Monday, August 06, 2007

Our Italian Vacation . . .

I would make a terrible travel writer. We returned from Italy more than one week ago and, despite the best of intentions, I just can't find the flowery words necessary to convey my experience (evidenced by the title of this entry)!

In sum, we had a wonderful time. We were taken by the hospitality of the Italians, the delicious food, and the stunning scenery.

Here are some highlights and observations of our trip:

It’s better to be French in Venice,

but not in Florence.

Unless you're buying questionable goods from a Senegalese street vendor, then it's better to be French over Italian and English. His arbitary "pricing chart" for some purple hued, gold rimmed Raybanish looking shades? French 20€; Italian 25€; British 30€.

I also learned if I'm really going to get the good deals, I'm going to have to perfect my French (at least if I'm going to pretend to be French). I figured that being French would get me farther with vendors than being American. I had a near miss with the Senegalese vendor - who spoke French - I told Fred he would have to do the bargaining for my next purchase, a suede orange purse. My shrewd scientist husband countered the vendor's initial price of 50 euros with 45 euros (obviously he didn’t spend his summers in Tijuana). I was in shock. I ended up having to bargain with Fred while the perplexed vendor looked on. Ultimately we arrived at 27 euros, i.e., all the money Fred had in his wallet. Our Laurel and Hardy routine worked to our advantage. The vendor just wanted to get rid of us especially after Fred said something about having to go the ATM to get more cash. Fred could never be a druggie. He'd be trying to score crank with his Carte Bleu. Although, in the end, his innocence paid off. Bien joué, Frédéric!

We loved the food in Italy! Simple, fresh, and delicious, whether it be a warm panini and a cool glass of pinot grigio at a little cafe near Venice's Santa Lucia train station,

or this perfectly salted Beef Tagliata served on a bed of roquette and tomatoes and drizzled with a vinagerette at Ristorante Marco Polo located on (we think) Salizzada S. Lio not too far from Piazza San Marco.
The food in Florence was just as good, if not better! For an excellent Beef Tagliata or Chicken Tagliata (served on cooked carrots, yellow peppers, and roquette), try Trattoria Gabriello, Via Condotta, 54 r. 50122 Firenze; it's just behind the Piazza Signoria. I started with the baked lasagna for my primo and then had the chicken. Our last night we returned and I had the beef as my secondo.

We took a day trip to Siena and ate at Ristorante il Sasso, via dei Rossi 2/a 53100 Siena. I still dream of their gnocchi gorgonzola.

Of course, we also tasted the Tuscan wine at Corte di Valle in Greve in Chianti. In addition to the winery, Corte di Valle also grows saffron. We enjoyed the experience, but found their "Super Tuscan" a bit too spicy and strong for our tastes.

Now with the food out of the way, here are a few photos of where we stayed:

In Venice we stayed at the Relais Venezia. It was well-situated and surprisingly quiet. We never opened the windows, however, because we didn't have a view (other than the brick wall directly across from us). Our room was immediately off the lobby, which I thought would be annoying, but we slept in past 10:00 a.m. nearly everyday, despite the fact that the lobby was converted to a continental breakfast dining area from 8:00-9:30 a.m. They must have some serious sound proof walls.

I love hotel bathrooms, and this one was small, but very nice. There's a design defect with the shower though. The water runs along the side of the wall and onto the bathroom floor if you're not careful.

I thought this sink bidet combo was cute and a good use of space.

In Florence we stayed about a 15 minutes walk from the center of the city, opting for a "residence" style hotel at the Residence Michelangiolo. Angela and Cherubino the owners and operators, couldn't have been nicer. We loved this place and now have dreams of opening up our own Residence in Bordeaux someday! Sigh.

Not too far from Residence Michelangiolo is a Bottega dei Sapori (P.zza Gavinana, 6 -Firenze), which carries wonderful Italian meats, cheeses, bread, olives, etc. Our room had a kitchenette so we could make our coffee each morning and picnic in our room on prosciutto and prosecco if we didn't feel like facing the crowds.

The bathroom here was beautifully done as well.

Finally, last, but not least, some shots of the cities in general:






Marina di Pisa

Inspired by our trip, today we went to the marché and bought a roasted chicken, tomatoes, and roquette to make our own Chicken Tagliata for lunch (and perfectly ripened green figs and baby bananas for dessert):

We're off to Bordeaux tomorrow to give La France a chance to win back our affection through wine and cheese!