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Trip Report Paris to Venice by way of Dresden, Berlin, Milan, Parma, Bologna, Bolzano and Verona

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The goal of this trip was to sample some of the legendary cuisine of Emilia Romagna. Since Air France had great fares we had to throw in Paris; husband had a conference in Dresden so that got tossed in as well; to fly to Italy we had to pass through Berlin, so we had to take a quick look; Volare landed us in Milan so that got added too. As for Bolzano, that's where the 5,000 year old ice-man (Otzi) finally rests and we had to pay him a visit. Unable to resist the call of Venice we added it as the final destination...

In Paris we stayed three nights at the D'Aubusson in a standard room. The room was adequate but even on the fourth floor street noise was too loud to keep the window open. The staff were very helpful, the location excellent. I'm not sure if we'd stay there again given the price and the room. The first night we had dinner at Deux Canards, a very strange place. The host (owner) insisted on lecturing each party as they were seated on the preparation of preserved orange peel. The room displayed numerous jars of orange peel in various stages of maturation... The duck was good but the overall experience was plain weird. The next night we returned to Roi de Cocquillages for exceptional bouillabaise. The last night we ate at Le Pamphlet, a Basque restaurant. The food was excellent and we were the only tourists there. We had lunch at L'Ardoise and Guirlande Julie and both were very good. We'd like to return to L'Ardoise for dinner.

After weighing various options we decided to take the night train from Paris to Berlin. We packed a great dinner which we ate (and drank) in our private sleeper. The train was new and the cabin very nice, including tiny private shower. It was our first night train and though the price was substantially greater than a cheap flight, if you add in the cost of the hotel room, transportation from two airports, etc. the train was reasonable and enjoyable. It also got us into Berlin at a reasonable time which the discount carriers wouldn't have.

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    From Berlin we continued on by train to Dresden. We stayed five nights at the Radisson in a newly reburfished large room with huge bathroom for 115 Euro a night (web special). That was by far the best hotel deal of the trip. As part of the conference we got a private viewing of the just-reopened Green Vault, an incredible collection of treasures (and some kitsch). Part of the conference was at the Zwinger which has everything from porcelain plates to old Masters (and of course antique scientific instruments, the conference topic.) The conference dinner was on a steamboat on the Elbe, with a stop at Pillnitz castle. Dresden is a remarkable city and I had no trouble keeping myself amused for five days, while the spouse attended lectures. One of the conference daytrips was to the Museum der Stadt Waldenburg which has an incredible collection of "stuff" from antique sundials to stuffed antelopes. Do drop in if you're in the area! After five nights in Dresden we took the train back to Berlin.

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    In Berlin we stayed in Mitte at the Radisson. The location was next to the museum island and a pleasant twenty minute walk up Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg gate. The hotel was a typical Radisson (except for the very impressive multistory fish tank which took up most of the lobby).

    Since we only had three days in Berlin we had to move quickly to hit the important sites. Transportation is quick and easy with day passes on the S-Bahn tram system. The Pergamon Museum should not be missed: its collection of ancient artifacts (including entire temple facades) is just incredible. The Checkpoint Charlie museum is cramped but vividly displays artifacts of escapes from East to West Berlin. Although the bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian museum (?) in Charlottenburg is striking, the palace itself was disappointing. We went up the TV tower for great views over Berlin, took a boat ride, and walked a lot.

    We ate dinner at Aigner and found both the food and setting enjoyable. The second night we ate at Reinhard's in Nicolai, a hotel recommendation. It was OK, but full of Japanese tourists.

    We had a 9:00 PM flight on Volare from Berlin Schoenfeld to Milan Linate. Getting to the airport was a breeze by train. Volare was fine. They left only 20 minutes late, didn't charge us for excess luggage, and got us to Milan for $50 each, including taxes.

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    We arrived in Milan at Hotel Spadari al Duomo shortly before midnight. What a great find! The hotel is next door to the famous Peck, five minutes to the Duomo, lovely large room with good bath, full breakfast, free internet access, very helpful staff and only 208E per night. If we return to Milan that's where we'll stay again, without a doubt. Since this was our first visit to Milan (despite 7 prior trips to Italy), we hit all the top tourist spots, including the remarkable Museo Poldi Pezzoli which has a large sundial collection, as well as collections of armour, lace, paintings and much else. We had reserved by phone tickets to see the Last Supper. Although I usually don't get the audio guide, I did this time and enjoyed the commentary for the 15 minutes of allowed viewing. Only 20 people are allowed at a time so the visit is uncrowded and leisurely. Not to be missed!

    We had lunch at Bar Brera, close to the Pinoteca di Brera and dinner at Al Girarrosto di Cesarino. The Bar, as expected, had simple good food. Girarrosto served well prepared Tuscan dishes to a fairly upscale Milanese audience, which included very few tourists. This was the hotel's recommendation and we were pleased with our last supper in Milan.

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    Based on the negative comments about Milan by so many people, we spent only two nights there. However, we enjoyed Milan and wouldn't have minded staying longer. I certainly don't plan to schedule a return trip but if we're in the area, I wouldn't hesitate to return.

    Since cities were the primary focus of this trip we didn't rent a car and relied on the excellent train systems. We left Milan around noon and before two we were in Parma. I wasn't quite sure what we were going to do for two days in Parma, since work greatly interfered with detailed planning for this trip. That proved a needless concern. Parma is a delight with so many unexpected treasures. The baptistry, cathedral, National Gallery, teatro Farnese, Camera del Correggio... Two days were barely enough to see the Michelin listed sites.

    We stayed at the Hotel Torino, a souless, though well located small hotel. Not an inspired choice. The food in Parma, however, didn't lack for inspiration. Our trip from Milan to Parma caused us great anxiety: too early to eat in Milan before leaving and possibly too late to eat in Parma after arrival. Fortunately, the Cafe Oriental in Piazza Garibaldi in Parma solved our problem. We ordered a plate of Parmesan cheeses with aged balsamic vinegar (what a treat!), a plate of culatello di Zibello, and an arugula salad, accompanied by a bottle of Prosecco. That accounted for much of the first afternoon in Parma...

    Prior to leaving we had ordered a copy of Osterie d'Italia by the Slow Food editors and had decided to try to eat primarily in places listed in the book. The book list authentic, family owned restaurants. Note that doesn't translate to simple food or holes-in- the-wall. Overall the food and ambience were just what we were looking for.

    In Parma we ate at i Tri Siochett, a fairly lengthy cab ride from the center. Large restaurant, full of locals, excellent food. No English spoken. We delighted in places where English wasn't spoken since that gave us an opportunity to practice our (very limited) Italian. We deviated from the Osterie book and had lunch at Angiol d' Or, next door to the duomo, and dinner at the Michelin starred Parizzi. Lunch at Angiol d'Or was not only tasty but we sat next to an old widow who spent her entire life in Parma. She eats lunch there often and is eager for conversation. We talked to her for a long time, reasonably confident that we understood what she was saying, not so sure she understood our primitive, but well intentioned, attempts at Italian. Dinner at Parizzi was good, but not very Italian, and reinforced our decision not to stray, when possible, from Osterie.

    Despite rainy weather and a mediocre hotel, we left enchanted by Parma.

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    From Parma we headed for our five nights in Bologna. We got a great deal from the Hotel Baglioni--they gave us the weekend rate (50% off)on Monday and Tuesday night, as well as the weekend. I thought it was a rather ridiculous request when I made it in the e-mail to the hotel prior to booking, but they agreed. The "superior" room was quite small though very nicely decorated. The hotel's location is excellent, 5-10 minutes from the main piazza.

    We were in Bologna to eat well, a goal we had no problem meeting. Osterie d'Italia led us to Serghei, Caminetto d'Oro and Meloncello, three wonderful tourist-free restaurants. We also ate at Cesarina,Diana and Tamburini but greatly preferred the other three. Trattoria Meloncello is half way up the 666 porticos to the church of Santa Lucia. After lunch we hauled ourselves up to the church and then back down again. Of course that only made us hungry and thirsty again...

    We dilligently sampled gelato at most of the places recommended on this site. Our favorite was La Sorbeteria on via Castiglioni. Fortunately, we first tried it the last day (had to make two visits!), otherwise I don't know how much gelato we would have consumed there.

    One of the days we took the train to Ravenna to see the mosaics. Definitely a must do. In Ravenna we ate at La Gardela, a delicious suggestion from Osterie D'Italia.

    There's a lot to see and eat in Bologna and we certainly enjoyed our stay but I can't really see going back again for a long stay.

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    The eurail selectpass good in France, Germany, austria and italy seems your best option; even though train travel is dirt cheap in Italy, where you'd buy point-point for say Milan-Parma, the cost of paris-Berlin and Berlin-Milan may well exceed the cost of the pass in themselves.

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    Bolzano is a pleasant 3 hour train ride from Bologna. Since we were going to travel during lunchtime we packed a lunch from Tamburini and the markets around it. The train had lunch service, but our compartment companions thought our lunch (and wine) was preferable to the restaurants meal for which they paid 55E without wine.

    We were in Bolzano to view the ice-man and his museum and we headed there after checking in at the Park Laurin Hotel. We visited the museum, bought a book and some postcards and then studied what we could do in Bolzano. (The book notes that when the body was found a police investigation was launched for the criminal that killed Otzi 5000 years ago!)

    Bolzano is much more German than Italian. Signs are in 3 languages, the third being an obscure regional dialect. Although Bolzano is a pleasant town, we were anxious to head to the mountains. The tourist office recommended an hour long ride to Alp Suise and then a cable car ride up the mountain. That's what we did the second day. The bus/cable car trip was an excellent way to get into the mountains without a car. The bus ride is very scenic and comfortable, so it adds to the enjoyment. We had lunch on the mountain top as well as an hour long horse and buggy ride. (Spouse's knees aren't what they used to be...)

    The first night we had a wonderful dinner at Cavallino Bianco (an Osterie recommendation). The second night, after spending all day in the mountains, we were lured by the lovely park setting of the hotel and decided to eat there. That was absolutely the worst meal of the trip. The pasta was limp and flavorless, the fish terrible. The Park Laurin is a fine hotel, but think seriously before eating there!

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