Navigating this blog!

October 25, 2010

By default, the posts on this blog are arranged in reverse chronological order. To read posts in chronological order, use the calendar to the right to navigate to the next entry: click on the next blue date following that of the current post. You can select a month (May, June, July, October) by using the previous-month and next-month links at the bottom of the calendar.

In order to help you find the various portions of our trip, here are some links to the posts which begin each section:

The beginning of our trip in Logan Airport

The start of our time on the road, heading east toward Verdun and Strasbourg.


Wrapping Up: Italy

October 25, 2010

This is, for the moment, just a beginning of the post I’ll write about the final, Italian portion of our trip. There are many things to show you, so this will be a very long post!

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We left La Pyramide after lunch and wanted to get as close to Lago Maggiore as we could before stopping for the night. The trip through the very long Frejus tunnel was uneventful (beyond the enormous toll of 40 euros) and we were well into the no-man’s-land between Turino and the Lake by nightfall. We failed to find a decent hotel (and we’re not fussy!) in the only large town nearby and so had to proceed onward to the next exit 30 km farther down the autostrade. We got off and made our way to the small city of Borgomanero and tried to find a hotel there. After a half-hour and a gelato, we still hadn’t found any hotel in the city center; an inquiry pointed us toward the other side of town where, on the edge of town, sat what I’m certain was the only operating hotel in the city. In the morning, we discovered that we were half of the guest population! Definitely not a tourist destination!

We found a wonderful local restaurant where we ate dinner and lunch the next day (12 euros inclusive). Here’s the fusilli pomodoro on the lunch menu:

On the afternoon of our second day in Borgomanero, we headed out to Lake Maggiore. Very much a tourist trap! We found a just-barely-reasonably-priced hotel, moved in, took this picture out the window and then discovered that their wi-fi was “not working just now.”

We moved out immediately!

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As we headed from Lago Maggiore (we left about 4:30p having had no luck finding a reasonably priced place to stay — or, for that matter, any reason to stay) toward Lucca and the villa, it wasn’t clear just how far we could get before we’d have to stop. Although we could have made it to the villa by midnight, we were several days earlier than expected, so there would be no assurance that we would find the gate unlocked. So we did the very best thing under the circumstances and aimed for Recco, our favorite eating spot on the Ligurian coast, ten minutes south of Genoa. We got there at 8:30p and discovered that our favorite restaurant was closed for its weekly holiday. So we looked around and settled on staying at da Vittorio, more restaurant than hotel but Recco is not a hotel destination.

After unpacking, we went down to dinner and were happily surprised by the quality of the food. First, the town’s specialty: Formaggio col Formaggio a two-crusted sort of pizza with a local fresh cheese between layers of soft and flaky pastry:

Here’s what it looks like when served:

Then one of our favorites when in Italy, the fresh mushroom salad with shaved parmagiano, lemon juice and black pepper:

And two more favorites which we always eat when in Recco: the fresh pasta handkerchiefs with pesto:

and the pansotti, a local filled pasta with chard:

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The great advantage of staying overnight in Recco (which we’d never done) is that the next day you can go to your favorite restaurant in town, now open after its holiday. At Trattoria Vitturin, we had “the usual” (which we never tire of): the amuse bouche of fried dough crisps with herbs:

The fresh mushroom salad with parmiggiano shavings:

The malfatti pasta with pesto garnished with the traditional green beans:

An finally, the pansotti with walnut sauce:

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We had our last two weeks at the villa where we went to our favorite restaurants, relaxed, and, in the end, did some work (I made great progress on a new project to program a system for course websites for HILR).  Here’s the main room of the villa just before dinner:

The table in the garden set for lunch:

Working the kitchen preparing some melone for proscuitto — catch that very ancient stone sink, still in use!

Our first homemade panzanella (not quite as good as Maria-Grazia’s):

And, last but not least, our favorite lardo and salame toscano (both hard to find at a high level of quality):

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Can’t let you go without showing you our favorites at the local trattoria, hidden in the middle of nowhere (the long-haul truckers have no trouble finding it!).  First, the linguine alle vongole:

and the pizza mascarpone, speck, and rucola:

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Just to close the loop, here’s our baggage (90 days worth of clothing and three pounds of Italian lavender soap) coming home from the airport on the T:


Wrapping up: France

October 25, 2010

When we last checked in, we were in Barcelona having just lost 100s of euros to the very talented pickpocket who rightly sized us up as easy marks.

Rather understandably, we packed up and left town ASAP! Our next stop was the celebrated French sea-side town of Collioure, the site of many impressionist pictures:

We then zipped up to Albi with its great cathedral:

and a haut cuisine restaurant with a most picturesque seared foie gras with bacon entree:

Leaving town, we had lunch in a deserted field which made Deb very nervous (what if the farmer came?); and then the farmer did come, driving by on his tractor pulling a load of hay bales; and waved to us!

We detoured to look at the brand-new Millau autoroute bridge, the world’s longest:

You probably don’t want to see another picture of beef tartare but this was an especially nice one!

Then, on again to visit Dani and Rosine in Albon in the middle of the Ardeche (literally, the middle of nowhere — no wi-fi, no cell phone signal; just peace and quiet. Here we are about to sit down to dinner:

And shopping in the weekly market (all the cheeses were local, local, local!):

On the last day, Jeanne (Dani’s oldest) arrived with her four children (two missing!), with Leslie on the left:

The very last thing we did in France was to stop at La Pyramide in Vienne (one of the oldest of the three-star restaurants in France) to eat in the garden of the lower-priced bistro — nice meal!

See you when we get to Italy (in about four hours)!


Apologies . . .

July 26, 2010

Monday, July 26 – Borgomanero (Italy): We apologize for the hiatus in posting: we were without an internet connection for our last day in Albi and were also offline (not even a cell phone signal) during our week in Albon with Dani and Rosine. But we’ve been writing most days and will try to catch up soon. Certainly, there has been less to report lately beyond sleeping late and a few good meals.


Can you say “pickpocket”?

July 19, 2010

Tuesday, July 13 – Barcelona: Our last in Barcelona! We resolved to do the “Modernist” walk to see the other Gaudi buildings in the center of the city, so we took the subway to the northern end of the walk. When exiting the turnstiles, I was walking behind Deb and a short Spanish woman bumped into her several times. It was clear to me that it was intentional and Deb immediately realized that a pickpocketing incident was in progress. Deb quickly checked her purse and indeed her wallet was gone. We stopped the woman and searched her thoroughly. You might think that this would have upset her but she was smiling and cooperating, eager to demonstrate that she had nothing of ours.

We soon realized that it could have been worse, much worse, as we still had our passports (and metro passes!). But we lost a large sum of money and the credit and ATM cards we counted on. We returned to the hotel to email the Credit Union about the thefts.

On later refection, we concluded that the actual theft had occurred earlier when we left the subway train (Deb recalls a “grandmother” who shoved her.) and that the second woman was making an independent attempt which failed because the wallet was no longer in the purse! No wonder she had nothing to hide!

Needless to say, we had a hard time reviving our enthusiasm for Barcelona but we had a nice last lunch at our favorite cerveseria:

including my new favorite anchovy dish:

And we spent an hour or so at the police station filing a report:

Here’s the hotel room, which had come to seem like home:


Gaudi: a stunning discovery

July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12 – Barcelona: [Deb here] We slept in until 9am after the World Cup match last night, went for our breakfast which always includes freshly-squeezed orange juice, and visited the Casa Mila, designed by Antoni Gaudi, who was clearly the Frank Gehry of his time. B and I were just thrilled to see this masterpiece apartment building which featured a tour of the top floor apartment with period furnishings. The interior spaces were illuminated by exterior and interior windows in all of the rooms.

Here’s the exterior of the building:

As a bonus, architectural models for his other structures (most are private spaces) with films of the interiors were displayed on the top floor/attic of the Casa Mila so that one could clearly see the design drawings and slices of architectural models to grasp how Gaudi had designed each of his buildings. B and I think that Casa Mila is among the 10 best architect-designed buildings in the world and may not receive the attention it’s due.

B and I had the 9.50 euro menu at the cerveseria in our neighborhood. Here are the two main dishes, baccalao with red pimento:

and a tuna and egg tortilla:


Fish tapas and World Cup victory for the locals

July 13, 2010

Sunday, July 11 – Barcelona: [Deb here] A quiet Sunday morning in Spain (nothing is open except the establishments operated by young Asian couples making their way in this city). We had our typical breakfast: freshly-squeezed Valencia oranges, croissants with light sugar frosting, and caffe con lecce.

B had located a fine family-run fish restaurant in our neighborhood for our Sunday meal of fish tapas and a bottle of cold cava. The menu:

The many dishes included (following some disastrous oysters) fish croquettes:

fried bacala (the usual paste this time) with the most common local pepper:

fried squid:

mussels:

langoustine:

octopus salad:

what can only be called a grab bag:

and shrimp:

Probably the highest value meal we’ve had:

Tonight was the World Cup match between Spain and the Netherlands. We watched the match on the big-screen in the local cerveseria with a local contingent very happy with the outcome.


Exploring the market and restaurant scene

July 13, 2010

Saturday, July 10 – Barcelona: [Deb here] After a quick breakfast of freshly squeezed oranges, croissants, coffee, we went off to the market in the center of town, off of the main street, La Rambla. B was particularly impressed with the skill with which they filleted anchovies:

We bought some pistachios from Iran, some aged Manchego, and some fine acorn-fed jambon (95 euros per kilo). As we’d hoped, we found a fabulous selection of olives at the market as well. Then a break with olives and cappuccino:

We had lunch at a small neighborhood trattoria between our hotel and the much-needed laundromat. On the way to the restaurant, we spotted this apartment building with an awning of plants:

Our lunch was tuna tartare (with guacamole):

and octopus on potatoes:

Then we hit the laundromat:

We had dinner near the beaches and the port of Barcelona that evening. Among the folks having drinks and watching world cup soccer after a day at the beach, we found this restaurant where the chef had worked at El Bulli before it closed. The meal was only acceptable but the dishes sure looked fine.

The salt cod balls, unusual for having a cube of fish instead of a paste:

the pimentos with anchovies were terrific:

the fried fish (somewhat a cross between an anchovy and a sardine):

and finally, some marvelous squid with a superior onion jam:

[B here} We’ve left out the pictures of the creepy crawly things that Deb left on the plate: we thought of entitling this post: “Deb goes to seafood restaurant and goes home hungry.” But, in fact, she ate a lot.


Day One in Barcelona (recovering)

July 13, 2010

Friday, July 9 – Barcelona: [Deb here] We decided that the Hotel Abbot was such a terrific place for the price that we asked whether we could stay for 5 more nights. They were booked solid for the week-end, but after some searching, the manager said that they had a double room without air conditioning, although she seemed reluctant to even offer it. I said that that was alright, and she said that she would offer it to us for 60 euros per night. I took a look at the room; it was essentially the same as the one we’d had for 80 euros. Since it had a refrigerator and we could keep cold wine, beer, and water in the room, it was a no-brainer for B. His reply: “we could eat very well for the difference.” So, here we are, exploring Barcelona for the first time.

The museum of Catalonian music had a wonderful tapas bar in the lobby:

and the exterior had columns of ceramic tile mosaics in many different designs and colors:

Back to the Cerveseria in our neighborhood for a quick lunch of carpaccio and gazpacho:


Bilbao: wow!

July 12, 2010

Thursday, July 8 – Bilbao: [Deb here] We were sad to leave France and the seaside resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but were happy to drive over the border to Bilbao, Spain to visit the Guggenheim Museum which we’d last seen about 6-8 years ago.

The main hall is devoted to a series of Richard Serra’s sculptures:

Here I am inside one of the sculptures:

and a shot taken above the exhibit space of all of his sculptures:

Of course, we couldn’t leave without taking a photo outside of the Jeff Koons’ puppy (with freshly-planted flowers providing the color):

and a new outdoor sculpture:

We had originally planned to drive for 3 hours and to stay in rural Spain overnight before arriving in Barcelona. We enjoyed the scenery and the vineyards of the Rioja region, but then embarked on some pretty stark and uninteresting territory which didn’t seem promising for locating a bed and breakfast. After knuckling down and sharing the 5 1/2 hour drive, we made it into Barcelona after 10:00pm and “winged it” with great success. By 10:30, we had secured a room in a small hotel in the center of Barcelona (a quiet residential neighborhood) for 80 euros per night.

After settling in and asking for recommendations at the front desk, we walked over to the “cerveseria” for a late supper of delicious herbed lamb chops and ice-cold beers before retiring. I KNOW THAT I’M IN SPAIN — EVERYONE IS SMOKING IN THE RESTAURANT! Haven’t seen that for several years in France and Italy.

Some octopus done in the local style: