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may 23 - june 13

Lessons

window boxes in Lucca

Window boxes should be mandatory everywhere.

Pairing local foods with local wines is important.

sidewalk restaurant

Sidewalk cafe's are wonderful.

ceiling fresco at the Uffizi

When you are in museums or churches, look UP.  Your neck will ache but you miss a lot if you don't.

the exterior of a building in venice

When you are outside - look UP.

a cinque terre path

Whenever possible, take the path less traveled.  You won't regret it.

Martye and I are just back from 24 days in Northern Italy, our first time there. It was an absolutely wonderful trip. In addition to time in Venice, Florence, Pisa and Lucca, we spent six days in Tuscany and five in Cinque Terre. The climate and landscape are quite similar to what we experience in Northern California. Tuscany is a land of rolling hills, oaks, chestnuts and Scotch broom dotted with vineyards (mostly Sangiovese) and olive orchards. It's a lot like the more rugged parts of Napa or Lake Counties. The Cinque Terre, named for its five villages, is right on the Ligurian Sea and reminds one a bit of Mendocino but with water as clear and azure as Lake Tahoe (and not as cold).

Reflections of a Novice Traveler

flying ...

For someone accustomed to Southwest, flying international is a major step up. And Business Class is absolutely worth the money for a flight lasting almost 12 hours. We flew San Francisco to Frankfurt to Venice going and Pisa to Munich to San Francisco on the return. Business Class seats are wide and recline almost flat. They even have built in back massagers. The entertainment center, especially on the Lufthansa Airbus 340-600, has scores of CDs, DVDs and even video games that can be accessed at any time. The airline food was actually very good and, while the purpose of the flight is to get somewhere and not to eat or watch TV, all the diversions help pass what otherwise would be a very long and boring flight.

Jet lag was only a minor issue. The key seemed to be to stay up as long as possible and to go to bed at the proper local time, waking up more or less in synch with the new world.

restaurants ...

Slow down - this could take a while.  Get rid of your chow gobbling habits, you now own the table for as long as you want.  Lunch is going to take at least an hour, often two and dinner will require two, minimum.  The first question you will be asked concerns the bottled water…..natural or gassata. Rick Steves says drink your water ‘con gas’ so we always did.

Italian menus are divided into antipasti, I primi, secondi, and il dolce.  Appetizers, first and second course and dessert. It is important to ignore the logical notion that you are supposed to order one of each……you could never eat it all. Usually an antipasto and one main dish is plenty. And, as noted, the waiter is not trying to hustle you out to turn the table. That’s not inattention you’re experiencing, it’s life at a pace that is much more civil than ours.  If you want to leave you had best request ‘il conto’ (the bill) because you won’t get it until closing time unless you do. Mealtime, by the way, is later than we are accustomed to. Lunch usually begins no earlier than 12:30 and places will serve until three or so. Then the restaurants close and reopen for dinner at about 7:30. Italians may not show up until nine.

Tips and tax are most often included in the price of the meal. Americans tip much more and more frequently than do Italians. It is expected in the US.  In Italy it is not, though, to be sure, money is never turned down.

wine ...

Wine is drunk with lunch and dinner. A convenient order is a ‘mezzo’ of the house bianco or rosso, a mezzo being a half liter. Wine by the glass is also common. Italians consume a lot of wine but they do it slowly and with meals and with a liter or more of fizz water so drunkenness is rare and, indeed, frowned upon by the culture. We were adventurous and tried a lot of different wines, most of which we had never heard of before and will never hear of again. Some were plonk and some were great. We shipped two cases home plus a lot of olive oil. 

smoking ...

Seems like Italians smoke a lot. But, praise be, about two years ago the country passed a law prohibiting smoking inside public buildings. That made life a lot more pleasant for non-smoking Italians and for tourists from California. It is OK to smoke outside so, perversely, the smokiest parts of an eatery are the outside tables but, still, they are not that bad. The nastiest, smokiest, most disgusting place on the entire trip was the Frankfurt airport.

lessons ...

  • Traveling is fun but it takes a day or two to get into the proper pace and frame of mind
  • Business Class is absolutely worth the money
  • Northern Italy is glorious country, a lot like what we have in Northern California but less crowded except in the cities and a bit more hilly. Nice place to live....
  • Pairing local wines with the local food is extremely important
  • Sidewalk cafes are wonderful
  • Planter boxes should be mandated by law
  • We are too dependent on the automobile…..both from the urban planning point of view as well as the public health aspect
  • Knowing the host language is very helpful. Absent quasi fluency, a bilingual guide can be worth the expense in helping one to get the most out of the trip
  • Italians really aren’t bad drivers
  • America isn’t always right……especially when it comes to history, art, food and wine; that’s not to say we are wrong....  it is to say that there is a big world out there and there is much from which to choose.
  • America is absolutely right when it comes to certain comforts such as public restrooms and a full sized bathtub
  • It’s never too early to find a house-sitter for next time....

Craig and Martye

These pages were moved over to the family site from the Ophir Wines web site on May 1, 2007 so the map below will not reflect the 3,000+ people who visited prior to the move.

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