Verona and Fivizzano
Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
29Trip End Nov 25, 2007
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Where I stayed
I find a cheap hotel opposite the Castelvecchio and in the early evening stop in for a spritz at a bar nearby. From about 5pm Italians love to drop in at a bar, meet friends and have a spritz or a glass of wine. A spritz is a refreshing drink and has a base of white wine or prosecco (light, sparkling wine), topped with Aperol, an orange/pink aperitiv, similar to Campari, but a little sweeter and lower in alcohol.
The bars put out little snacks - smoked meats, cheese, olives, tiny pizzas, etc and these are free for you to nibble on. It's an extremely civilised way to end the work day (or begin the evening, depending on which way you want to look at it)
I noticed a groovy, minimalist bar bar as I was looking for a hotel so I decide to go and investigate. It's all white surfaces, dark wooden floor and good-looking bar staff, but it's not at all intimidating. I march in and tell the young man behind the bar I have just arrived in Verona and I want to try some good local wines. We chat a bit about my tastes then he narrows it down to 3 possibilities and goes through these in detail with me. I choose Marion Valpolicella Superiore 2003 and it is excellent - medium-bodied and very dry - so different to big Australian reds. The waiter brings the wine in a huge glass and also olives, carrot & celery strips, some hard, mature cheese and tells me to help myself fom the sideboard, which is piled high with other little titbits, which almost make a meal in themselves. I need another wine to wash this down so have an Amarone - this means big bitter and is a big, flavoursome wine made from grapes that have been partially dried.
Stefania rings and she picks me up and takes me to tango. I get introduced around and Claudia arrives and I get into the swing of things pretty quickly. The musical selection is particularly quirky tonight and I find myself dancing for the first time ever to hip hop tango - the female DJ is having a great time punching out the beat with her fists.
Next day I spend exploring Verona - it really is a beautiful small city (around 250,000 people), and I keep being surprised by the never-ending supply of beautiful palazzos, piazzas, churches, and other sights
The shops have beautiful clothes and I can't help myself and buy 4 shirts, 2 pairs of shoes, and assorted socks and underwear - not as glam as those in Sitges :) but quite nice nevertheless.
In the early evening I look for a bar and find one with comfortable sofas and plonk myself down. Once again I ask the waiter for his advice on a crisp, flavoursome white wine this time, and he brings me a Pieropan Soave 2005. Having drank this I ask him for his advice on an Amarone and he comes back with a bottle of Aldegheri 1997 and 2 glasses. He opens the bottle, pours a little wine into one glass, swirls it, smells it, tastes it, then gives me the glass to smell
Having certified that it's sound he pours me some into the other glass. I am very impressed how professional and helpful waiters are in Italy (most are professionals of many years), especially when you show a little interest (but even when you don't).
A friend of mine, Valeria Vine, posted a comment recently about how being deeply shallow has a lot to commend it (it was actually in reference to my rather insufferably elitist comments about some young British men going on holiday to Barcelona, but on second thoughts it may also apply to me), and in many ways it could be said many Italians are deeply shallow - all many care about is dressing well and being thought of well (fare una buona figura), eating and drinking well, and not working too hard (although in fact many Italians I know are very hard workers). Whether this is because other parts of life are too complicated and hard to control, so you might as well try and enjoy those parts you can have some influence over. So even though politics is a mess, government institutions are incompetent, traffic is chaotic, there is corruption in public life, etc nevertheless they manage to enjoy life in a stylish way.
That evening I have a great meal - a nest of carved cheese filled with finely shaved horsemeat called sfilaci (almost like floss and very strongly flavoured), with toasted pine nuts, followed by maccheroncini flavoured with cacao, with the gamey taste of boar, and fresh porcini
Italian food generally takes no prisoners - you get the full taste of the various components in their natural state or blended with other components, but not blanded down with cream, or mayonnaise or other fillers. Generally it's more full-flavoured (and sometimes lightly bitter - especially vegetables), than what most non-Italians are used to and you may get a surprise when you come here. Of course I am talking about traditional food, and you will not generally find this in the restaurants of the main piazzas of the popular tourist centres, which tend to serve the same 'top 20' Italian dishes as you often find overseas.
Every region, and even different areas within a region have their specialties thus I would guess there would be thousands of Italian dishes. The other thing I am really enjoying is the variety of wines - in Australia virtually all red wine, for example, is made from cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, malbec and merlot. In Italy wine is made from hundreds of grape varieies, depending on the region. I have also become inordinately fond of grappa - there are thousands of types made all over Italy, and they range from those that grab you by the throat and cauterize your voicebox as they pass by on their way to your stomach (hopefully dissolving the cholestorol on their journey), to others that are like sipping liquid alcoholic silk with a vanilla fragrance (where on earth do I get these descriptions from - probably it's the grappa :)
Ok, to finish on the food front, on the Friday I have another sightseeing day and have lunch at the Hosteria dall'Orso - carpaccio of smoked goose with vinegar and pomegranate seeds, mezzelune (half moon) pasta filled with truffles and saffron sauce
That evening Stefania, Claudia, Roberto (a friend of Claudia's) and I head for a tango festival at Fivizzano about 250kms away across the other side of Italy (near Cinque Terre). We will be staying at an Agriturismo near Fivizzano and we get hopelessly lost trying to find it at night - the area is a maze of small, narrow roads and there is no sign for the Agriturismo. Roberto rings several times to get directions but still we go round and around. Finally we drive into the impenetrable dark up a steep mountainside and on to an extremely rough road and eventually get there after 11pm.
Roberto and I are starving and the lady bustles around and fixes us up a plate of cured meats (made from their own special variety of pig), cheese from a nearby farm, and a big plate of braised zucchini, and homemade bread. She puts bottles of homemade white and red wine in front of us and tells us to help ourselves, then brings a cake and 3 bottles of grappa - the normal, the strong, and her father's special infused with propolis. Her father says if you drink a glass of this every day you will never get colds or flu - I believe him after I try it.
The milonga that night goes until 5am and by the time we have had a pastry and drink at the bar and driven up our mountain road it's 6 by the time we go to bed.
The morning, or should I say early afternoon (by the time we get up), is brilliantly sunny - our agriturismo is halfway up the mountain to the Castello del'Aqila and has great views across the mountains and valleys of the Lunigiana (the area). The Agriturismo grows organic vegetables, and have their own pigs and Chianina cattle,, a huge white type of cattle.
We have lunch in Fivizzano at a small rustic place run by a friendly fellow, the Place of Conversation Restaurant, where we eat a huge Chianina steak, then retire to the park for a relax, before heading off to an afternoon milonga and later a performance by a famous bandoneonist and superlative guitar player, and a fantastic Argentinian singer
At the Agriturismo that night the lady says that fewer guests have turned up than were expected and would we like dinner - we are still full from lunch but Roberto and I sit down and she brings us a big bowl of risotto, then the biggest T-bone steak I have seen in my life. It is around 5-6cms thick and around 30cms long and the meat is completely rare and incredibly tender and flavoursome - probably the best steak I've had in my life. Roberto, who is a strapping young man of 28 and 187cms tall hoes into it because, as he says, he may not have an opportunity like this again for a long time, if at all (funny that's exactly how I rationalise things too). Today I have had 2 huge steaks - normally I would be lucky to have one steak in a month, so I need to dance all night to work it off, which of course I do.
Another sunrise, another midday awakening, eyes like roadmaps again.
We head off back down our mountain road and back to Verona after a short, intense and enjoyable weekend away. Poor Stefania and Claudia have to go back to work tomorrow, Roberto is flying back to Palermo, and I'm catching the train to Rimini to visit my cousin Gianluca and his girlfriend Manuela (you last saw them in Matera in May).
Until then ...