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Lessons Learned

21 Nov
19 November 2017.
No matter how many trips we take, we learn something new to apply to the next adventure. Just last week I learned I should have a packing list even going to Portland for two nights as I managed to pack the car and forgot to bring a jacket. In Oregon. In November. Hello, Columbia store! I did get a nice, new winter coat out of it.
Lesson 1: Packing
Packing is always a work-in-progress. I was very pleased with how much I managed to fit in my suitcase and keep the weight reasonable at about 22 pounds. For an eight-week trip I had 2 blouses, 2 long sleeved tees, 3 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one black pant, a lightweight cotton pullover sweater, khaki jacket, cardigan, jammies & undies. [See: It Fits.] One of the tees died in the first two weeks and I had to buy a fleece in Munich because I was sick of being cold. That heavy fleece made for some packing challenges as we moved on. And I found myself grabbing the same blouse, one L/S tee, and my two remaining SS tees over-and-over. I wished I’d had another cardigan instead of the khaki jacket. So, next trip, I already have a revised packing plan.

My wardrobe is about layering: 2 blouses, 2 long-sleeved tees, 2 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one pullover sweater, khaki jacket, jammies & undies. Wear on the plane: black stretchy pants, tee, & lightweight jacket.

My intentions were to class up my act and wear make-up more often. I wore make-up daily from the age of 13 to 62, so in retirement I seldom put it on. This trip was no different. Next time a little CC cream and mascara and nothing more for “dress up.”
We did take trekking sticks and were so happy we did. Definitely worthwhile and they do not weigh much.
Lesson 2: It’s OK to ship
We don’t buy too much when we travel, but I did acquire some nice table linens in Ortisei. Along with the fleece I bought in Munich and the one Ric bought in Ortisei when he hit a level of cold intolerance, the linens pushed us over-the-top and we had to break out the packable duffle. Ric had to schlepp that thing to Venezia and again to Assisi, along with his roller bag and day pack. Luckily it only weighed about 10 pounds. In Assisi we took the Umbrian oil we had purchased at a farm, the no-longer-needed trekking sticks, and the acquired linens to Mailboxes, Etc. Yes, it was pricey, but well worth getting rid of any weight we could since we still had a month of travel ahead of us. [See: Assisi is more than San Francesco for our shipping adventure.]

Not the stairs we had in London, but this staircase at Palazzo Braschi in Roma is rather dramatic, don’t you think?

Lesson 3: Check for stairs
We decided a few of years ago that we would no longer climb more than one floor with luggage. I think it was specifically during a trip to in 2014 when we had a place on the 4th floor (5th American) in Porto Santo Stefano. [See: By the sea.] It’s one thing to walk up-and-down without luggage, but if there is not an elevator we no longer stay where we have to walk up more than one flight with luggage.
Our last trip threw us two curves.
In Paris, the description for our “apartment on the 5th floor with elevator” did not mention the elevator was for one person at a time! Whenever we returned from an outing (three or four times a day) we had to take turns going up one at a time. It was no problem to walk down, but up five flights (6th floor American) was a bit much along with walking 7 to 10 miles per day.

This was our elevator in Roma when we lived there. It is HUGE compared to what we had in Paris this year.

In London I had reserved an apartment in a modernized building with an elevator. We stayed in the same apartment in 2015 and knew what we were getting. However, the landlord had to switch us to a different property [See: Wrapping up the Grand Tour.] when a problem caused by another vacation rental caused the condo board to change the rules. The new apartment was lovely except for the entry stairs (steep and narrow with a shallow tread) and the apartment stairs (twisting spiral with grab bars) which made it an adventure every time we exited or entered. It was only 37 steps, but it felt like exercising in the gym.
Always ask about the stairs.
Lesson 4: Never go more than 4 nights without having a kitchen
We made a last-minute change in our itinerary and instead of a week in an apartment in Roma, we spent 4 nights in a 5-star hotel in Pesaro and 3 nights in a B&B in Bra. Both places were enjoyable, although remarkably different, but what we missed was being able to dine in. We were forced to go to restaurants. That gets old. When we changed plans I should have worked harder to find an apartment in one or the other.
Lesson 5: Minimum one-week stays
It is not practical to spend a week everywhere. I would kill myself if I had to spend a week in Paestum, for example, as we found two nights too long there. [See: We have time.] We enjoyed getting to see Pesaro and Bra, but one-week stays might have been a bit much without a car. Still, we moved around too much in our eight weeks. We will endeavor on our future trips to pick bases and stay at least a week even if it means renting a car to take better advantage of the base. That would have been a good solution in Le Marche as well as Piemonte, had we stayed in one or the other for a full week.
Lessons learned in past travels
Long ago we adopted the practice of using a taxi upon arrival if our digs are not within a 10-15 minute walk of the station. We cling to this practice to make arrivals and departures less stressful.
Cooking (simple meals) while traveling is highly desirable. It saves money, but also calories and sanity. Restaurants get old and it is tiresome to have to find one every single night. In some countries it is damn hard to get enough fresh vegetables in a day. We relish having an apartment with even a miniscule kitchen so we are not forced into restaurant food for every meal. Salads and pasta are favorite limited-ingredient meals when we are traveling.

My brother and sister-in-law flank my favorite Roman tour guide, Sonia Tavoletta.

We use guides or guided tours to make the most of our time. We had only one day in Munich so having a guide was a perfect choice. A guide is also valuable to help with complicated sites (Pompeii, the Louvre, the Foro Romano) or to give the tour guide (me) a break. We used London Walks for the latter this trip and have used Paris Walks as well. Worth every centissimo or pence.
Feel free to skip something or change plans if our energy or interest level is just not there. We planned to go to Hampton Court Palace while in London, but we had been very busy and when I got down to the details of planning for the day trip, it was going to cost £75 for the train to-and-from and entry to the site even with a 2-for-1 deal. That and the better part of the day. We found our interest level in the site for that much money did not equate so we stayed in London and enjoyed other sights.
Sometimes we take a day off when we are traveling. Just do something little – maybe simply shopping and lunch – and then relax with a book or a movie and do the laundry. It is not a crime to do so. It is not a waste of time. It is “living local.”
Time to plan another trip! It remains to be seen if I can follow all of my own rules.
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Wrapping up the Grand Tour    

6 Nov
6 November 2017.
Our Grand Tour brought us to places new-to-us and also to locations we consider old friends. Our last stop: London for a fortnight. This was our fourth trip to the fabled city. We love it!

Dating to 1610, this is one of few buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1666.

People often ask me why we go back to the same places. While exploring and discovering unfamiliar places is exciting, going back time-and-again to a location allows us to dig deeper and experience things the one-time traveler doesn’t have time to discover. 
Since we’ve already seen the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Greenwich, the Cabinet War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, and St. Paul’s, what’s left?
Plenty. Here are the sights, sites, and activities that filled our two weeks. Note that only two of these were repeats from prior visits.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum for the Pink Floyd Exhibit
  • London Walks “Shaken not Stirred 007 Pub Walk” on Saturday night
  • London Walks “Little Venice” walking tour on a sunny Sunday
  • Self-guided walk through “The City” (in the Rick Steves’ Guide)

    View from lunch at Darwin Brasserie. Decent food, great view!

  •  The Sky Garden Darwin Brasserie for a view of London from 36 floors up in the “Walkie Talkie”
  • Liberty Department Store (old, classy, beautiful)
  • Fortnum & Mason (Scored some yummy cookies)
  • “Wicked” at the Apollo Theatre (Well-done but rather silly)

    Did you know that many Tube stations feature artwork particular to the location? Guess where this one is.

  • London Underground Tube Tour with Insider London (Very interesting history and operations)
  • Portobello Road Market
  • Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising (We were nearby in the Portobello Road Market and figured “Why not?”)
  • Hyde Park Italian Water Gardens and a lovely Saturday stroll to Hyde Park Corner with a stop for lunch at Serpentine Bar Kitchen
  •  London Film Museum for the “Bond in Motion” exhibit

    From the “Bond in Motion” exhibit. A couple of dozen original vehicles displayed with other artifacts and movie clips.

  • London Walks “Harry Potter on Location” walking tour
  • Exploration of Hampstead Village and Hampstead Heath (What a view!)
  • Canterbury and the famous cathedral
  • British Library
  • Bletchley Park (Had to watch “The Imitation Game” again after the visit)

  • Westminster Cathedral, home of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.K. with stunning mosaics
  • The National Gallery (Amazing collection! How did we miss this on prior trips?)
  • Kew Gardens (Would love to visit in May!

  • London Transport Museum (second visit)

    The Mail Rail train at the new Postal Museum, now carrying people on a history tour.

  • Imperial War Museum (second time)
  • Postal Museum and Mail Rail Tour (Really off-the-beaten)
  • Sir John Soane’s Museum
  • Other innumerable walks, wanderings, and shopping
We were fortunate to once again rent an apartment from London Connection. This is our third time with LC and I believe we benefit when we rent from the same people multiple times, especially a small, privately held agency like this. A long stay can result in more favorable rates than a shorter stay.

Lorenzo Quinn’s “Love” on the banks of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge. The same artist did the large hands called “Support” for the Venice Biennale. That is MI-6 in the background.

Our first experience with London Connection was at Christmas 2015, and our second was when we visited with our son in the spring of 2016. We liked the small apartment we had that Christmas, so I arranged to rent it again. However, a week-or-so before we arrived I got word that there was a problem: The flat had to be taken off the short-term market due to an Airbnb problem in the building. LC does not participate in Airbnb, but some other flats in the same building were rented through that service. The renters caused problems with noise and such, so the condo board said, “No more!” It would be 90-day rental minimums effective immediately. Tom Moore, the owner of London Connection, rebooked us in a flat considerably more expensive than the little one we had chosen, but of course, it was a complimentary upgrade. They really took care of us very well. We ended up staying in a new-to-us section of town, the very swanky Mayfair. The flat was in a mews house, once the residence for the horses and carriage drivers who served the important Georgian and Victorian families. Here’s a link to the flat.  It is a bit quirky in that the entrance stairs are very steep and narrow (think housing for grooms and their families 150+ years ago), and the second staircase inside the apartment was sort of a spiral, again narrow and steep. But once inside, we were in the lap of luxury.

Whimsical art in a park near our apartment.

We cooked dinner in quite a bit since we had a very nice kitchen and we enjoyed many a pub lunch. A roast for Sunday lunch is a must so we popped just around the corner from our flat to The Audley. We had the best hamburger ever at the Morpeth Arms pub, found a delicious flatbread pizza at the Serpentine Bar Kitchen, indulged in a gastropub dinner at the Queen’s Head Piccadilly, ate lunch with a view at the Sky Garden’s Darwin Brasserie, stumbled into the very sweet Greenhouse Café near the station in Kew, had unbelievable luck in Bletchley with our blind choosing of Pasha Med Turkish Bar & Grill, visited our standby for Indian at Punjab, “discovered” the charms of Le Pain Quotidien, and found pretty-darn-good-almost-Italian pizza at Bar Remo. Whew!

The street where we lived for two weeks.

A saving strategy given the steep staircase issue was shopping online at Waitrose and having our groceries delivered. I’ve done this three times now in London. I set up a delivery for an hour-or-so after we check-in, so while we are unpacking the delivery person shows up with the wine, water, breakfast items, staples, and supplies for our first dinner or two. Saves on schlepping.
In contrast to the start of our trip, we had almost no rain and temps were moderate in London. The storm Ophelia which hit Ireland and SW England made for some breezy days, but I think I deployed my umbrella only briefly one day in two weeks.

Little known Little Venice. Rather untouristed, peaceful.

Spending two weeks in London allowed us to become familiar with our neighborhood, sort out transportation options, and feel “at home.” We didn’t have to rush from sight to sight and could deviate from our plan to take advantage of discoveries. A long stay gave us a front-row seat to changes in the neighborhood. Window displays moved from fall to Christmas themes, decorations went up over major shopping streets, and pubs started to promote holiday parties and menus. We started to feel rather local. We tired ourselves out most days and relaxed at home with a simple dinner in the evenings.
Over the course of eight weeks, Sept 3-Oct 28, we walked an average of 15577 steps per day, covering about 330 miles according to my pedometer. We rarely took taxis and never rented a car. 
It was a perfect end to our eight week Grand Tour. Following are a few more photos just in case you are interested. 

 

Paris pleasures

21 Oct
21 October 2017.
No matter how many times we visit, I get a little thrill to be in Paris. After arriving by train at the fabulous Gare de Lyon, our Algerian-born-married-to-the-mob-Italian-speaking taxi driver whisked us to our pied a terre near the Opéra Garnier and soon we were looking over the rooftops of the city.
Paris was quite the change of pace after a week in Pesaro and Bra. We hit Avenue de l’Opéra on Saturday afternoon at high shopping time. Mamma mia! I was feeling a bit panicky as the crowds swarmed left and right! No one seemed to walk to one side or the other and enormous families took up the whole sidewalk. Kind of reminded me of Roma, and not in a good way!

Every Paris album needs a gratuitous Eiffel Tower shot.

We eventually found our pace, managing to weave creatively, clinging to one another and refusing to be separated. We found the nearby Monoprix (no thanks to the apartment rental agency which gave us the wrong address) for groceries and headed back “home” as Ric, who had been nursing a cold for a couple of days, was feeling the full fury and needed some chicken soup and downtime.
Prepared chicken soup was something we had trouble finding in Italy. Not so in Paris! Lovely chicken broth with vermicelli (not just “noodles”), a fresh baguette, some nice white wine, and early-to-bed.
So we took it easy in Paris. The weather was not bad. Only rarely sunny but, as we like to say, at least it wasn’t raining. Overcast is fine as long as I do not have to deploy an umbrella while touring. We managed to explore some places we had not been in our prior visits, take some long walks through familiar neighborhoods, and have some fine culinary experiences as well.
Below, a selection of pictures from our stroll around The Marais on a nice sunny day.
Ric thought I was crazy to suggest a tour of Père Lachaise Cemetery, but after a two-hour wander we were both happy we’d gone. Crowds were light early on a fall Sunday, and by the time other tourists and Sunday gravesite visitors appeared, we were leaving. So many famous writers, musicians, philosophers, singers, artists, statesmen, and military figures are interred here! Not all are figures from bygone times. One of the artists from “Charlie Hebdo” that was murdered in the attacks of 2015 is in Père Lachaise. Memorials honor war dead and there are several moving monuments to the Holocaust.
Another less-known site is the Jacquemart-André Museum. I have had this in my sights for a few visits and finally found time to go. What a fabulous place! While quite popular with French visitors, we heard no English this day.  This is a private museum created in the mansion of Édouard André (1833–1894) and Nélie Jacquemart (1841–1912) to display the art they collected during their lives. And what a collection it is! They apparently had unlimited funds, no kids (which helps), and could not stop collecting. The reception rooms and private quarters alike are from another era and a lifestyle we only see in films. There are masterpieces by Donatello, Luca Della Robbia, Botticelli, Signorelli, Perugino, and more. Italy seems to have been their favorite country-of-origin.
Part of the mansion was used in the 1958 film “Gigi.”
An unexpected bonus was a special exhibit, “The Hansen’s Secret Garden” the private collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collected in just two years (1916-1918) by a Danish couple, Wilhelm and Henny Hansen. Renoir, Matisse, Degas, Gauguin, Monet and more. We were dumbfounded to trip across this and had the privilege of up-close viewing in a very intimate setting. The exhibition is supposed to go to other major museums around the world, although only Ottawa is singled out on the website. If it comes to a city near you, go.
Food in Paris is very important, and food experiences are very important to the Bartons. We were, however, a bit tired of restaurants after a week without a kitchen. The chicken soup night was a relief and we also decided to make a nice French ratatouille in honor of our visit to the capital. This became the prime component of a few relaxed dinners at “home.” There were some excellent culinary experiences, too.

Moules alla Meuniere at Au Trappiste. The waiter will recommend a beer to pair. Frites on the side, of course.

I was in a mood for moules et frites. We tracked them down at two decidedly different venues: Au Trappiste, a Belgian beer emporium that also served great mussels, and Leon de Bruxelles, a mussels-specialty chain that also had some decent Belgian beer. I usually like my mussels sautéed in wine ala Meuniere, but after trying Leon’s Provençale style as well as au Roquefort, I need to expand my repertory at home. My cravings were well-satisfied. Leon is definitely on our list for the (inevitable) next trip to Paris.
We splurged on one dinner/tour, Bustronome. Unfortunately. Ric was still not feeling well and could barely taste the food. Since it was pre-paid he bravely went along. I found the food quality and creativity excellent although the wines were nothing special. We were served a 6-course meal and although the fish wasn’t one of my favorites, everything was done nicely, very fresh, very beautiful. Portions were appropriate to a 6-course meal so we didn’t quite waddle away.
The nighttime tour of Paris was terrific. We drove slowly through the streets on the double-decker bus passing almost every landmark you could name: Place du Concorde, the Louvre, Opéra Garnier, Musée D’Orsay, Invalides, La Tour Eiffel, and more. The bus has a panoramic glass roof and since all diners are on the second level, everyone had a great view. (The kitchen is on the bottom level.)
A couple of years ago we enjoyed a phenomenal meal at Les Papilles, where you eat what they are cooking. At least at dinner, that is the case: no choices, one set four-course menu. We went for lunch this trip and at lunch there are a few bistro meal choices. We aren’t fools. We ordered the chef’s recommended entrée et plat. This day it was a delicate cauliflower soup served with bits of bacon and cauliflower with a dollop of crème fraiche followed by a delectable porc en cassoulet. How they do it out of a kitchen the size of our master bathroom, I do not know. The owner, Bertrand Bluy, is no slouch in the selection of wines and brought us a lovely carafe that is far beyond what most would offer as house wine, well-matched to the day’s menu. Luckily Ric was feeling much better and able to taste and enjoy the food. 
We love going to the market wherever we are traveling and we shopped at Monoprix on Avenue de l’Opéra several times.The first time we checked out it was with a young man who was very engaging with the customers that went before us. Nice to us, but with a language barrier no real kibitzing. The next time we went to his station, as usual he was visiting with people then turned to ring up our items. He indicated to me that some dark chocolate we had would not scan. (I can understand enough French in situ.) Bummer. He set the chocolate aside and rang up the rest of the order. I turned to tell Ric the chocolate would not scan and could see he was irritated. (We like a square of dark chocolate after dinner.) Then the cashier laughed and handed me the item in question. “Joking,” he said. I guess we were accepted as regulars at that point. The Opéra Market was also a find, just around the corner from our flat, with an assortment of products that puts 7-Eleven to shame in a space not much larger than some walk-in closets.
Of course even Paris can have bad food. You can read about a terrible pizza experience which I will post soon over at Our Weekly Pizza. (Hint: Dominoes would have been better.)
So we bid adieu to Paris, her fine moules, amusing grocery clerks, and bad pizza. The Eurostar whisked us to London from where I will resume our story when I have time. À bientôt!
And if you haven’t seen enough, here are a few more photos from lovely Paris. 

Off the beaten – Piemonte

12 Oct
12 October 2017.
Leaving Le Marche and moving across the country, we took three trains to reach Bra in the Piemonte. No, it is not named for a feminine underthing. That word in Italian is reggiseno. There was, however, a bra thief that struck there.

Kitty has a view…of trains. Tromp l’oeil in Bra.

Many people have heard of Asti and Alba, but Bra is a smaller town with less than 30,000 people, famous as being the place the Slow Food movement started. For such a tiny place it had amazing restaurants. Two out of our three dinners there were truly stellar.
Boccondivino was the first restaurant to be opened by the Slow Food Movement in the 1980s. We found the food to be inspired without being pretentious, and prices unbelievable for the quality. It is Michelin-listed; no stars, but still! Even excellent Piemontese wine was available by the glass for €3-5 per glass. Our total bill was only €70 including a shared antipasto (a roasted yellow pepper wrapped around tuna pate), two secondi (rabbit for Ric that was perhaps the most beautifully prepared rabbit we’ve ever seen, and roasted guinea fowl for me), a shared dessert, four glasses of wine, a grappa, and caffè. We so appreciated the impeccable-but-not-stuffy service and fair pricing to go along with memorable food. Unfortunately, I was so caught up in the moment, I did not even take any food photos. That is a good thing.
We so enjoyed Boccondivino that we wanted to go back on our third evening. But I did not call until lunchtime Friday and they were completely booked. I sought out something completely different: a seafood restaurant in land-locked Piemonte. Ristorante La Bula serves only seafood and the reviews were terrific so we reserved a table. It may be landlocked, but this part of the region is quite close to Liguria where seafood is a religion.
I think I woke up the owner when I called to make the reservation in the mid-afternoon and we were the first to arrive half-an-hour after they opened. They did not look like they expected a big crowd. It is a lovely space, tucked back under the portico of a very old building, but modern and chic.
I am happy to say a few more dinners arrived and we had an amazing dinner! It was the best seafood dinner we have had since leaving Roma. We started with calamari alla griglia con crema di ceci (grilled calamari with creamed chickpeas, much like a soft hummus), then shared tagliatelle con ragu di polpo (pasta with octopus ragu). Ric had the fried Mediterranean goodness of fritto misto, while I enjoyed the branzino alla griglia con verdure (sea bass with vegetables). The wine list included many regional wines, but we snuck across the border to Liguria for one of our favorites, Vermentino. A lovely grappa capped off the dinner. I might not have reason to return to Bra, but if we are ever within 50 miles, I would detour to eat here.
Boccondivino night 1, La Bula night 3. Where did we eat on night 2 in this food capital? It was not so much where as when: we ate in the 1950s. Our B&B recommended Badellino and on the strength of that recommendation (after all, he also recommended Boccondivino) we made a reservation. We were first to arrive, but the restaurant quickly filled, mostly with locals, it seemed. The menu was uninspired, the presentation and preparation even less so. There was an antipasto cart where for €13.00 per person the woman in charge of the dining room would load a plate for you with beef tartar, the local bra sausage served raw, insalata russie (I abhor insalata russie!), guinea fowl salad (no doubt made from last night’s leftovers), and a few other rather unsavory looking items that had been sitting at room temperature. Can you say ptomaine? As a primo we chose a pasta which was pretty good, made from the local sausage that was mercifully cooked. My main course was roast beef Barolo, which was, in fact, a tender piece of beef in a Barolo sauce, but it was so lonely on the plate, just a slab slathered in the gravy, no side dish, no color, not even a sprig of parsley. It looked like something served in a church basement in the Midwest when I was growing up. Neither of the servers spoke any English, which was odd in a destination that attracts an international wine crowd, and the décor of this 100-year-old establishment might last have been spruced up in 1959. We paid the same here as we did at Boccondivino! At least they had grappa and the wine was a good value.
So what did we do besides eat? This is an amazing wine region after all. We took two daytrips: Alba and Cuneo.
We enjoyed traveling some by Regionale, the not-so-fast workaday trains of the Trenitalia system. Trains that are taken more by Italians commuting to work or to shop, and by students from middle school through University. There is a lot of commuting between cities like Torino and Bra and Bra and Alba. Every day we encountered swarms of students: out in the morning, returning mid-afternoon. 
We also saw a wide variety of agricultural landscapes, quite different from other regions of Italy. Corn fields dominated where we expected grapes, and small vineyards clung to hillsides. There were more hazelnut (filbert ) trees than in the Willamette Valley! In Alba, vacuum-packed bags of dried and roasted nocciole (hazelnuts) were in nearly every shop and a hazelnut torta was a featured dessert.
Bra is not really in the hills where they produce wine. It is rather on the edge, whereas Alba is right in the Langhe. In Alba, we found an immensely attractive town, very focused on the upcoming La Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba (white truffle festival). We are not truffle fans (you either are a fan, or are not, IMO) so I am glad we missed those crowds. We also found that Alba is the home of Ric’s favorite grappa, Sibona. We dithered for about five minutes before deciding to ship a winter supply home. You cannot buy this stuff in the U.S. 
In a small world moment, the little cafe we chose for lunch had a slight Oregon connection: the owner’s sister-in-law is in the wine business and knows Ponzi.
Now a departure for a few fashion photos. As anywhere in Italy, style is important and even in these little towns of rural Piemonte there were some interesting trends that caught my eye. 
We also ventured to Cuneo, capital of the province that encompasses Alba and Bra. This is an amazingly beautiful city, very busy and a delight to wander. There are no tourists, it seems. True, no big “sights” or “sites” but that is what off-the-beaten-path is about: Seeing places that do not attract the hordes. We only had a few hours, but could easily have stayed a few days. It is nestled up against the Maritime Alps. I would love to see it in winter when the peaks are snowy.

 

Off the beaten – Le Marche

11 Oct
11 October 2017. We decided to veer away from our original plan of going to Roma. As our son said, “You lived there almost five years! Why are you going back already?” On reflection, we realized we were mostly going there to eat at our favorite places, and to see our friend Eleonora. Sorry Ele, but Derek made sense: we decided to go to one region we’d never visited — Le Marche — and to Piemonte, where we have only visited Torino. Rome will have to wait.

The view from our room. The beach was never any busier than this.

For Le Marche it is difficult to pick one base. It is a region with such geographic diversity that it is time-consuming to get around only by train and bus. With a thought to visiting Urbino (famous Renaissance city) and Ravenna (for the Byzantine mosaics I have been wanting to see for years) I booked us into a very nice hotel in Pesaro (say it PAYZ-a-row).
Pesaro is an Italian beach town which in July or August would be swarming with bronzed bodies. In late September many hotels were boarded up for the season and the beach was deserted. No doubt the reasonable price for our room in the five-star Hotel Excelsior was due to the season. While in Oregon people still swarm to the coast in the fall, in Italy the season is over, no matter how nice the weather.
Offseason made for easy, if long, day trips to Urbino and Ravenna, with quiet walks and dining in Pesaro in the evening. Then there was the up-close view of the Adriatic from our balcony.
We really enjoyed walking around Ravenna and ogling the magnificent mosaics. Having dabbled in mosaics myself, I am in awe of the work done centuries ago. We had perfect weather and lucked into a fine lunch at Il Paiolo. Since Ravenna is in Emilia-Romagna, home of the piadina, we were able to get piadine made by people who really know what they are doing. It may seem simple, but a great piadina is not common. Mediocre ones are.
Urbino was interesting but it is a city of hardscape without much green to relieve it. We toured the Palazzo Ducale and were suitably impressed, but overall, we prefer quainter, less severe towns and more drama in our scenery. The Le Marche landscape surrounding it is lush and begs exploration with a car. It was a long bus trip made interesting by the other passengers and the little rural towns we passed through showing a slice of small-town Italian life.

These people are buying fish. I was amused by the view. The awning is down because the kiosk faces the morning sun. Wouldn’t you think they’d orient the kiosk the other way?

We were less-than-thrilled with seafood in Pesaro. I expected better from an Adriatic town. It wasn’t that the product was poor: it was in fact very fresh. But the preparation was uninspired. Simple grilling would have been best. There was often too much breading and a propensity to fry. With little seasoning, everything tasted the same. Even vegetable options were limited to potatoes and the ever-present insalata verde. Italians do not do great salads, which is a shame given the amazing ingredients available. Prices were not bad, but for similar prices in Lincoln City, we eat far better seafood. And I have had far better in Roma.

Pesaro is a working port and fresh fish is available on the docks.

After trying two seafood restaurants that were right on the beach (the scenery surpassed the food), we turned our attention to a little osteria in the centro storico, Osteria Pasqualon. We were warmly welcomed and served a simple but excellent meal of vitello alla limone, patatine fritte, erbe di campagnolo, melanzane parmigiana, and spiedini misti. (Veal scaloppini, French fries, sautéed field greens, eggplant parmesan, and mixed grilled kabob.) No fish. The price for all of this, with wine, was about €37.00. And that is another wonder of getting off the beaten path: you can find amazing food in Italy at an unbelievable price.
Pesaro was relaxing after Venezia – maybe too much for some people who feel they have to fill every day to the brim. We had had four busy weeks since we left home and more to come. We saw some places from this base that I am happy we got to see. And it was a great opportunity to practice my Italian as outside of the Hotel Excelsior the available English was limited. We liked having a base and not having to spend a series of one-and-two night stays to see some small towns.
P.S. – We are in Paris now. I am trying to catch up with blogging, but we are rather busy enjoying ourselves. Part II about Piemonte coming up soon!

 

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