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Things to do in Roma

11 Feb
I am frequently asked for ideas on what to do in Roma. After all, we have people house-and-cat-sitting all the time, often for 2 or 3 weeks. And living here, we certainly have to get beyond the usual suspects.
Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall of Galleria Colonna, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall of Galleria Colonna, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

Everyone knows the Colosseum and Vatican, and probably the Galleria Borghese. While these should not be missed, there are many other lesser-known sights to consider. You might also enjoy reading my blog on the subject of off-the-beaten-track ideas.

Palazzi, museums, events, and exhibits

From April-November 12, 2017, there are once again special events in the Forums, a guided walk through Caesar’s Forum at night, and a multi-media show in the Forum of Augustus. You can find info at Viaggio nei fori. There’s nothing like a lovely outing after dark on a warm summer night. Take a break during the heat and head out after an early dinner for these events. I would do both, if not necessarily on the same night. If you have trouble reserving online, do not hesitate to call. They speak English.
Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini is not the usual Roman ruin. Everyone we send here says it is one of the best things they did in Roma. Beneath a government building in the center of Roma, just off Piazza Venezia, are the excavated ruins of a Roman palazzo. You walk across a Plexiglas floor to view them, enhanced with a multimedia presentation to illustrate what things looked like 2000 years ago. Only three English tours daily so be sure to reserve online in advance.
Hard-hat tour of Nero's

Hard-hat tour of Nero’s “Golden House,” the Domus Aurea.

Domus Aurea, Nero’s Golden Palace. Who can resist? It is legendary, although the goldenness is long gone. The restoration project is ambitious given the size. Visit the website and click on “Opening Hours.” Be aware, it is cold underground and even in summer you’ll need a jacket!
We went to Villa Torlonia a couple of years ago on a sunny February Sunday and enjoyed it very much. Recent guests told us that more has been done and one can even visit Mussolini’s bunker from WWII. The entrance fee to see all of the buildings is a little expensive, IMHO, but worth seeing for architecture buffs. La Casina della Civette is quite unique.  The Mussolini Bunker is priced separately from the main buildings.
Villa Torlonia

La Casina delle Civette at Villa Torlonia, a curious mix of styles.

Galleria Colonna  is only open on Saturday mornings with an English tour at noon. We went early and had a wander around, then took the tour. Lovely private collection in an amazing building. The Colonnas are an ancient Roman family and members still live in the palazzo in private apartments. We have not been to the Princess’ Apartments, but British friends said they were great, so we need to go back.
Palazzo Farnese, the French Embassy to Italy. This is an historic building with Michelangelo’s art and frescoes worth straining your neck to see. English tours only on Wednesday at 17:00 and you must reserve a few weeks in advance for security reasons.
Villa Medici

Niobe suffers from hubris and loses al of her children. Gardens of Villa Medici.

Villa Medici, the French Art Academy in Roma. No reservations required. Just show up at Noon, Tue-Sun. You will see what the gardens of a Renaissance Roman villa night have looked like.
The Palazzo delle Esposizioni has special art exhibits that are usually worthwhile. Recently we saw French Impressionists from the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Very busy Sundays when Roman families seem to flock to museums. 
Palazzo Braschi Museo di Roma near Piazza Navona is an under-visited, very tranquil museum. Cool on a warm day and certainly a respite from the rain should that occur. Featuring art depicting Roma in days gone by.
The massive staircase at Palazzo Braschi was like an Escher painting.

The massive staircase at Palazzo Braschi is like an Escher painting.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj in the historic center is also under-appreciated. It is yet another private collection in the old family digs. The collection includes Bernini, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Raffaello, and several Flemish Old Masters. The audio guide is excellent.
The Quirinale, the President’s Palace. Only recently opened for regular tours, thanks to President Sergio Matterella. Previously it was the Papal Palace (pre-Vatican days) and also housed four kings of Italy. Like visiting the White House, but security is less stringent and it’s fancier.
Riding the moving ramp down at Eataly. This is a huge place, built in what was an abandoned air terminal.

Riding the moving ramp down at Eataly. This is a huge place, built in what was an abandoned air terminal.

Eataly has two locations, a small one in Piazza della Repubblica, and the Mother Ship near Stazione Ostiense. I believe the larger store is worth the trip. Easy to stop on your way home from Ostia Antica (see below) with many choices for lunch. Eataly features Italian-made food products and a few non-food items. It is a showcase for all good things in the Italian food culture. Getting there once you reach Stazione Ostiense is a bit interesting, as I mentioned in my blog. You must persevere!
Looking to leave the crowds behind? Villa Farnesina is hidden away in Trastevere. Commissioned during the Renaissance by Agostino Chigi, a Sienese banker, it contains frescoes by Raphael and is lightly attended. 
Churches worth seeing: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, St. Ignazio, San Clemente (the famous layered church), San Giovanni in Laterano, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Prassede, San Luigi dei Francesi (the seat of the French Catholic Church in Rome) and others too numerous to mention. 
Bernini's elephant obelisk, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Bernini’s elephant obelisk, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

Guided Tours

There are two places we highly recommend guided tours: The Vatican and The Colosseo/Foro Romano/Palatino.
Walks of Italy  does a special tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s, “The Pristine Sistine.” I highly recommend it. It is not inexpensive, but the groups are small (only 12 people), the guides are educational and entertaining, and you get to the Sistine Chapel before it is a hot mess of people.
For the sites of Ancient Rome, the Colosseo/Foro Romano/Palatino, a private guide is a great idea. For about €50-55 per hour, you get a personalized experience. Sonia Tavoletta (soniatav@alice.it) and Francesca Caruso (francescainroma@gmail.com) are excellent. They will customize anything you want. If you have four-or-more people in your party, this is less expensive on a per person basis than many organized tours. 

Day Trips

Ostia Antica. In the

Ostia Antica. In the “Piazzale delle Corporazioni” or Square of the Guilds. Mosaics depict services and products.

Ostia Antica is less than an hour away from Roma by local train out of Stazione Ostiense. What the volcano did at Pompeii, time and the river did to Ostia Antica. These are actually well-preserved for Roman ruins, and I find the Rick Steves’ audio guide (MP3 available at his website) and the guide in his book are excellent for self-touring.
Orvieto is a one-hour train ride from Roma Stazione Termini and a fascinating Umbrian hill town. There is a nifty funicular that glides up from the train station to the plateau. Great place to wander, see the Duomo, have lunch, shop a little. Again, I have to turn to Rick Steves and encourage you to consult his guide to make good use of your time. The underground tour is worthwhile!
Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Tivoli is about an hour by train from Stazione Tiburtina and an excellent trip any time of the year. We’ve gone in August for the evening light displays at Villa d’Este, which makes a wonderful one-night trip (see my prior post here). We’ve gone to Villa d’Este in September and April as well, and to Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriano) in May one year. Villa d’Este is easily done by train, but I would suggest having a car to try to go to Villa Adriano. Alternatively, take a bus tour from Roma. (Haven’t done this myself but there are options through many tour companies if you care to research it.) I think Villa Adriano would be best with a guide. It’s vast and a bit confusing.
Formal gardens, Lazio Albano, the Papal Gardens

Formal gardens, Albano Laziale, papal estate.

Castel Gandolfo and the Papal Palace. The Apostolic Palace is where the popes up until Papa Francesco went to relax and escape the heat of Roma. Papa F doesn’t relax and eschews the trappings of papal wealth. Bravo! Thus, one can visit the palace almost any old time. Castel Gandolfo is a lovely little town with good restaurants in addition to the fantastic Papal Palace. It would be hard to combine with my next suggestion because the gardens one visits in the Vatican by Train tour are actually in neighboring Albano Laziale, but if you enlist a taxi and make lunch a quick panino you just might manage to do both in a day. 
The Vatican by Train  is an all-day event. You start with about 90 minutes to tour the Vatican Museums. (It is not enough time for the entire museum so you must pick a facet, a corner, and see what you can. We chose the Pinacoteca, which we had to ourselves for most of an hour.) Then you have a walking tour of the Vatican Gardens, which leads you to the San Pietro train station where you catch your private train to Albano Laziale and a tour of the papal estate there. You ride a train through these gardens as well. An audio guide is provided.
There are many other possibilities: Sperlonga for the beach, Frascati just because (porchetta and local Frascati wine), Tarquinia for the Etruscan museum and tombs (stunning!)…. 

Miscellany

10 Things you can do for Free in Rome from Italy magazine.
Coop Culture is the official ticket site for many Italian sites. Check them before using a consolidator, who will add on fees.  If you are going to the Colosseo without a guided tour, get your skip-the-line tickets from Coop Culture.
The Roma Pass can be worthwhile if you do the Colosseo, et.al., one day and the Galleria Borghese the next, making those your first two entries with the pass. Otherwise, forget it.
Transportation tickets/passes. You can buy tickets for single trips for €1.50 at any edicola (newsstand) or tabaccheria (tobacconist). There are also passes for 24, 48 and 72 hours at €7.00, €12.50, and €18.00 respectively, which are usually available at the edicola or tabaccheria. A 7-day pass is €24.00. Details at ATAC.com. Note that few buses sell tickets on board. Buy before you board and validate or risk a huge fine. 
Transit Trip Planning is available here. If you are traveling with a smartphone, download ProBus, AutoBusRoma, or Moovit. You can research bus routes and get an estimate on when the next bus will arrive.
The books 24 Great Walks of Rome, Rome the Second Time, and 111 Things to Do in Rome are great for inspiration! I found all of them either at Amazon.com or Powells.com.
Movies in English are shown every week. Usually, they are posted on Friday for movies from Saturday through the following Wednesday. Check here for what’s on. Some of the theatres do not sell popcorn or anything else to eat or drink, so eat before you go.
Now you see why they say Roma una vita non basta! (Rome – a lifetime is not enough!)
If you have a favorite place I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment.
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This and that

12 Jan
Our trips supply us with anecdotes far beyond the pictures we take, and often provide memories we talk about for years: Our two collie puppies running on moonlit Cannon Beach in Oregon on New Years Day at 6:00-God-help-us-AM; A priest roller-blading, cassock flying, on Via Arenula; A beautifully dressed, kind Italian businessman personally guiding us when we were lost in Spoleto;  Running into a pack of Portlanders on a mountain ridge in Italy on Christmas Eve. Here are a few more tidbits from our trip to London, Paris and Switzerland.

Italian moments

I was amazed at how often we encountered the Italian language and Italians outside of Italy. I heard Italian every single day, whether in the street, on a train, or in a restaurant or a shop. It made me miss Italy.
Parisians can find panettone, pandoro and other Italian treats, too.

Parisians can find panettone, pandoro and other Italian treats, too.

On Christmas Eve at Dean Street Townhouse our waitress was from Italy. It felt like home to order and chat in Italian.
Even in the north of Switzerland, we heard Italian daily. Our waiter at Punctum, where we found an amazingly good pizza, was Italian. You can read about it on my other blog, Our Weekly Pizza.

That small town feel

Many years ago, we traveled to my adopted hometown of Lindstrom, MN for my mother’s 80th birthday. The day we arrived there was a huge snowstorm and we were going to be very late getting from MSP to little Lindstrom. We called the motel and we were told they’d leave the key under the mat for us.  How cute is that?
No picture of Hotel Chur, so here is a serene little alley in the Alt Stadt, on our way to Punctum for pizza.

No picture of Hotel Chur, so here is a serene little alley in the Alt Stadt, on our way to Punctum for pizza.

We had a similar experience in Chur, Switzerland. Coming all the way from London, we knew we would not arrive until at least 10:00 PM, so I contacted the hotel. As the front desk staff goes home at 8:00 PM – odd in a hotel with 58 rooms – we received instructions via email including a code to a box that would release a door entry key. Our room key would be laying on the front desk (along with many others, we saw upon arrival). We had a moment of panic when the entry key did not release easily and I had to use a nail file to finagle it, but it all worked out quite well.

Fabled names

Drury Lane, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Square, Baker Street, Covent Garden, Whitehall. How often we have come across these names in literature and history and there we were in the midst of them! London Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace: fabled landmarks in a literary town. I have to say as much as I like speaking Italian, it was fun to understand every damn word whether spoken or written. No menu translation challenges. 
'Do you know the muffin man who lives in Dury Lane?' There really is a Drury Lane. Now try to get that tune out of your head for the rest of the day.

‘Do you know the muffin man who lives in Drury Lane?’ There really is a Drury Lane. Now try to get that tune out of your head for the rest of the day.

Melting pot

After dinner on Christmas Day, we ventured to the Odeon at Marble Arch to See “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With reserved seats, there was no need to arrive super early to stand in line, although we milled around in the lobby for a while before the theatre was clear. We heard very little English being spoken among the various family groups waiting. Predominant language? Arabic.
Carnaby was well decorated for the holiday.

Carnaby was well decorated for the holiday.

Thanks to the former British Empire, London is truly home to many cultures. As a result, ethnic food is widely available. We love Italian food, but it was a real treat to eat good Indian food in a London restaurant.

Hailo

Hailo is the Uber for legal cabs. I am not a fan of Uber. I think the drivers who are licensed and who have spent years studying their cities should get my transportation Euro, Pound, or Dollar. London’s answer is Hailo.  In about 5 minutes, I installed the app, signed up, and had a cab scheduled for 06:30 the next morning. The driver was a gem, arrived early, helped with bags, and spoke with the most amazing Cockney accent. Luckily he could understand me better than I understood him. Hailo is also available outside the U.K. It worked great and I wish it would come to Rome. Thanks to Nigel for the recommendation!

Pedestrians & parking

As a pedestrian in Roma, one watches traffic ever-so-carefully. People wear headsets listening to music when they drive, they talk on cell phones even though it is illegal, and generally pedestrian crossings are used for parking so they get little respect as pedestrian zones.  
Orderly, I tell you! Look how the women areallowed to cross the street without a motorino shooting past. And no one is parked in teh crosswalk. Heaven!

Orderly, I tell you! Look how the women are allowed to cross the street without a motorino shooting past. And no one is parked in the crosswalk. Heaven!

In Switzerland, cars screech to a halt before you even know you want to cross the street. I almost felt obligated to cross the drivers were so polite and accommodating. Reminded me of Portland.
I love that in London and Paris drivers park where they are supposed to, inside the parking zones, not on sidewalks or within the zebra stripes. It makes for such an orderly city! Most of you take this for granted, but if you’ve ever been to Roma, you know that creative acts of parking make rough going for those on foot.

Crypt café

Cafe in the Crypt. Notice the tombstones on the lower left.

Cafe in the Crypt. Notice the tombstones on the lower left.

Eating in a mausoleum? Why not? At the famous St. Martin-in-the-Field there is a cafeteria in the crypt. It’s far from the Lutheran Church basements of our youth in the Upper Midwest. This is a true crypt with ancient tombs underfoot. The food was simple, of good quality and, for London, inexpensive. (One sandwich, 2 bottles of water, coffee and tea for GBP 9.85.) It was warm, with low-lighting, a polite crowd, decorated for Christmas.
We ate our light lunch with the Baythorns.

We ate our light lunch with the Baythorns.

St. Paul’s Cathedral also has a café in their crypt. Not as big, but great for coffee and cake.
I don’t see this trend coming to St. Peter’s anytime soon. Can you imagine the crowds if you could have lunch at the tomb of a deceased pope?

Christmas in Rome: Lighter on the lights but heavy on the meaning

22 Dec

Fellow blogger John Henderson has done a wonderful job describing this year’s Christmas scene in Roma. Ric and I did not get to tour lights a lot before leaving for Paris and London, so I wanted to share his impressions and lovely photos. I was pleased to see that Via del Corso did indeed get decked out.

Christmas has special meaning in the center of Christendom, but even St. Peter's Square is understated. Photo by Marina Pascucci Christmas has special meaning in the center of Christendom, but even St. Peter’s Square is understated. Photo by Marina Pascucci
I grew up in the capital of the commercial world and now live in the capital of the Catholic world. It is Christmas time, a time when capitalism and religion merge into a big, sparkling Christmas ball — a green Christmas ball. Comparing Christmas in Rome to Christmas anywhere in the U.S. is like staring at the moon compared to staring at a spotlight. I never get tired of staring at the moon in Rome. Every night it sits above the Tiber River across the street from my terrace, like a big wheel of mozzarella cheese. Stare at a spotlight long enough and you’ll go blind, kind of like looking at Christmas lights that have been up since before Thanksgiving.

Christmas in Rome is one of my favorite times of…

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Guns and The Top of Europe

30 Sep
A man gets on the train carrying a gun. What would you do? If I was in France, Spain, Great Britain or the USA, I would dive for cover. But we are in Switzerland, in the Bernese Oberland to be precise, and apparently no one bats an eye. Neither did we since he walked in accompanied by another local, and even women pushing babies in strollers were undisturbed by the sight. I am not going to pretend I understand the Swiss mindset or even the laws around firearms. This article from Time magazine on the subject is pretty interesting. I am not sure I am more concerned about the fact he was hunting in an area where people hike or carrying a weapon in public. 
When we saw this guy get on we got the giggles. Can you imagine if this happened on MAX in Portland? This was on the Wengeralp narrow-gauge cog railway.
When we saw this guy get on we got the giggles. Can you imagine if this happened on MAX in Portland? This was on the Wengeralp narrow-gauge cog railway.
Switzerland seems to have its act together. The Swiss have managed to remain neutral in world politics, insulated from European Union issues as they are non-EU, but they take advantage of the Schengen Agreement and the abolishment of internal borders. Still, immigration is highly controlled. They have an admirable environmental record, plenty of water resources, clean air, excellent recycling, a thriving economy with low unemployment. Their public debt is less than 35% of GDP (compared to Italy at 134% and the USA at about 71%). And of course there’s the cheese. High prices do not seem to deter tourists, especially the Japanese who are here in droves and show no reluctance to shell out hundreds of Swiss Francs to see the sights and buy winter fashions. You would not believe the price of a Patagonia jacket here.
Staubbach Falls, visible from our vacation rental.
Staubbach Falls, visible from our vacation rental.
This is our third trip to Switzerland in less than 2 years. Yes, we like it. The food is not as good as Italy, and the coffee almost all comes from a ubiquitous push-button machine found in virtually every café and restaurant. It’s CHF 4.00 for a basic cup of coffee or a single shot of espresso. In fact, everything is quite expensive. While the exchange rate is almost on par with the U.S. dollar, the actual prices are high. A pizza that would cost us about $11.00-12.00 in Italy is about $23.00 here. A small green salad runs $8.50. Wine by the bottle is insanely expensive in restaurants, but one can get a small glass of good local wine for a price less than we experienced in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Why do we come back if it costs so much? The transportation system, the hiking, the natural beauty: Switzerland offers a lot of what we like to do when traveling. And it works, well, like a clock.
A Jungfraujoch train moves up the mountain. Most of the journey is in a tunnel inside the Eiger and the Mönch.
A Jungfraujoch train moves up the mountain. Most of the journey is in a tunnel inside the Eiger and the Mönch.
I have wanted to go to the Jungfraujoch since Matt Lauer went there in 2011 during his annual “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” tour. During our first two Swiss trips in January 2014 and August 2014, we dismissed the trip to the Jungfraujoch as too expensive. It costs CHF 204.40 per person from Lauterbrunnen in the valley to the Jungfraujoch and back. We learned that with certain types of passes one could pay less, so we vowed “the next time” we would make the trip. This is the next time, so we bought both half-fare Swiss passes and a Bernese Oberland Regional Pass. We had to pay a relatively small supplement to go all the way to the Top of Europe (called so because it is the highest train station in Europe). It was worth it!
Jungfraujoch Railroad - our train ready to depart.
Jungfraujoch Railroad – our train ready to depart.
Rising at 5:00 AM, we caught the first train up the mountain, in total about 1 hour 45 minutes from the bottom of the valley to the Jungfraujoch, arriving just before 9:00 AM. Some of the “tour” is goofy. The giant snowglobe in the Alpine Sensation was unrefined, and the Ice Palace sculptures were not nearly as nice as those at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival of my youth, but the pure beauty of the pristine mountain was the star, and contemplating the building of such a railroad in the 1890s sobering. Thanks to 100 Italian laborers, the tunnel was built.
View from the Top of Europe over the cloud-covered valley. It was very cold outside!
View from the Top of Europe over the cloud-covered valley. It was very cold outside!

We went outside on the observation platform, but the 33 kph winds combined with the -1.5 Celsius temp reminded us a bit too much of our Minnesota and North Dakota heritage. We lasted long enough to take a few photos. Going on the sledding course was out of the question, as was the glacier walk of 1 1/2 hours roundtrip. 
We were at 11,333 feet above sea level. That is lower than the elevation we hiked to in Colorado last month, but a completely different climate. In Colorado, we peeled off layers. Here, I wished I’d had my puffy coat.
Railway Station at the Top of Europe, inside the mountain.
Railway Station at the Top of Europe, inside the mountain.
This was an unforgettable trip and we are glad we did it. Going early was a great strategy, at least with the weather forecast we had. We would be unlikely to go twice, so it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

 

 

 

 

People walking on the glacier beneath the Jungfraujoch.
People walking on the glacier beneath the Jungfraujoch.
The Eiger pokes above low level clouds as we depart Kleine Scheidegg.
The Eiger pokes above low level clouds as we depart Kleine Scheidegg after our visit on high.
CHF 30,300 watch available at the highest watch shop in Europe.
CHF 30,300 watch available at the highest watch shop in Europe.
View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Our apartment is just a bit to the left of the church.
View of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Our apartment is just a bit to the left of the church.
View from our apartment. We can also see Staubbach Falls from our terrace.
View from our apartment. We can also see Staubbach Falls from our terrace.

Escape to Emilia-Romagna

8 Jun
The heat built fast in Roma. Ten days prior we were putting on our fleece jackets in the morning because it was cold in the apartment, but by the time my brother and sister-in-law arrived June 1, that was no longer a problem: it was getting warm. Luckily for us – if not for our cat sitters – we were leaving Roma. We also left behind the tourist hoards.
Lunch on the veranda at Corte d'Aibo is a family affair.

Lunch on the veranda at Corte d’Aibo is a family affair.

Heading to Emilia-Romagna on June 2 (the Festival of the Republic which celebrates the election in 1946 when the monarchy was rejected in favor of a republic), we left behind the Roma tourists only to find throngs of Italians. At least they were at lunch when we arrived at Agriturismo Corte d’AiboBut that was the holiday and the last day of the Italian four-day weekend. Continuing on to our mountain destination of Montese, we found ourselves the only tourists at the very pleasant Hotel Belvedere .
This is not your average balsamico. This is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, another thing entirely.

This is not your average balsamico. This is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, another thing entirely.

I found Hotel Belvedere and Corte d’Aibo thanks to Riccardo of Trekking Emilia-Romagna. Somehow my SIL Jane and I hit on going to E-R and hiking, and I was fortunate to stumble upon Riccardo’s company. He put together a great itinerary for us including a tasting and tour at an acetaio called Ca’ dal Non,  lunch at the agriturismo, and a guided hike through the mountains, which saw significant action in World War II. The arrangements also included our hotel, breakfasts and dinners. All we had to do was show up and sweat a little on the hike.
Stefano, foreground, explains a fountain in the mountains to Jane, Rick and Ric. Multiple basins allowed people to use one for drnking water, the next for washing, and a final one for watering livestock.

Stefano, foreground, explains a fountain in the mountains to Jane, Rick and Ric. Multiple basins allowed people to use one for drinking water, the next for washing, and a final one for watering livestock.

During our hike, we learned about the flora, fauna and history of the area. The Gothic Line was here, a place where Germany was making a last stance in the north of Italy as the Allied Armies, having fought their way north through the boot, bombed the heck out of them, and unfortunately, also bombed the Italian villages.
We met an older man – he said he was 80 – who upon learning we were Americans said, “The Germans went away, the Americans left, and now there are no porcini.” He was jesting, but memories are long: although we “liberated” the area, the old growth forest was destroyed by both the German occupiers and the liberating armies, so the treasured porcini no longer grow there. We chatted in Italian for a while and when we commented on his good health and energy (after all he was taking the same long hike that was wearing out us 60-somethings) he said “They gave me an organ donor card and I told them ‘take anything you want; none of it works anyway!’”
Ric in our woodsy picnic spot, an area frequented by families on Sundays. This one surrounded a church that commemorated the civilians killed in the area.

Ric in our woodsy picnic spot, an area frequented by families on Sundays. This one surrounded a church that commemorated the civilians killed in the area.

Stefano, our guide, was a font of information and knew the area well, having grown up nearby in the famous cherry town of Vignola. He speaks excellent English having lived in the U.S. (He loves Seattle!) We lugged along Parmegiano-Reggiano, salume, bread, and fruit for a picnic, along with local Lambrusco and a homemade crostata, all supplied by the hotel. At the end of the trek, my pedometer wrongly said the hike was about 8 km, Stefano said 11, my brother estimated 12. It felt like 18.
We were then treated to a tour of a caseificio or cheese factory at Dal Contadino.  This was a multi-generational farm operation producing the famous parmigiano-reggiano as well as ricotta, marmalade, and more. It was fun to visit a typical small family operation and see the incredible labor that goes into making this cheese. The artigianale beers they served with the cheese really hit the spot after hiking. If you ever get a chance to drink White Dog Beer, do it.
At the top of Mount Belvedere there is a monument honoring the 10th Mountain Division.

At the top of Mount Belvedere there is a monument honoring the 10th Mountain Division.

I have to say that, whatever the length, the trek barely dented the calories we were consuming. The kind owners of Hotel Belvedere looked after us well. Clean, comfortable rooms with good showers, incredible food from classic pastas for primi to roasted rabbit, pork and steak for secondi. They were also experts in recommending local wines to complement their food and served some of the best grappa around. Compare this with an American town of 3400 people where your choice of wine with dinner might be beer.
Montese has a castle dating back to the 13th century.

Montese has a castle dating back to the 13th century.

This was not high tourist season. In fact, it seems only August gets pretty busy. Otherwise Montese is off the radar of folks headed to more famous destinations. Nearby one can visit the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, the town of Modena, and even Parma is within reach.
After three nights we somewhat reluctantly said good-bye to Montese and the lovely folks at the hotel, as this was part one of a three-part trip. On to Lago di Garda!
Piazza in Montese, in front of the Hotel Belvedere.

Piazza in Montese, in front of the Hotel Belvedere.

We took one day away from Montese to journey to Maranello and the Ferrari Museum. Quite a collection!

We took one day away from Montese to journey to Maranello and the Ferrari Museum. Quite a collection!

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