back to the house for a nap and some wine. Then I wasn't feeling so great (from the dampness I imagine) so they went to dinner and I stayed in bed with some tea. After dinner they came back for me and we headed to the local bar to hear some of Irene's friends in a cover band... and the songs they covered were from hard core metal bands... and their English is non-existent... so it was quite the experience.

Saturday we packed our things again and made the cross-country drive back to Milan. We stopped for lunch/wine/espresso/bathrooms near the Lago Guardo (a giant lake in northern Italy) and made it to Milan around 5pm. We found this huge castle in our wanderings through the city, but had to buy a map to find our way to the hotel. After checking in we found a nearby enoteca and tasted a few glasses along with some free sandwiches and snacks. Then we decided to try to find gelato, but twenty minutes later we were still empty-handed. So one final stop at a restaurant for gelato and espresso rounded out our Italian cuisine experiences.

Sunday morning we headed back to the airport and 14 hours later I crawled into my bed in New York. It was an amazing trip all in all. And now... we are going to Berkeley for a quick weekend trip to see the law school (they are paying for my plane ticket) and check out some wineries in Sonoma and Napa. You know, I think I'm starting to get the hang of this wine tasting thing. :-)

Tags: bologna, certaldo, cinque terre, italy, milan, pisa, tarcento, trieste, verona, wine

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