passing the day in Parma

passing the day in Parma

Our last day in Bologna, we went two train stops past Modena: Parma.

At the station, we stopped to ask a carabinieri where we could get good pizza. He was very friendly and helped us navigate our way out of the station and into town. A coffee break to get our bearings, then onward.

First stop, of course: the duomo: the 11th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Then the pink baptistry. Construction on the pink marble octagon-shaped baptistery was begun in 1196.

The museum at the Bishop’s Residence was included in the combination ticket. Its treasures date back to the 12th century.

Helpful hint: you can buy postage stamps at any tobacco store, but mail boxes are hard to find.

Pizza at Ristorante Pizzeria la Duchessa in Piazza Garibaldi, formerly the Piazza Grande under the shadow of the Palace of Podesta.

A stroll through the open-air market and the local grocery, where we picked up Nocino. On the way back to the train station, we stopped at a little market and picked up some Parmesan cheese to bring home.

market cheese

With planning, we could have visited a cheese factory, which would have made the trip complete.

 

more than you could hope for in Modena

more than you could hope for in Modena

A 25-minute train ride, €15 per person round trip, and we were in Modena, with its tree-lined streets and quiet ambience.

First stop: Enoteca Ducale. A real find, in several ways, and we just happened to stroll past it and back up to go in. A tasting of several balsamics, and of course we went ahead and purchased. One of my rules: if you find something you like and want, get it then – you’ll likely not find it again, and you certainly can’t count on finding your way back there, especially on a day trip.

Then to the Piazza Roma, followed by the Piazza Grande and its duomo.

Headed toward Mercato Coperto Albinelli, we found a hat store, and Todd bought a Panama hat (not a Stetson, although they carried them – humorous to us Texans).

A stroll through the mercato. Then a second stroll through the mercato. We could have had lunch there, but it would have involved too many decisions, so we proceeded to the restaurant recommended by the balsamic guy.

What a lunch at Danilo Ristorante! We opted to eat inside, and that was the best decision we could have made. We were quite obviously the only non-locals there. Nonna adopted us. She’s worked there 32 years. She had an English-speaking waiter help us with our initial order, then she took over. After we had finished lunch, she brought us a plate of cookies—made fresh by her that morning—and she convinced us to order dessert. The tiramisu was a life-changer. Then she brought marinated cherries, and wouldn’t leave us alone until every one of them was gone. Then Nocino, the house-made walnut-coffee liqueur.

But we weren’t done yet. The couple sitting behind us beckoned us to follow them. An older couple and four of us, we took a chance. Professor Arrigo Guiglia and his wife took us through the Jewish quarter and talked about the war, then took us to a private Jewish museum on Via Francesco Rismondo and gave us a private tour. So many treasures, it brought tears to my eyes. And he and his wife were so welcoming and giving, even though they spoke no English and Mark’s Italian was basic. This is the kind of thing we treasure about our travel adventures.     

Mark and Vicki headed back to Bologna while we went to the Ferrari Museum. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco while Todd toured. Review: interesting, but not worth the €16 admission.

Back to the train station and back to Bologna. All of Modena was easily walkable.

IMG_0327

How Italy is different from Spain

No judgment either way, just general observations, and not universal:

·       Women are either dressed stylishly, or really not.

·       Women don’t wear hose.

·       Men don’t wear socks with suits or dress pants.

·       Parents push strollers, but carry babies.

·       Small children cry and scream – perhaps related to the point above?

·       People move with more purpose.

·       People don’t stop and block sidewalk traffic just to chat – perhaps related to the point above?

·       While many shops also close in the afternoon, they close for good by 8:00.

·       Lots of bicycles.

·       Pay phones on the streets, but no mail boxes.

a perfect day (and some evenings) in Bologna

a perfect day (and some evenings) in Bologna

Our first disappointing NH hotel: only 2 outlets in the whole room. We had to bum an extension cord to plug in Todd’s CPAP – and that outlet only worked when the main lights were on. So we unscrewed bulbs so we could sleep. And we thought we had prepaid for breakfast, but apparently not. For €18 per person per day, we could buy a lot of breakfast elsewhere – so we did!

But many of the staff at the hotel were great. Thanks to the bartender’s recommendation, we had a fabulous dinner on a skinny street a bit off the main street. I don’t think we could have gone wrong at any of the eateries there, but 051 was amazing!

IMG_0321

 

And the hotel location was great: across the way from the train station (but quiet), at the edge of the city center, with a view from our room of Porta Galliera, one of the old city gates. And what a city center! Porticos mean you can walk in the shade. Bicycles everywhere mean less car traffic. Walkable. Pleasant. Great food everywhere. What a place!

IMG_0313

Our first morning, we found a café that brought barista art to a whole new level – too pretty to drink, but too good not to!

IMG_0324

One disappointment: the statue of Neptune in Piazza Nettuno was completely covered for restoration. But we’re always glad to see restoration happening – it means sights will be there for years to come.

Our touring, of course, began at the duomo in Piazza Maggiore: the Basilica of San Petronio, built between 1390 and 1663. The outside façade had never been finished, but the inside was incredible.

We found the two leaning towersTorre Asinelli and Torre Garisenda—where Todd struggled to get pictures. Damned power lines everywhere! We opted NOT to climb the 154 stairs to the top. In the evenings, that area is filled with high school kids just hanging out.

And after a false start or two, we found the university – the oldest in the western world.

Back near the towers, we stumbled onto a fabulous restaurant for lunch–Ristorantino il Tinello–so good that we returned there our last night in town.

Lots of window shopping along Via Indipendenza, Bologna’s main street.

Do your homework: Todd went to visit the Ducati Museum, but it was closed on Wednesday.

travel travails: Bologna

Every time we fly, we are reminded that we prefer travel by train.

We went to Bologna with our friends Mark and Vicki. Our first trip on Ryan Air—not fans! We pre-paid to check one bag and carried on a carryon, a backpack, and a backpack purse. No problem. They flagged the carryon for gate check. No problem. Then they stopped me at final check-in and told me the bag was too big and we’d have to pay to check it: €50. PROBLEM! We did it – cuz what else are you going to do? And I watched many bags bigger than mine get on the plane and put into overhead storage. GRRRRRRR.

We did 2 day trips from Bologna by train – easy!

Travel travails continued on our way home. The Bologna airport is a hot mess. We waited in line about 20 minutes to check our bag, only to discover that we apparently hadn’t paid for the check on the return trip. The check-in counter couldn’t take payment, so we headed to the ticket counter (poorly marked) to pay. The €60 that the check-in lady said we’d have to pay became €40. We took it, then returned to check-in to show proof of payment and collect our boarding passes.

Off to security, where they scanned the carryon bags, then did the routine bag check. Whatever. We then dutifully followed the crowd to passport control, figuring out that there was a separate line for non-EU passports. After 40 minutes – and several groups pushed through to the front of the line to catch their flights – it was our turn: we were in the wrong line – we had been waiting in the line for travel outside the Schengen zone. GRRRRRRR. We hustled to our gate (which had not been posted before) and stood in line for another 40 minutes – no seats to be had. But Ryan Air let us on with our bag, no questions asked. And no gate check for anyone. Whaddup widdat?

an excursion to Jumilla

an excursion to Jumilla

We joined our local friends Mark and Vicki on an excursion with Tu-Tours to the town of Jumilla, a local wine mecca. The group was larger than I would have liked (54), but the size provided us the advantage of English tour guides at our stops.

We began at Bodega Finca Luzon, a century-old winery that has been modernized but still prides itself on its attention to traditional methods. Our Portuguese tour guide was very knowledgeable and had an excellent command of English, although we had to clarify the distinction between flies and fleas for her. What we didn’t know: they encourage spiders in the vaults because they eat bugs that might attack the wooden barrels. She referred to them as “guards of the wine.” The wines were lovely—and they’re available in the U.S.

Our second stop: the Monastery of Santa Ana del Monte. There was some debate as to whether it was a convent or a monastery. Apparently, Spanish doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the two. In English, a monastery is for monks and a convent is for nuns. But traditionally, a monastery lay outside the walls of a city, while a cloister (or convent) was protected inside the city walls. Makes sense, therefore, that women would be in a convent and men would be in a monastery. In any case, Santa Anna is a monastery, perched atop a mountain with views of the valleys below.

The church, founded by Franciscans in 1573, was small but beautiful. Only five monks are in residence at this time. The monk who talked to us was delightful, with a sense of humor and an ability to share a lot of information in a little time. In the early days, the monks served as priests for the surrounding villages, and they carried large crucifixes with them as they made the rounds. While the largest “only” weighed 90 pounds, it was well over 6 feet tall. Imagine lugging that up and down the mountainside!

One highlight of the visit was a large museum of reliquaries containing objects left by pilgrims who journeyed to the monastery, a good 6 kilometers uphill from the Jumilla town square. Many of the items were archaeological finds, as well as natural history-type items.

Throughout the monastery were over 100 hand-painted signs which provided texts for daily inspiration.

A long day. A lot of walking. A good day.

lunch at To-Bar

lunch at To-Bar

A note about Retired in Spain before this post actually begins…

I began this blog as a promise to friends and family back home that I would report on our adventures. I had rules in mind when I started, but those rules have evolved as time passes. I want this blog to be not only a record of our time here in Spain, but a help to others who might want to move here. So – my mental rule about not dwelling on individual restaurants has morphed into…if it’s great, post it!

We first heard about To-Bar from our conversation exchange partner. She hounded us every week about it, saying we HAD to check it out. We finally did. It’s behind the green door on a street near the Mercado. Like many places here, it looks like nothing from the street. We made a reservation, then showed up, not really knowing what to expect. As is still typical for us, we were there at 1:00, and we were the only ones in the restaurant for a while.

When we arrived, all of the tables were set up with carafes of red wine and half loaves of bread. The waiter arrived. Upon our request for white wine, he returned with a bottle and left it on the table. He also brought a selection of sausages—morcillo (Spanish blood pudding), mortadella, and spicy Iberian sausage—and toppings for the bread—aioli and a tomato/red pepper paste. We had a choice of seafood paella or not-seafood paella. We chose the seafood.

Then the real food started coming.

And coming.

  • Thin fried rice paper topped with tuna, goat cheese, cucumber, tomato, olives, and pickled onion.
  • Tempura fried vegetable. After several exchanges with the waitress and some help from google translator, we determined it was aubergine (eggplant). With a honey and red wine reduction.
  • Steamed bao bread with fresh grated tomato, tuna, and wilted baby spinach.
  • Shrimp. A lot of work to peel, but SWEET!
  • Pulpo Galicia: octopus on a bed of polenta with oil and spices.
  • THEN paella! With mussels, shrimp, and octopus.

By this time, the restaurant was packed – and LOUD. As I looked around the restaurant, I wondered how on earth these people could return to work after a lunch like this.

But we weren’t finished yet:

  • Dessert: a light sponge cake topped with sweetened condensed milk and a very light and fluffy chocolate mousse.
  • Alicante sweet wine
  • And – finally – coffee

Then the bill: 15€ per person, plus a whopping 5€ for the wine.

We finally finished and left 2 hours later, with the other diners still going strong.

Vale!