Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From Celle to Parma


We left off after a pretty sweet day in Camogli and Portofino. Monday we planned on seeing my grandfather’s older sister and my father’s cousin Gianni in Loano, but Gianni had the flu, so we ended up not going.

Instead, we headed to Savona on the scooter in search of the ipercoop, a store that Nicola said might have an internet card for my laptop. The ipercoop turned out to be a shopping mall. A Vodaphone store there did have the hardware I was looking for, but it cost 200 euro, or about $300. And of course that doesn’t include monthly service.

We decided to check one more place on the recommendation of a clerk in the ipercoop, a store called Digital Labs. Alas, no internet cards.

Back in Celle, Liz made dinner with a fresh vegetable that she thought was spinach (we had picked it up a few days prior in Varazze). It turned out to not be spinach, but whatever it was, it was delicious.

Here's what it looks like to be offered a glass of wine first thing in the morning. Yum. Liz went for a run, and Michele offered her wine right when she got back. She tried to say, "later," but she used the word "adesso" instead, which means "now."

So Michele got us a few glasses and we had a real nice eye-opener.

I was showing Liz how to use the macro function on our camera as we sat out with our morning wine and I took this picture. It happened to look awesome, so I'm posting it here.


Our last day in Celle. We made lunch plans with Antonietta, and dinner plans with Simone and Erika. For lunch we had pasta with ragu sauce, sautéed chicken breasts, cold pizza and a little prosciutto. And Enrico showed up with his laptop and a cellular internet card! So after lunch we took care of some internet business (srs bsness) on the laptop, then said our goodbyes to Enrico and Antonietta.

For dinner that night, we suggested farinata again (since apparently it isn’t common in other parts of Italy and this would be our last chance to enjoy it), but the place Simone recommended in Arenzano was closed. So we walked around a bit before finding a pizzeria right on the beach. Liz and I both ordered pizzas while Simone and Erika both had pastas. I ordered mine “al diavolo,” which was basically a pepperoni pizza. And you know what? It was the best pepperoni pizza I’ve ever had in Europe. The first time I came here (when I was 14), I remember being extremely frustrated at not being able to find a “proper” pepperoni pizza in Italy. So-called pepperoni were often weird sausage or types of prosciutto. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate and love Italian-style pizza, but I still consider it an entirely different food than American pizza. I have to classify it differently in my mind to enjoy it. It’s weird, I know.

Anyway, this pizza was pretty thin (like most Italian pizzas), but a little more substantial than usual. And the pepperoni was a lot like what you’d find in the states. It was outstanding. Liz had a pie with artichokes, mushrooms and prosciutto that looked pretty good. We also had a litre of white wine and we each ordered a dessert (a rarity for Liz and I). A terrific meal; unfortunately I have no pictures.


Wednesday, our last morning in Celle. We said goodbye to Michele and boarded the train for La Spezia. We had to take 3 trains to get to our eventual destination in Scipione, near Parma. The first train took us back past the Cinque Terre to the industrial-looking station in La Spezia. From there it was another hour or two to Parma, and then a quick 12-minute train to Fidenza, where Gail and Gianni picked us up. Here's a picture of Michele in the store he ran from his home.

Gail is a high school friend of Kitty’s (Liz’s mom), and the two have gotten back in touch in recent years through email. We had no idea what to expect, although Liz mentioned on the train that she was hoping for a cozy house with tea, a roaring fire and rugs.

She was 3 for 3. Gail and Gianni’s house is converted from a substructure that used to be part of a castle. In fact, their whole town (25 people) is based around the old castle. It’s a great house. We have a couple pictures but they really don’t do the place justice. Anyway, Gail and Gianni are simply tremendous hosts. We settled in, used their wireless internet a bit, and then sat down to one of the top 5 best meals of my life.

We started with some sparkling white wine and a tray filled with salame, parmigiano-reggiano (spelled wrong, I’m sure), olives and focaccia. The focaccia was a lot like Liz and I make at home… a little fluffier than most of the focaccia that we’ve had in Italy. The salame was simply the best salame that I’ve ever had. It had a soft, chewy texture and flavor that just blew my mind. I’m pretty sure it came from a local artisan so I’ll never be able to find it again, but I’m going to email Gail and ask for the name again just in case. And the parmigiano-reggiano was, well, parmigiano-reggiano.

On to the main course. While Gail worked on risotto al funghi in the kitchen, we had bread and prosciutto, and opened a bottle of Barbera that was made by their local vintner. Gail and Gianni buy this wine in bulk from him (several cases at a time, I believe), and it’s easy to see why. It was rich, spicy and smoky… probably the best I’ve had in Italy so far on this trip. Now, Liz always makes fun of me for describing wines I like as “smoky,” but it’s a taste that I really like in wine. Maybe “smoky” isn’t the best word to describe it, but I can’t think of a better one.

Out came the main dish. The risotto was also rich… we saw the amount of butter that went in. After the risotto, a place of cheese. All different flavors… from mild brie to powerful gorgonzola… and another soft cheese that was, well, smoky.

After the cheese (and pear), digestivi. We sampled several, including the first Grappa I’ve ever liked. By the end of the meal, I was wrecked. Tipsy from the wine and liquours, fully sated with a wide variety of gourmet foods, Liz and I drunkenly chatted with a few friends online and then passed out.


Okay, Liz says that perhaps “wrecked” isn’t the right word to use. I wasn’t wrecked as in ridiculously drunk, but wrecked as in I was useless… utterly and completely satisfied in an epicurean sense.

With that cleared up, on to Thursday. We headed out to check out another castle and have lunch. We walked into a restaurant that seemed deserted… we had to walk around calling out for the host for a few minutes before it became clear that anyone was there. But Gail and Gianni knew the chef and the host (a married couple) and we soon settled in for a great meal in a remarkable setting.

We had an appetizer of fresh mushroom and a parmigiano-like cheese. It was actually from the next town over, so technically it couldn't be called parmigiano-reggiano, it was called something like "grano." Gail drizzled some olive oil and ground pepper on her salad, so we did the same.

And then the main course, mushroom ravioli in butter and oil with sage. The mushrooms were in the peak of the season (which is why we were having mushroom dishes at every meal). This picture makes me hungry every time I see it.

We also sampled a few cheeses (Gail had ordered a plate with 8 or 10 small varieties) and had a cherry cordial for a digestivo.

After the meal, we walked around the castle and took quite a few photos. But the lighting wasn't great and very few of them really convey the setting.

That evening we went out to dinner again in a more rustic setting. This restaurant was close to Gail and Gianni's house and they knew the owners well. We would be having a dish very similar to focacetta, although they called it a different name.

Basically fried dough with big airpockets that you rip in half and stuff with salame, prosciutto and coppa. Obviously heaven for me. The coppa just melts in your mouth.

We had more wine with dinner, panna cotta for dessert, and, of course, a digestivo... I believe it was a walnut liquour... similar to the stuff I sampled at Antonietta's.

Friday the 26th. Gail apologized that she was so busy and that we could only stay two nights. But her and Gianni were such generous hosts that I felt bad even staying those two nights. I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to pay them back for their generosity, but if they do head to the Pacific Northwest sometime, we'll certainly try.

After saying our goodbyes, we boarded a train for Milano Centrale, and after that, a train for Brig, Switzerland. It was pouring rain in Italy just as we were about to reach the border. Then we went through a tunnel and came out in Switzerland, where it was bright and sunny!

Kitty's friend Lidia picked us up, and we drove through Brig, Visp and up into the mountains to a small village called Ausserberg, where we've been staying since then.

I'll get some more writing done on the train and hopefully post more pics soon. I finally found a cheap (well, relatively cheap) internet card at the Milan train station, so when I get back to Italy I will set it up and hopefully have access wherever I go. Until then....

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