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Trip Report TWO WEEKS IN MILAN, BOLOGNA, AND BELLAGIO, SUMMER 2008

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What follow is a much belated trip report. But I decided that later was better than never, and hopefully someone will find something here useful in their own planning.

Our trip took place May 21 through June 3, 2008. This trip report will give some of the highlights of sites we visited, hotels, restaurants, and any tips that I think are worthwhile for sharing. This was our 5th trip to Europe within the last eight years, having traveled to Italy three times and to France twice previously. We love traveling to Europe and are especially interested in the food and wines as we are both into gourmet cooking and collecting wines.

I do a great deal of pre-trip planning. I research everything – sights, routes, restaurants, hotels, local foods, wines, shopping. For me half the fun is the planning. Luckily my DH Mike is pretty content to let me do all the planning and arranging, and he just goes along for the ride. Fodor’s forums are major contributors to my planning as I often read trip reports etc for suggestions. Most of my research is internet-based.

The itinerary:
Day 1 -- Flight from U.S. into Milan Malpensa

Day 2 -- Arrive Milan- check into hotel; see Duomo

Day 3 -- In Milan- Castello Sforza, Last Supper

Day 4 -- In Milan- Galleria, food shops, walking

Day 5 -- In Milan – La Scala, Brera, Navigli district

Day 6 -- to Bologna via Certosa de Pavia

Day 7 -- In Bologna

Day 8 -- Day trip to Modena & Parma

Day 9 -- Day trip to Ravenna to see mosaics

Day 10 -- Drive to Lake Como and Bellagio

Day 11 -- Day Trip to Varenna (Villa Monastero, Villa Cipressi)

Day 12 -- Day Trip to Tremezzo (Villa Carlotta), Lenno (Villa Balbianello)

Day 13 -- In Bellagio -- Villa Serbelloni, shopping

Day 14 -- flight from Milan to home

DAY ONE

I agonized less over packing this year than in previous years. Simplifying my decisions were FIVE pairs of black pants – 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs cotton/stretch blend fabric trousers, and one cotton/linen blend pair. Plus T-shirts, two fancier tops for evening, sweaters, jacket, one pair black Ecco sandals, one pair Cole-Haan Air Nike sport shoes. Packing completed by 10 AM and a last check of the house before departing for the airport. Flight out of Baton Rouge at 12: 50 PM to Atlanta on Delta. The usual airport wait. Then on to Milan at 5:00 PM.

This was our first experience in Business class, and we LOVED it. Greeted with mimosas and snacks. Large reclining chairs, plenty of room. Usually our coach experiences have been hellacious. Mike especially hates coach, and by the time we arrive, he’s pretty grouchy and bleary-eyed. Not this time. What a difference. We’ll never go back to coach again!

We settle in and play with the controls on the chairs for the next 30 minutes. We get snacks and wine. Then we play with the personal TV remote controls and the lights for a while. Dinner is served - 3 courses plus dessert plus wines. Although it’s airplane food, it’s much better than the usual. I read for a while and then try to sleep. Mike reads a little, watches part of a movie, and then also tries to sleep. We actually conk out for a few hours thanks to the comfy chairs, the full size pillow and the fluffy comforter.

Next – arriving in Milan and our first glimpse of the Duomo.

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    I'm looking forward to the rest of your report, it will bring back good memories. My sister and I did a similar trip last year, right before you, actually. April 29-May 7. We did Milan, Bellagio, and Venice.

    Haven't been lucky enough yet to score business class seats, though. Maybe one day.

    Johanna

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    DAY TWO

    Before I get into the actual trip report, let me first give you a rundown on accommodations and restaurants.

    Hotels:

    Milan -- Hotel de la Ville, Via Hoepli 6.
    Spent 350 euros for a superior double, very good buffet breakfast included. A short walk to La Scala, the Duomo, or the Galleria. Actually a good location overall – we walked everywhere we went – which is why I selected this hotel. Very nice public rooms as well as guest rooms. Very quiet despite being so close to the action. All rooms have modernized marble bathrooms.

    Bologna -- Art Hotel Orologio, Via IV Novembre, 10.
    Small hotel of 29 rooms. 230 euros for a superior room but we were upgraded to a suite with sitting room. Also a great location as this hotel is next to the Piazza Maggiore. Offers complimentary buffet breakfast and free city parking passes. The lot is around the corner.

    Bellagio -- Hotel Florence, Piazza Mazzini, 46.
    Double room with a lake view and balcony, breakfast, was 200 euros. Room was large and comfortable. The hotel is on the lakefront across from the ferry stop. There are tables on the front arcade for an afternoon drink. The restaurant where breakfast is served is very good. Very friendly and helpful staff.

    Restaurants:
    Milan:
    **Trattoria La Milanese, Via Santa Marta 11
    ***L’Assassino, Via Amedei 8
    ***Hosteria Borromei, Via Borromei 4
    *Alla Cucina della Langhe, Corso Como 6
    ***Da Giacomo, 6 Via Pascale Sottocorno
    ***Nabucco, via Fiori Chiari 10 (near Brera)
    Al Pont de Ferr, Ripa di Porta Ticinese 55 (Navigli)

    Bologna area:
    *** Caminetto d’Oro, Via del Falegnami 4, Bologna
    *** Trattoria Leonida, vicolo Alemagna 2
    *** Osteria Giusti, Modena
    ** Il Tartufo, via del Porto 34, Bologna
    *** Ristorante Bella Venezia, Via IV Novembre 16, Ravenna

    Bellagio:
    ***Hotel Florence terrace, Bellagio
    ** Vecchia Varenna, Contrada Scoscesa 10, Varenna
    **Bilacus, Bellagio
    *** Terrazza Restaurant, Via Roma 1, GH Villa Serbelloni
    ** Barchetta, Salita Mella 13, Bellagio

    Key :
    *** great food, memorable experience, would go back
    ** OK food, nice experience
    * OK food, but not worth the walk
    No stars = Do not under any circumstances go here!

    Since Mike and I are foodies, I will go into much more detail on our restaurant experiences as I go along.

    Ciao for now!

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    drbb....

    Thanks for posting your trip report...I'm loving it already. I'm a "budding" foodie myself and just returned (last week) from a week on the Amalfi Coast (I know...I need to get a trip report going!)BUT, I'm very eager to hear about Bologna...I've been wanting to go there for awhile and I'm curious to hear about your experience!

    Ciao!

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    A South Carolinian I surmise from your forum name - ? I'm originally from the Charleston area myself.

    Love the Amalfi Coast BTW. Spent some time in Positano, Amalfi, Ravello a few years back.

    The food in Emilia Romagna is fantastic. We did a prosciutto plant tour also. I'll have details on that also.

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    DAY TWO CONTINUED

    Arrived in Milan about 9 AM, gathered luggage and looked for Malpensa Express train to go into Milan’s center. This was relatively easy in spite of having to drag luggage on and off the train. About 40 minutes. 11 euros each. We arrived at Milan’s Cadorna station and then took a taxi to the Hotel de la Ville.

    Our room was not quite ready – it was only 11:30 AM. Possiamo lasciare i bagagli? Si. So we dropped off the luggage and went out walking in Milan’s largest square, the Piazza del Duomo. Tons of people in the piazza, around the Duomo, in the arcades around the piazza. We passed the entrance to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuale and went in for a stroll. Lots of people there too. I looked for the famous floor mosaics. And I twirled on the bull’s testicles. Does that bring luck or ensure a return to Milan? I can’t remember. But I have thrown coins in the Trevi and patted Il Porcellino in Florence. I do all the rituals just in case.

    We walked to our restaurant spot. First impressions of Milan – lots of traffic, busy city noises and smells, lots of people strolling and shopping, lots of dogs, big and little being walked. Some graffiti. Very Italian urban.

    Trattoria Milanese is a much-recommended restaurant, both for its food quality and authenticity. Several large rooms with communal type tables. Very traditional Milanese menu. What we ate: We got a complimentary plate of fried squares of polenta and fried zucchini flowers. Then a rich brodo and a piatto of salume, prosciutto, lardo for starters. Mike has the costelleto Milanese, a HUGE breaded bone-in veal chop. I had the half portion of risotto and a half portion of osso buco. We had a bottle of wine but I didn’t write it down. Mike had creme caramel. We both had café macchiato. Cost: 96 euros (all restaurant costs mentioned in this trip report will include all courses, wine, sparkling water, coperto.)

    Walked back to the Duomo next. It had started to rain. No line to get in but it was very dark inside since it was cloudy and rainy. We went to Duomo Point across the street to get tickets to go up to the roof. Unfortunately because of the rain, the highest part of the terrace was closed. But we went up one level and got to see some of the gargoyles spouting rain.

    We walked back to the hotel, checked in, unpacked, napped, watched some CNN, and refreshed.

    Dinner at L’Assassino. Great restaurant. About a 15 minute walk from the Piazza. Pretty pink interior. I had picked this restaurant as someone on Chowhound had mentioned that they serve a seafood fritto misto which is one of my all time favorite dishes. What we ate: For starters, sformatino di verdure, then a serving of pappardelle di carciofi, and Mike had culatello di zibello, which he had been wanting to try. Excellent so far. Then I had fritto di scampi and calamaretti, and Mike had tortelloni di magro con asparagi. Fantastic! The fritto had the sweet but briny taste of the sea encased in a golden crunch. The pastas were freshly made in house. We drink a Gianni Voerzio Dolcetto 2006 from La Morra. Mike has his favorite dessert – mixed berries with gelato. We order café – Mike asks for the “milk on the outside.” The service is very good, and the manager comes to talk to us. (We are the only English speakers in the place though they seem to appreciate my attempts at restaurant Italian.) He loves American national parks and has been to the U.S. 14 times.

    We have a sideshow going on at the next table – a trio of Italians who are now forced to smoke outside due to the new non-fumare laws. They eat a course, go outside, eat a course, go outside. We are ready to leave but the manager brings over vin santo and cantucci. Cost: 109 euros. We are very fat and happy as we walk back to our hotel. We watch a little Italian TV before we turn in.

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    DAY THREE

    Morning in Milan! I got up about seven and went down to breakfast as Mike was getting dressed. Breakfast room on the bottom floor was very nice with a wide selection. I was surprised at how many Italian business people were staying there; I figured that tourists would be the norm.

    We gathered our belongings and walked to Castello Sforzesco. This was a healthy walk to the northern side of central Milan, but took less time than I had thought. The historical centro is rather compact and provides excellent walking even though you’re in a bustling city. We enjoyed watching Milan wake up, sweep down the sidewalks, and open for business.

    The castello was owned by the Sforza family, most famously Il Moro. The castello houses several historical collections that belong to the city of Milan. We walked outside to see the grounds, the fountains, the moat, the stonework. Lots of schoolchildren.

    We spent time in the museum of musical instruments. Gorgeous pieces that are works of arts. Spinets, pianofortes, violas, flutes of wood and ivory, harps. Painted pieces, inlay, intricate workings. Then we went to the display of decorative arts. Ceramics, glass, iron pieces, silver, tapestry. Mike was fascinated by a huge chest with an intricate locking system.

    We then visited the museum of furniture. Mike is a hobbyist woodworker so he loved this. Furniture from the time of Il Moro up through the 20th century. There is actually a ‘piece” of a bedroom as it used to look in the castello – painted walls, gabled ceiling. We saw the Sala delle Asse, a frescoed room attributed to Leonardo da Vinci who once worked for Il Moro. There is an armoury room with swords, armour of all periods, bows and arrows.

    Our last stop was Michelangelo’s last sculpture, La Pieta Rondanini. The artist was 96 and died before the work was finished. It’s raw and unpolished but very moving.

    Believe it or not, we were hungry again, and we set out for Hosteria Borromei. It was only 12:30 and we were the first there, so we got our choice of pretty outdoor tables on a covered patio decorated with pots of red flowers and yellow tablecloths. We started with wine – a Terre de Franciacorte, La Valle “Albus” from Lombardia. It’s cool and citrusy. I started with a salad of raw shaved artichoke and grana padano dressed with olive oil, lemon, and pepper. Mike had insalata caprese with fresh mozzarella. Then I proceeded to tortelloni of ricotta and asparagus, tossed in butter. It was drizzled with an egg yolk sauce and bits of chopped tomato so that it looked like a flower on the plate. Mike had a veal scallopine with porcini mushrooms. We asked the waiter about the porcini – yes, they were fresh; the weather extended the season. Excellent.

    We watched an unfolding drama while we ate. Preparations were made for a business lunch, and a table was set for six by several waiters who bustled as they received instructions from the manager. Six men in suits arrived, and handshakes and small bows were offered all around. The host sat at the head of the table, smoking continuously. They all deferred to one of the elder gentlemen in the group who was the guest of honor. Six glasses of prosecco were followed by six plates of salume and prosciutto, followed by six plates of fagioli drizzled with olive oil. (They are all smoking now; I guess non fumare didn’t apply to patio seating.) Then six huge sizzling beef steaks. Dessert is six tall glasses of granita topped with sparkling wine and served with straws. Then limoncello all around. It is so Italian, almost like something from the Godfather but less sinister.

    Mike finished up with berries and cream. Caffe all around. Cost: 94 euros.

    We left at about 1:45, headed for Santa Maria delle Grazie. We had tickets for the 2:45 showing of the Last Supper. Again, it was a quicker walk than I thought it would be. Easy to move from place to place in Milan with broad sidewalks and crosswalks at busy intersections.

    We passed Ercolessi on Corso Magenta, a jewelbox of a store featuring writing instruments. We would come back later. We claimed our tickets at the Cenco Vinciano. I had arranged for these in advance through tickitaly.com but would also been able to get them through the concierge at our hotel. Many were turned away, so tickets must be purchased in advance. There was a lobby where ticketed visitors wait for their allotted time. It featured great photos of the WWII bombing of the chapel and the subsequent restorations including the last restoration of the fresco. We got audio guides which I HIGHLY recommend. They were excellent.

    At the appointed time, we entered a series of air locked doors to get to the refectory. The fresco covers one end wall and is magnificent. The last restoration was well worth whatever it cost! I had the same feeling that I had when I saw Ste Chappelle or the Sistine Chapel for the first time. You really want to cry as the beauty is overwhelming.

    The audio guide pointed out the details of the composition, the colors and uses of light and perspective, the techniques of fresco used and why the fresco is deteriorating. It gave some of the history of the fresco as well. We stayed our entire allotted 15 minutes and then went into the bookstore to purchase some books and stationery.

    We walked back to Ercolessi. My grown-up son collects pens, so I bought him a gorgeous Montegrappa that they were able to engrave with his name. Mike likes mechanical pencils, and he bought several snazzy models in bright colors. We walked back to the hotel but decided to stop off at Bar Duomo and watch the action for a while. The Piazza in front of the Duomo is packed with people, particularly teenagers who rap, dance and parade around in a huge teeny-bopper fashion show. The day had started cool, but now there was sunshine in full force and all Milan is outside enjoying it. Everyone is carrying shopping bags. Bellinis set us back 25 euros, but we get a free show. And olives!

    We stopped at the Hoepli bookstore near our hotel. I wanted to find some good cookbooks in Italian. Mike found and bought the 2008 edition of the Slow Food Gambero Rosso guide to Italian wines. (Little did I know then, but this book will practically become a third member of our travel party. It will get its own bag, go with us everywhere, often get its own chair at a restaurant, and be the topic of many a conversation.) We stopped at the hotel for a short nap, and then got cleaned up for dinner.

    We walked to Trattoria Alle Langhe at the Porta Garibaldi on Corso Como. This area and all of the Via Brera are nighttime hot spots. This part of the Corso Como is a pedestrian zone and we select an outdoor table. Our waiter is Filipino, but speaks excellent Italian and pretty good English. He is a student.

    This restaurant features dishes of the Langhe in the Piemonte and so we start with a 2005 Valospi Barbera d’Asti Superiore. The menu has some Langhe dishes but it’s actually more of a mixed bag. We got a complimentary amuse bouche – a tasty focaccia of onion and tomato. Starters were culatello di zibello for Mike and bresaola dressed with lemon and EVOO for me. Then I have gnocchi with tomato and basil. Mike has the infamous Milanese veal cutlet “primavera” – topped with a salad of fresh arugula and tomato. Mike finishes with panna cotta caramel. Caffe all around. Cost: 98 euros. The food was good, but not great. But if you’re looking for a restaurant in the midst of the bars and the action, this is an OK pick.

    Walked back to the hotel at about 10. The Via Brera bars were in full swing. After all, it was Friday night.

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    DAY FOUR

    It was a grey day when we headed out the next morning after breakfast. This was our planned shopping and browsing day so we took umbrellas just in case. We go first to La Rinascente to check out the kitchen wares department. There is a huge food store and a wine store on the 7th floor that we wander through for a while. We browsed for a while in the housewares and bought the BEST garlic press ever. HA - German made by Wusthof. Some ravioli stamps and pasta cutters of wood and brass. Mike went into the café to get a mid-morning caffe while I checked out the shoes. The store was very crowded, and the Piazza was packed. This was the place to be on Saturday.

    We went to the temple of gastronomy Peck. I marveled at the displays of fresh foods, pasta, cured meats, cheeses. I am sternly spoken to regarding Peck’s feelings on taking photos of their food displays. There was a little café on the second floor, and we stopped there for lunch. We shared a plate of the freshest prosciutto, creamy and salty. Then bocconcini of marinated mozzarella. Peck bottles their own wine and I had a glass of the Dolcetto while Mike tried the Brunello. I had a crespelle di verdure gratine and Mike had meat-filled ravioli with a fresh tomato sauce. Cassata for dessert. Due caffe. Another 2 hour lunch. Cost: 89 euros.

    We walked a few blocks in the vicinity of Peck and stopped at a few stores. I bought some torrone and some of those luscious fruit pates. We went to the Galleria V. E. as I wanted to check out Berlasconi Argenteria. Part of the love affair that I have with European dining is the beautiful, heavy silver that accompanies each course. You can’t find this in the United States any more. In the world’s tiniest elevator, Mike and I ride up to the 2nd floor with Maria who shows the Buccellati silver. We look at patterns and get prices. Bringing it into the United States through Customs would be tricky though. We can order later if we wish by sending Maria an email.

    We went back to the room for a short nap. Then we go out to a wine store Vino, Vino recommended by the concierge. The proprietor doesn’t speak English. I asked in my fractured Italian for i vini tipici locali di Lombardia. Does he have a Terre de Franciacorte, non spumante like we had at Hosteria Borromei? No. But he directed us to a Valtellina and also recommended an Arneis from the Roero in Piemonte. Mike was consulting the book the whole time, and it seemed to endear him to the proprietor who appeared to appreciate our meager efforts to learn about local wines.

    We then went back to La Rinescente’s wine store which was huge. They do have a non-sparkling Terre de Franciacorte, and we also bought a Nino Negri Valtellina and a Nino Negri 5 Stelle Sfursat. The Sfursat is made like an amarone from partially dried grapes, and it is supposedly big and powerful. The sales person spoke good English, loved to discuss wines, and now both she and Mike were avidly consulting the book for tasting notes and ratings.

    We went back to the hotel to drop off our packages. We went down to the bar; Mike did further wine research and I wrote in my journal and sorted receipts. We then changed for dinner and walked to Da Giacomo. The book went with us.

    The restaurant is very pretty inside, in light greens and yellows. While we read the menus, the waiter brought us a starter of hot cheesy pizza with small bits of fish and capers on it. We looked at the wine list, and the book comes out. The owner is tickled pink that Mike is reading this book and recommends a Pieropan Soave 2005 Calvarina which had a good rating in the book. Then the owner brings an extra chair to the table—for the book.

    The food here was fantastic. There were many seafood selections and we started with a zuppa di frutti di mare and a tortine di patate and porcini with a sauce of sweet prawns. Then I cannot resist – spaghetti alla vongole veraci. I was in garlic and clam heaven. Mike went for a whole steamed Sicilian spiny lobster. It was surrounded by little ripe cherry tomatoes that were extra sweet and marinated red onions. There was a light tangy sweet dressing over all. The lobster is unbelievable – and huge. Mike ate every morsel. He followed up with his usual berries and crema. Caffe. We talked with the couple at the adjoining table who were from Switzerland. They were amazed at Mike’s lobster. She asked if I am second generation Italian because my accent was so good!! By the time we finished, it was 10:30. They called us a cab because it was raining. We shook hands all around – waiter, owner, hostess. Cost: 156 euros and worth every cent.

    Back at the hotel we put the book to bed. We watched Harry Potter in Italian – La Camera Segreta – for a few minutes before retiring.



    DAY FIVE

    On our last day in Milan, I am determined that we will go to La Scala, about 5 minutes from our hotel. I am an opera buff but Mike is more tepid. An occasional aria is about all he can handle. There were no operas being performed at the time we were there, so I had to be content with a look at the interior and the museum.

    It is a beautiful building. Luckily the orchestra was tuning up to practice when we arrived, and so we got to stand in one of the stunning boxes and listen for awhile. The first violinist and another violinist have a tumultuous disagreement which involves waving the sheet music and a lot of hand gesturing. It was great fun to watch.

    The museum is a series of little rooms with musical instruments, portraits of famous singers and composers, opera posters and memorabilia. Then we went into the special exhibit which featured the costumes of Maria Callas. There are large black and white photos of her in performance wearing the costumes which are shown. They were gorgeous. Some of her arias were playing softly in the background.

    We left the building and walked around it to see the architecture. Then we walked down Via Manzoni to window shop, all the way down to the Porta Nuova. We walked back up on the other side. Lots of people outside enjoying the day even though it was grey and overcast.

    We stopped for lunch at Nabucco off via Brera. There are outdoor tables under a cover which was good as it started to rain lightly right after we sat down. The wine list is consulted, and the book comes out. The waiter recommends a white wine from Sardinia; they look at the book, and the book says OK. A 2005 Cantina del Vermentino. The book was right – it was very good.

    I started with a plate of grilled vegetables – eggplant, endive, red peppers, radicchio, tomato, zucchini. Mike had prosciutto and melon. Then I had the dish I had been dreaming of since I saw it on Nabucco’s web site menu – their specialty, spaghetti chitarra con aragosta. “Square” spaghetti in a spicy fresh tomato sauce with garlic and a split lobster tail on top. Mike, perhaps in anticipation of going to Bologna next, has a trio of tortelli in different shapes – spinach & ricotta, beef & mushroom, and porcini & smoked mozzarella – in a sage and butter sauce.

    There were sidewalk artists up and down the street. They hastily covered their work with plastic when the rain threatened. They sat in lawn chairs under the eaves and smoked until the sun came out. We watched the neighborhood children play and old grandmothers putting out the laundry on lines strung overhead across the street.

    Mike has to have dessert. He can’t help himself. Pink panna cotta with strawberries. Caffe as a digestif. Cost: 112 euros.

    Our next stop was the Pinacoteca Brera, just a few blocks down. I had a good room-by-room guide book that I bought at Santa Maria delle Grazie bookshop. Mike tends to whiz through art museums. I tend to linger, always with something in writing that gives me details about the more famous pieces. I was taken with the Caravaggio rendition of The Last Supper, so different from da Vinci’s. Judas already has his bag of silver in hand. Canaletto’s Grand Canal is magnificent.

    We left the Brera and walked back to the hotel so Mike could have a little nap. I went out in search of a bancomat and a late afternoon caffe.

    We had dinner reservations in the Navigli area which was a long walk. We left early so that we could take our time. The Piazza Duomo was packed with people. Everyone was out on Sunday evening, shopping, talking, sitting in the café, meeting friends.

    The Navigli area was a straight shot down the Via Torino to the Porta Genova. Then the road curves as it follows a canal. Then you can see the canal itself with the two what used to be towpaths on either side. The Ripa di Porta Ticinese has an antiques/flea market on Sundays, and it was wrapping up as we arrived. There were still some boats on the canal, mostly pleasure boats. There were many bars, cafes, and restaurants. But this area is not as attractive as I had imagined from my reading. We walk for quite a while checking out the shops.

    We head for our restaurant Al Pont de Ferr which was a Slow Foods pick. As soon as we enter, my internal alarm went off. No tablecloths. Paper napkins. Cheap stainless like in the school cafeteria. Menus in English. I asked for one in Italian. The dishes were not recognizable as Italian, much less Slow Food. Fois gras? Two amuse bouche came first – little ice cream wafer cones of smoked salmon mousse. Then a curried bread served with salted butter. The plate of cured meats that we shared for a starter was the only thing that resembled Italian food – prosciutto, coppa, and slices of a dark red sausage. I ordered a beef tartare which like carpaccio usually comes dressed with lemon, olive oil and parmigiano. This was four raw meatballs with a few drops of a balsamic glaze. It had no flavor. Mike ordered a roasted pork with potatoes and onions. It was so-so. No dessert, no coffee. We leave, disappointed that our last meal in Milan was so bad. In retrospect, I think that the restaurant must have changed hands. Oh well…. Cost: 84 euros.

    Luckily we have planned to go to Bologna next – land of prosciutto, parmigiano and pasta!!

    The streets are filled with people on the walk back. Everyone is out in the streets.

    Impressions of Milan –
    Typical city with dirt, noise, fumes, graffiti;
    Depressing on a cloudy, grey day;
    Lots of very nice people who are friendly and respectful;
    Lots of great food and wine;
    Last Supper is worth the visit alone;
    Not a city I would necessarily visit again, but one not to be missed.

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    DAY SIX

    We were in no huge hurry to be up and out – the trip to Bologna will only take a few hours by car. We packed, ate breakfast, and went to pick up the car at 10 AM. The rental office was near the Stazione Centrale. We got the car and started off in the direction of the Certosa de Pavia which was a famous monastery in the time of Il Moro. The cathedral features the 3rd largest dome in Italy. Alas -- despite all my research, we found it closed. Not sure why.

    Back on the road. We drove past Parma and Modena on the autostrada and then stopped at an Autogrill for pizza and snacks. We made it into Bologna’s centro and found the Art Orologio hotel but no place to park. We circled the block. Then I went in while Mike sat in the car. No problem. Drive the car right up to the door on the piazza.

    We were upgraded to a suite although we didn’t know it until after we had been shown to the wrong room by a porter and unpacked. So we re-packed and changed rooms. We went outside and explored. There was some sort of a theatrical production being set up in the Piazza Maggiore just steps from our hotel. There was a huge stage, scenery, dancers, costumes, lights, sound systems. Beautiful Renaissance style music played in the square. I found a brochure and as best as I could figure out, there was to be a “spectacle” culminating a multi-day celebration of Michelangelo. The spectacle, an allegory in three acts, was planned for four evenings hence, while we would be in Bologna. We sat at a café and watched some of the rehearsal. A young boy with angel wings flew across the stage on wires. There is a pond on stage with small wooden ships. There are lots of women players in long renaissance dresses. And nuns. None of it made any sense to me, but it looked interesting! The real fun was that everyone in Bologna seemed to be involved – participating, helping, or just commenting on the action. Everyone stops to watch what’s going on.

    We wandered more. I saw shoe stores. Mike saw leather stores. We both check out the food stores. The fresh pasta!! The cheese! The prosciutto handing from the ceiling! We have died and gone to our own personal version of heaven!

    We went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and we walked a few blocks to our dinner spot – Caminetto d’Oro. There is a little covered patio in front with tables, and so we snag one outside. The waiter speaks very little English, but he is happy when Mike whips out the book and I ask for a wine recommendation. Suddenly we are best buddies, no language required, hand gestures will do just fine. He recommends a local 2004 Drei Dona Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva. Our dinner is very good and very typical Bolognese. Starters of an insalata dei funghi (raw thinly sliced mushrooms) dressed with oil, lemon, and parmigiano. And culaccia di parma (which is like the heart of an exclusive prosciutto) served with a local goat cheese and caramelized fresh figs. Our secondi – tagliatelle bolognese for me and grilled lamb with potatoes for Mike. All excellent. I was on a roll, and I went for dessert – vanilla gelato drizzled with a aged balsamic vinegar. Oh my! Mike had a shortbread filled with cream and covered with a dark chocolate sauce.

    We were again the only ones speaking English. Our neighbors at the next table appeared to be frequent guests – they knew the waiter well. He brought them a bottle of a thick red liqueur and little stemmed glasses. A digestif of some kind. We asked what it was. He took their bottle and brought it to our table with more glasses! 40 percent alcohol, made of cherries. Villa Zarri, made locally. It had a warm burn all the way down. I asked him where we could buy the Sangiovese wine to take home. Well, here of course. We had a bottle added to our bill. Handshakes all around as we leave. Cost: 154 euros including the extra wine.

    We walked around the piazza on our way back. Preparations for the show were still underway even though it was almost 11 PM.

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    DAY SEVEN

    This day was just for browsing and taking in the sights of Bologna. We visited the very pretty breakfast room in the hotel. All cold food but what an assortment – fruit, breads, jams, cake, marinated tomatoes, cheeses, yogurt, cereal, salume, hard boiled eggs, juices, cappuccino, tea.

    We started our tour of Bologna with the Palazzo Communale on the main piazza. This is Bologna’s working city hall but there was some splendid artwork. We went up to the second floor on a gently sloped staircase designed to be used by soldiers on horseback. The public rooms were beautiful with paintings, frescoed walls, statuary, gilded ceilings. The city workers huddled next to open windows during their cigarette breaks. We saw the special display cases where the marriage license, obituaries and legal transactions were posted.

    Preparations for the gala were still going strong in the piazza. Dozens of people scurrying about. Now there were huge papier mache “cakes” and other props being unloaded. A string quartet played on a little platform that is lowered from the top of the stage. Outside the building we saw the Neptune Fountain (scandalous!), and then we went to the Basilica. One of the prettiest interiors I’ve seen. Partly because it was very light inside and you can actually see the details of the chapels, the carvings and the paintings. There was a meridian on the floor and a huge gilded baldacchino.

    We walked into the market area just off the main piazza. There were many food stores of all types. It’s a foodie paradise. We bought a few things and dropped our packages back at the hotel. We went back to the market area and went into La Baita (a deli) to sample some cheeses and salume. We went into Tamburini but didn’t eat anything there.

    We then walked to the Due Torri, the famous leaning towers of Bologna. I wanted to go up in the Torre Asinelli. Mike refused – he and the book would wait down on the ground, thank you. I walked up – 498 steps on wicked, rickety wooden stairs that go in a square spiral up the tower. A little harrowing at times. Some of the stairs were practically worn bare in the middle. Some of the stairs had been reinforced with iron bars bolted to the brick walls. The views at the top over Bologna and the countryside were gorgeous. Worth the climb.

    We then strolled through the arcaded street of via Strada Maggiore and then through the cobblestone streets and grounds of the university. The political science department had its own gardens!

    We made our way back to the Piazza Maggiore and sat to have a granita at the outdoor café. Now three small boys in platinum wigs and with angel wings are flying across the stage, rehearsing their parts. The ladies in long gowns practice their dances. The quarter is still playing. I was entranced by the level of production and preparation. All of Bologna stops and watches and points and conjectures. It’s a play within a play.

    We cleaned up for dinner, but went shopping beforehand. For me, a gorgeous pair of Armani ballet flats. They are silver with little white leather bows tipped in silver metal. Mike has decided that the book must have its own bag. The backpack was not good enough. He bought a beautiful leather messenger bag. He fit the book into several bags before making his final choice. I wear my new shoes, and I feel very Italian as I carry my shopping bag down the street.

    We then made our way to Trattoria Leonida which was off a small alleyway. Not an attractive exterior so we forego the outside tables, but the interior was very pretty. Not many tables. It quickly fills up. All locals. The cuisine here is supposed to be very traditional. The wine list was short, and the book did not help in this respect. We asked the waiter for a recommendation. He speaks little English. We must have Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna of course! There were a number of fresh pastas on the menu. I get a traditional garmigna - short, thick, curly, formed by hand – in a sauce of sausage and mushrooms. Mike got the gargenelli (like a penne but the ends are on the diagonal in different directions) al ragu Bolognese. I ask about the pasta, and the waiter said (and pantomimed) that the gargenelli is made in house by rolling a small square of pasta around a dowel to make a little tube. Yikes! It must take hours to make enough for one serving!

    I then had a delicious eggplant parmigiana that is not anything like what we get back home. Thinly sliced, little breading, fresh parmigiano, a little sauce. Mike had copertino di vitello – veal rolls stuffed with prosciutto, cheese, and mushrooms. With a side of delicious fried potatoes. We were too full for dessert. We finished our wine, drank caffe. Cost: 75 euros.

    We strolled back to our hotel, I in my silver Armanis, Mike with his book in bag. We watched a little Italian TV – the game shows are a riot – and then to bed.

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    drbb...

    I am salivating reading your last post! You really had me with the eggplant parmigiana...when I travel in Italy a doesn't go by when I don't have eggplant!

    Looking forward to more!

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    Yay! Thanks for putting up your report - I love reading about Bologna. My daughter and I posted our trip report to Bologna a year after the fact as well. It was fun for us to relive the great experience.

    Did you see the Morandi museum in Bologna at the top of those sloping stairs? That was a highlight for me.

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    LowCountry- Thanks, more food to come!

    rosetravels - I don't specifically remember a Morandi museum. I was most interested in seeing the frescoes. Sounds like I missed something. I guess I'll have to go back!

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    Great trip report! I have definitely jotted down the Bologna information.

    Last month, I was staying with one of my best American, male friends who lives in Treviso (30 minutes,by train, from Venice) and we had talked of hopping a train to Bologna, but ended up doing Venice for a second day instead. It was my first time going to Venice which I wasn't as enamored by as others, but decided to give it a second day.

    Bologna has been on my list for over a decade as I've had Italian friends from there, in the past, who said that it was fabulous. It's too bad I've lost contact with them.

    I seem to be able to get to Italy (Rome/Florence/Naples/Amalfi Coast, and even an overnight outside of Milan once) , but just can't find the time to get to Bologna. I'm putting it back on the TOP of my list again! Do you think that 3 days would be sufficient?

    I fly from L.A. to Paris annually,for over 30 years now, and usually in the spring. I usually spend 8 nights in Paris. Sometimes, I'll take up to 3-4 days somewhere outside of Paris, but within that same total of 8 nights. Last month I did 4 nights in Treviso and 4 nights in Paris, but I most of the time, spend the entire time in Paris and try to schedule outside of Paris destinations on a separate trip. I take 1-3 overseas vacations a year.

    Last month, I flew L.A. to CDG and then had a 4-hour layover and my Parisian friend met me at CDG, at the gate of the Venice flight. We then flew on to Venice airport, where my friend picked us up, and drove us on to his and his wife's place in Treviso. So, we started our vacation in Treviso . After Treviso, it was a flight to Paris where I stayed for 4 nights and then home and back to work the next morning. So, I cut Paris short, in order to visit my friend in Treviso and to see Venice. This was during Easter week. It was a GREAT time in Italy, as usual. We all had a ball. Happy Travels!

    So, I already have a plane ticket for spring 2010 from L.A. to Paris. But, I was thinking of maybe flying into CDG and then changing planes and going on to Bologna for 3 days and then back to Paris. I'll have a rented apartment, in Paris, and with the keys before I leave home, so I can arrive into Paris whenever I want to. Happy Travels!

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    I would love to go back to Bologna. We only just scratched the surface. There are so many small towns and villages around Bologna that beg to be explored. If I went back again to that area, I would probably spend at least 5 to 6 days.

    Three days would give you time to hit the highlights of Bologna itself and maybe one full day for a day trip to Parma, Modena, or Ravenna. We never even made it to Faenza, Ferrara, or Rimini. And we never actually went into Parma centro which I have read is very lovely.

    Happy planning. And Happy Travels!

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    DAY EIGHT

    Today was my birthday, but today’s special treat was for Mike – we are going to Parma to visit a prosciutto factory! Mike’s two most favorite foods are prosciutto and snails in garlic butter. I arranged this before leaving the States with Parma Golosa. We were to meet Claudio in Parma at 10 AM at Prosciuttofficio Massima.

    As we left Bologna, we took a wrong turn and ended up going around the city in the wrong direction. I could already see that we were going to be late. We then caught the A1 and whizzed past Modena and Reggio-Emilia. We had to bypass Parma, so we took a secondary road to Pilastro. Lost again. Then we miraculously found the right road.

    We arrived at 10:20, and Claudio was waiting at the gate. We apologized profusely for our lateness, but Claudio seemed nonplussed. Would we mind waiting until 10:30? Then another couple will join us for the tour.

    The other couple arrived with Livia who would be our guide. We went inside and met the owner’s mother who worked in the front office. Livia took us through the various rooms in the facility as she explained in English the process from start to finish. First we saw the “massage” room where the fresh hams are brought. The hams and the pigs they come from must meet exact DOC specifications. The whole hams are put into a machine that has rollers, and the hams are massaged to extract any blood and to tenderize the meat. They are salted and put on trays in a refrigerated room for the first cure. Massaged again, salted again, and stored two weeks. These steps normally take place in November and December.

    Hung on racks, the hams then cure in rooms open to the breezes that come from the Apennines. We could not see these rooms according to Livia, because of some EU regulations. For six months, the hams cure and shrink and become incredibly tender. Then they are trimmed including the bone and covered with a lard mixture. Hung in rooms with forced cool air circulation. We saw these rooms – hundreds and hundreds of hams on racks that were at least 10 feet tall! The air is perfumed with prosciutto! Each ham has a tag with an ID number. Livia showed us how they check the hams with a horse bone.

    The tour took about 90 minutes, and then the other couple went off with Livia to a tour of a balsamic production facility. Mike and I headed back toward Modena for lunch. Long before we arrived, I had asked the concierge at the Orologio to make reservations for us at the famed Osteria Giusti in Modena. When we checked in however, the concierge reported that contact with Giusti had never been established; the hotel’s phone calls and fax had not been acknowledged. This restaurant has been hyped by Mario Batali, and there is a food cult aura around it, but we wanted to give it a go anyway.

    Armed with the name of another restaurant as back up, we stopped at vicolo del Squallore 46, on a narrow alleyway to check it out. A sign outside said “al completo” but I opened the door to see three of four tables vacant. The owner (who we learned later was Nano Morandi’s son) came out and I started to explain that we tried to make reservations. But after just three or four words, he gestured to a table, saying “Si. Si. Sit. Sit. Welcome.” So we quickly sat before he changed his mind! He never even asked my name.

    A pretty little yellow room with only four tables. Beautiful china, glassware and linens. The wine list was very nice with many famous names and labels. We asked for a recommendation. He suggested Lambrusco of course, the favorite wine of Emilia-Romagna! I was taken aback given that behind my chair was a display of Chateau Petrus bottles dating back to 1967. Now I actually like Lambrusco but we felt the occasion needed something more. He had just the thing. He opened a bottle and poured, and it was delicious. He handed us the bottle. It was a 1999 Barbera d’Asti. His own Giusti label bottled by Coppo.

    The lunch was exquisite, hype or not!
    Antipasti:
    Gnoccho fritto- five airy puffs of dough, each topped with a small slice of cured meat. I recognize salame, proscuitto and lardo.
    Fried minestrone fritters topped with a drizzle of aceto balsamico.

    Primi:
    We each have a half portion of the amazing tortellini in brodo – the pasta is stuffed with a mix of veal, mortadella, proscuitto, parmigiano. The capon broth is clear and rich.

    Secondi:
    Cotechino fritto – slices of cotechino sausage dusted with flour and grated cheese, sauteed, and topped with a savory zabaglione
    A trancio of pork, slow braised in white wine and herbs, served at room temperature with an agrodolce jam of red onions. It sounds so simple but it was a heavenly combination of flavors.

    Dolci:
    Two half slices of a thin crostata of amarena cherries. We finish off with our usual caffe macchiato.

    Cost: 127 euros.

    We asked about the wine and the owner shows us into his underground cellar across the alley – Gaja, Pio Cesare, brunellos of all sorts. Hundred of bottles. We bought a bottle of his Barbera as a momento to be enjoyed at home. We then asked about aceto balsamico and he showed us into his shop which usually wasn’t open again until 3:30. We bought an expensive bottle of aged vinegar and a less expensive bottle for salad dressings. Cost of balsamic and bottle of wine: 149 euros.

    What an experience! Try to snag a table if you visit Modena. Only open for lunch.

    It was now 3 PM and we walked into Modena centro to see the cathedral. It has a large dome. The tower was closed for restoration. There was an interesting crypt under the altar. At the “prince’s door,” there were 2 very large and worn red marble lions. Headed back to Bologna on the SS9 which was the ancient Via Emilia road. We passed many old stone houses and barns, tiled roofs, rows of grapevines, espaliered fruit trees. Then we see something new – hookers! Rows of very young girls lined up along the highway trying to get the attention of passing truckers.

    Made it back into Bologna about 5 PM and took a short nap. We got dressed for dinner and then watched the action on the Piazza for a while. Thin cables have been suspended between the Palazzo Communale, the Podesta, and the Basilica in anticipation of some aeronautical feats during the Michelangelo show. The sound systems were being tested. We saw a green faced faun-looking character in an upper window next to the Basilica. There seemed to be some rehearsals going on up there. All of Bologna watched and wondered as they passed by.

    We walked to Il Tartufo about five blocks away. It was a little family-run neighborhood style trattoria. Old copper cookware hung from the rafters, and a stag’s head was hung above the fireplace. The waitress who spoke no English brought us a bottle of 2004 Umberto Cesari Sangiovese Riserva, a local wine. I ordered the stuzzichino alla casa, an assortment of crostini, cheese, salame, and a wonderful refreshing little salad of very thinly sliced raw mushrooms and celery dressed with lemon, oil, and parmigiano.

    When I got home I found a similar recipe on Food Network’s web site – Rachael Ray no less – that I adapted:

    A Variation on Il Tartufo’s Insalata del Sedano e Funghi
    8 ozs baby bella mushrooms, wiped clean and very thinly sliced with mandolin or with slicer on food processor (note: the pre-sliced mushrooms in packages are not thin enough)
    4 ribs celery, also thinly sliced on an angle as above
    Handful flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
    Juice of one lemon
    3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
    1 clove of garlic, mashed
    Coarse salt and black pepper
    A couple of handfuls shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

    Make vinaigrette with 3 tbs olive oil and enough lemon juice to suit your taste. Whisk in garlic, salt, pepper until slightly thick. Toss lightly with mushrooms, celery and parsley. Arrange on plates. Using a vegetable peeler, shave cheese and scatter Parmigiano-Reggiano over the salad.

    Mike had a plate of culatello for his antipasto. He then ordered a dish of green taglioline tossed with prosciutto and asparagus. I asked for the house specialty – risotto nella forma parmigiano. Now this was no ordinary risotto. The hot risotto is poured into the rind of a huge parmigiano cheese and then stirred and scraped to work even more cheese into the dish. This is all done tableside. The little waitress saw my face fall when she explained “Per due persone.” But then she holds up her finger – uno momento -- goes back to the kitchen, and then returned. Apparently another table has ordered the dish and they can work in a portion for me! When it came, my portion was poured into the rind from a copper pot and stirred, then spooned into a bowl. It was incredibly rich and creamy. We finished with caffe. Cost: 75 euros.

    We walked back to the Piazza and joined the passagiata. It was 11 PM and everyone was outside on the warm night. The show’s crew members were roasting a whole pig on a spit over a wood fire. They – people, pig, spit, fire and all - were on top of something that looked like a Mardi Gras float. We walked around for a little while and then turned in.

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    Very interesting report! One question about Bologna -- did you find the Art Hotel Orologio to be noisy at night when you were trying to sleep? I ask because I've looked at this hotel myself, and it sounds quite nice.

    BUT it sounds like the piazza right outside your hotel must have been hopping, what with the preparations for the big show, testing of sound equipment, pig roasts, all going on past 11 p.m.!!! Did you hear all of that in your room?

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    No we didn't. The Orologio is on a little "sub piazza" which is on a right angle to the main square. We could see the main square from our room. As I remember, all the windows were double-glazed. And quite frankly, we walked so much every day that we were bone-tired at night. No noise could have bothered us! It was a very nice hotel, well-positioned. Nice staff, pretty rooms, great breakfast. I recommend it.

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    DAY NINE

    Today’s the day of the big show! Although it looked no more ready than it did three days ago. A quick breakfast and we headed off to Ravenna to see the famous Byzantine mosaics. It was about an hour’s drive. We easily found the public parking lot near the Basilica San Vitale. We purchased tickets that would give us entrance to five churches and the mausoleum; all have mosaics.

    The Basilica was quite crowded, and there were two tour groups. The mosaics covered the walls and were stunning especially the panels picturing Justinian and Theodora. There was a little display that explained that the tessarae were made of three materials – gold, colored glass, and marble. The floors are also mosaic, and every column has carved capitals.

    We went next door to the Mausoleum of Galla Pacidia, but waited until a group of school children left. The building was very small and quite dark inside as the only windows are covered with thin alabaster sheets. It was difficult to see details but I looked for the apostles, the deep blue sky, and the golden stars.

    We left the mausoleum and started walking into town. The main street through town was a pedestrian zone but most people are on bicycles. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place. Kids, grandmothers, elegant ladies in skirts, business men are all riding to and fro. We stopped at the Mercato Centro, the covered market. There are stalls with displays of gorgeous fruits and vegetables. Cured meats and prosciutto. Stalls with fresh cheeses and pasta. We watched one woman making tagliatelle by hand. She rolled the pasta sheet and cut it in into thin strips, tossing the strips in a little flour to make a nest.

    We left the Mercato and walked further into town towards the Piazza Popolo. We stopped at Bella Venezia for lunch, and we were early enough to get an outside table where we could watch all the passer-bys, on bicycle and on foot. An old woman in black hiked up her skirt to her thighs and pushed off with her foot a few times to get her bike rolling. A dad in a suit and tie bikes by, his little son on the back singing at the top of his lungs. Mike waved, and the little boy waved back. There was a constant stream of people and it was quite an entertaining show.

    This was a little restaurant that appears to have one person in the kitchen and one person in the front of the house. Limited English. We ordered the vino bianco della casa – a light, refreshing trebbiano that came in a little pitcher. First, Mike had prosciutto and melon while I ate an insalata caprese. Then Mike ordered the tortelli filled with scamorza cheese in a fresh tomato sauce. And I had a classic pasta of the region – cheese-filled cappaletti (little hats) with a romagnola sauce. The sauce was made with minced chicken livers, veal and prosciutto. Mike ate all the grissini in the bread basket, and the waitress good-naturedly brought him more when he told her how much he liked the tortelli. No dessert (Mike spotted people walking by with gelato in cones) but we have caffe. Lunch and people watching: 2 hours. Cost: 51 euros.

    We walk towards the Baptistry of the Neoni and the Duomo on the other side of the piazza, stopping for gelato. Due coni piccoli. Crema for me, and panna for Mike. Sometimes the simplest is the best. We finished our cones before entering the Baptistry to see its mosaics. The center of the dome features the baptism of Christ by John in vivid colors.

    I then got out my street map to find Dante’s tomb. Normally I’m pretty good with a map but I couldn’t seem to find the right street. As I was looking at the map I noticed that a little old man (little, literally – about 5 feet tall tops, skinny and stooped) with a plastic shopping bag on his arm went by us and then came back. He asked us in Italian if we needed help. Dove la tomba di Dante? He gave us directions with a lot of pointing. I said Grazie and then started to walk. He walked with us, peppering us with questions. American? Republican or Democrat? Obama or Hillary? Why do I want to see Dante’s tomb? How did I learn Italian? Where have we been? Where do we live? And a few dozen other questions that I couldn’t make out.

    We get to Dante’s tomb with our new friend. It was an open air marble monument with a cupola and the tomb. The little old man talked non-stop, pointing out the features of the tomb. I didn’t understand most of it but I nodded frequently and said Si, si. Then he told us a story that I could understand (I think). There was a hanging oil lamp (“lampada”) over the tomb. He explained that every year the citizens of Venice send their finest oil to fill this lamp in honor of Dante. We started to walk out of the monument and he still followed us, talking the entire time. Mike and I stopped and told him we were going back to Bologna now. We shook hands and said goodby. He made a little speech wishing us the best (“tanti auguri”). Mike offered him a few euros “per favore, per un caffe.” He thanked us, but no, no it was his pleasure to meet us.

    We hopped in the car and drove back to Bologna. It rained a bit on the way and was still raining when we got to the hotel. So we took a short nap. Then we went to the piazza, found a table at the caffe, and watched the final preparations for the show. Now six pigs were roasting on the spit. I had originally selected Da Gianni, a Slow Food trattoria for our last meal in Bologna, but the show was scheduled for 9 PM. So we decided instead on La Mela, a pizza restaurant just a few doors down. A casual place with a wood-fired brick oven. Mike ordered a pizza with prosciutto, sausage, and artichokes, and I ordered artichokes with extra garlic. A mezzo of the house red wine. Good pizzas, would be a great place for a family meal. Cost: 27 euros.

    We watched the time carefully as we ate because we wanted a good spot to see the show. People were already entering the piazza. When we came out of La Mela, we noticed that the skies looked dark. The show starts promptly at 9 PM with a scene that represented (I suppose) a bearded old Michelangelo reading from a book, maybe a diary. At 9:10 PM the heavens opened up and it poured rain. So heavy that you couldn’t even hear the music coming over the huge multi-speaker sound system. Everyone ran for cover, and we found a little shelter under a shop awning. The show continued anyway. Heavy rain, loud thunder, lightening. Of course we could not hear anything that was being said. All the actors and crew were getting soaked as well.

    The acts were impressive even without knowing what was taking place or what it was supposed to represent. It was like an Italian Cirque de Soleil:
    -the platinum wigged cherubs fly across the stage with ballet movements then they tumble and twirl in the air
    -a man and a women in long white flowing clothes are also suspended from wires across the stage and do a strange ballet in the air, pushing away from each other to fly out over the crowd
    -while they spin, the string quarter on the platform is lifted high above the stage. They are playing vigorously but you could not hear a note
    -a parade of nuns dances across the stage, then ladies in long renaissance velvet dresses dance through a feast where there are huge papier mache turkeys and cakes
    -spotlights illuminate two huge white cages on the piazza and men inside made up with feathers pantomime bird movements while other young men dressed as animals dance and leap across the stage
    -a group of young girls in long colorful dresses come out and light long staves at both ends, which they then twirl and toss and catch
    - two man dressed in Arabian costumes fly out over the crowd and have a sword fight – they twirl and tumble and dive at each other
    -a spotlight lights up the front of the Basilica and a man on a wire actually “strides” upright up the front of the Basilica to the 2nd story
    -then a large lighted globe that looks like the moon drifts high across the piazza. Two figures are suspended from it and dance around it through the air.

    All the time this action was taking place, there was narration and music that could not be heard. As the show continued the rain got worse and worse. Streaks of lightening were lighting up the sky and the piazza. The performers were soaking wet. How they could move, I have no idea. The people left in the piazza by the end clapped to show their appreciation but it couldn’t be heard. I felt so bad that the show was literally ruined by the weather after so much preparation and community involvement. We darted from shop to shop back to the hotel to avoid getting wet. It pretty much rained all night.

    Impressions of Bologna and environs:
    GREAT food and wine;
    Very nice people who appreciate your appreciation;
    Driving for day trips is easy – roads are well marked;
    For maps and directions, ViaMichelin web site is the BEST;
    A little Italian goes a long way;
    If a little old man asks you if you need help, say yes.
    Whatever happens, make it into an adventure.

    Next stop… Bellagio!

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    drbb...

    Your trip report is such a delight. I enjoy lots of posters here on Fodors but this is one of my favorite Italy reports...I feel like I am traveling with you through Bologna! :-)

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    lowCountry- thanks, I appreciate your kind words.

    pawleys - You'll love Bellagio! When are you going?


    DAY TEN

    Leisurely breakfast, then packing. We left our luggage at the hotel for a few extra minutes and ran over to a deli to get huge chunks of vacuum-packed parmigiano and grana padano. The stage from last night’s performance was being dismantled. We left Bologna, headed back on the A1 towards Milano. We skirted the city and headed for Lecco, stopping only to re-fuel and eat at an Autogrill. Finally on the SS36 headed for Bellagio. We could tell we were getting into the foothills as the roads became steeper and windier. Temps were cooler too. Final road to Bellagio reminded me of the Amalfi Coast road – not hardly wide enough at some points for two cars.

    We encountered one Italian road drama. There was a bit of road construction and one of those portable stoplights that tells your lane when to go and stop since the road is down to one lane. We got the green light and the truck ahead of use moved forward. Then loud honking and swearing. There was another truck coming the other way and there was not enough room for them to pass. There was a sheer rock face on the inside and a very steep dropoff on the other side. The drivers got out and yelled, much waving of the arms and gesturing. The driver in our lane starts gesturing to all the cars to back up. There were now quite a few cars behind us. We all started to back up until there was some more room for the oncoming truck. He pulls in his side mirrors but still not enough room. More yelling and arm waving. We back up more until the truck can pass. There was literally less than an inch to spare.

    I had the directions to the Hotel Florence and a code that would let us and our car into the restricted area. We go until we think we can go no further. Surely that cobbled path cannot be a road. We stopped. I asked. Yes, go down there, keep going. Pedestrians had to press up against the wall to let our little car get by. The Hotel Florence is on the lakefront of Lake Como. And it is GORGEOUS! Beautiful lake, beautiful flowers everywhere, and snow capped mountains in the distance.

    Our room at the Florence was also very nice – third floor with a balcony and French doors that lets us have a grand view of the lake. We unpacked. Mike drove the car to the free parking lot. It was 3:30 and we had time to explore. We wandered down the street and then picked out a spot at a waterfront café for drinks. We watched the ferries come and go, watched the birds, watched the clouds pass over the mountains. I will always associate Bellagio with the engine rumble and honks of ferry boats, the rustle of cool breezes, the lap of water against the docks, and the quacking of ducks.

    We opened the French doors in our room to catch the breeze and took a short nap. We get cleaned up and then go down at 8 PM to the dining room of the hotel. It is a very pretty large, yellow room with large draped tables and padded chairs. Fresh flowers on every table. We are the only patrons until about 9:30. Mike consulted the book and the wine list, and he picked a 2007 Roero Arneis from Fontanafredda.

    I started with the tortelloni ripieni di osso buco con burro all gremolata. It was sprinkled with pungent salty parmigiano. Mike has the tortino de Casera della Valtellina con agrodolce. It was a flan of the Casera cheese on an artfully arranged plate of sautéed baby carrots, fennel, asparagus tips, and baby zucchini with a sweet and sour sauce. Then I had the spiedino de mare, huge prawns wrapped in pancetta and grilled, served on a bed of pureed chickpeas flavored with rosemary. Mike selected a filet of pork roasted in black sesame seeds with braised vegetables. We had two desserts – a carpaccio of pineapple with a coconut gelato and a composed fruit plate with raspberries, kiwi, bananas. Caffe of course. All delicious. It was very quiet and pleasant. The French doors down here were open as well and we could hear the water. We got cozy and sleepy, and it was nice to know our room was just steps away. Cost: 131 euros.

    We opened the French doors in our room to sleep, and a cool breeze blows in. We slept well. But I got up at 4:30 to close them. The birds were very noisy!



    DAY ELEVEN

    The restaurant becomes the breakfast room in the morning. Eggs, cured meats, fruits, cheese, cereal. We ate a bit and then checked the ferry schedule. We just missed the people boat to Varenna but the car ferry docked shortly thereafter. It was a beautiful sunny day, and in the distance fluffy white clouds cascaded over and down the mountains. There were flowers everywhere, and there is a tropical-ness to the vegetation – palm trees etc. – that is incongruent with the snow on the mountains. The water is a steely gray-blue.

    I read in my book that Lake Como is shaped like an upside-down Y. The Italian word for “branch” is “ramo”, and the two branches at the southern end are called the “ramo di Como” on the west side, and the “ramo di Lecco” on the east. Where these two branches come together and join the northern part of the lake, there are three towns: Menaggio on the west side, Varenna on the east side, and Bellagio on the point between the two branches. This is called the “center lake” (“centro lago”). There are two types of ferries – the traghetto is the car ferry and the batello is the people ferry.

    The car ferry stops on the northern edge of Varenna at a dock where the cars can drive off. We walk along the walkway at the water’s edge and then through the town to get to the entrance of Villa Monastero. The villa is now a conference center for scientific research, and usually the house is closed and only the gardens can be viewed. But today the house was open as well. We go through the gardens first. All along the waterfront are acres and acres of tress, flowers, terraces, belvederes, statues.

    Along the path we found a wallet belonging to Ernst with money, passport. Then we saw a frantic man searching the path ahead of us. We called out “Ernst!” He looked amazed that someone knew his name. We held up the wallet and he rushed back to thank us. Crisis over, we talked with him for a while about the plants in the garden. There were many species we recognized but many we did not.

    We finished touring the grounds and went into the house. Much of the house is used for conference attendees, but there are several rooms that have been preserved with their furniture. There is a huge beautiful marble staircase made of red marble from Lombardia, yellow marble from Siena, and white marble from Carrara.

    We walked back into town and looked for the restaurant Vecchia Varenna. It was at the water’s edge and there were outdoor tables. Yes, the book was consulted once again. We ordered a 2006 Tommasi Lugana from Verona. Starters were quite good – zuppa di cipolle with bits of the Casera cheese in it and an insalata of misticanza with little fried meatballs, bresaola, and croutons. I looked for the traditional pasta dish of pizzocheri on the menu but no luck. I ordered the lasagna Saraceno because it seemed to have most of the same ingredients – buckwheat noodles, potatoes, cabbage, and Valtellina cheese. Mike had a braised guinea hen accompanied by little pearl onions agrodolce. Excellent. Mike needed a dessert. He had the English version of the menu and read fresh berries with gelato. I had the Italian version, and I told him the berries are described as “caldi” – warm, cooked. He ordered, and here came a cobbler of berries, piping hot. But he got a cookie with his fior de latte gelato so he was happy. Another peaceful two hour lunch. Cost: 83 euros.

    The weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm, but there were not many people. I heard an explanation that the weather had been quite rainy, and people stayed away. Usually this is high season and there are crowds. Lucky for us!

    We then walked back towards the carry ferry side of Varenna, and I followed my directions for Castello Vezio. (Note: If you are at lake level, you should turn right just before Albergo Olivedo. A step alleyway and then the next street has another steep path next to Hotel Monte Codena. There is a sign that says “Castello Vezio” with an arrow pointing straight up. That is the only sign until you reach the tiny village of Vezio. Just keep walking upwards. On cobblestones, on stone paths, on dirt paths with tree roots. Just keep walking uphill and after about 20-25 minutes you will reach the Piazzetta Belvedere. Then continue to walk, through a gate and up to the Castello.)

    In Vezio, there was a quaint little church and a lovely little cemetery. I say lovely because it is obvious it is well-tended by loving families and there are many flowers and tokens. It is old, and there are some family tombs. Crespi. Sala. Some go back to the 1800s. Entire families – mama, papa, sons, wives, children – all entombed together.

    When we got to the Castello, we explored. It is mostly a ruin now, built in the Middle Ages and not maintained. There was a tower, and I climbed up 4 flights to get a 360 degree view of Varenna and the lake. Absolutely stunning in all directions. You don’t realize how high you have climbed. Varenna was just a speck – way down there! There were falcons here and a falconry.

    We walked back down to lake level, much easier than going up. I stopped at the little church to put some coins in the offering box and light a candle. Mike saw wild cherry trees and stopped to taste, but it was too early. We caught the ferry back to Bellagio and immediately headed for the waterside bar. Mike ordered spremuta, and I ordered limonata. Some tables have little bowls of snacks and olives. We did not get any. I perused the tables and noticed a pattern. Fancy alcohol drinks = snacks and olives. We filed this away for future reference.

    We strolled Bellagio some, and then sat outside the hotel to people watch. There was to be some sort of sport-related event going on in town tomorrow (a flyer touts the 100 year history of Lago di Como sports) and preparations were being made. A speaker’s podium is being erected in front of the ferry ticket office, and banners were strung across the street.

    At 8 PM, we strolled over to Ristorante Bilascus but all tables were full. So we headed over to Barchetta. The restaurant had a very nice terrace, up a flight of stairs. We got a nice table by the railing. The young couple next to us is holding hands and feeding each other. As we perused the menu, we were served a complimentary campari aperitif. We looked for a wine. Mike knew from reading his book that an Inferno is a special name for an aged Valtellina, and he spotted several. The waiter recommended a 2005 Mamete Prevostini Inferno Valtellina Superiore. The label said that it has been aged 12 months in wood and then 8 months in the bottle, which I guess is a long time for a wine that is usually drunk young.

    Barchetta has mostly fish dishes on its menu. The couple next to us had whole grilled fish, deboned at the table. However, the woman asked to have the decapitated head taken away. Mike started with a nice fresh salad that has a big piece of grilled sausage on top and an aceto balsamic vinaigrette. Unusual to see a salad as an antipasto. I have a minestrone soup – all veggies, no beans, no pasta. There is a thick slice of cheese melting on the top. Then I had the lavarello (a white fish from the lake) served with potatoes, capers and a lemon-butter sauce. It was also deboned at the table. The fish is very fresh, moist and succulent. Mike had veal with ovoli mushrooms. I had read of these special mushrooms, but their taste seemed pretty ordinary to me. However, all was in a delicious reduction, and he had a side of crispy potatoes.

    We bypassed dessert as we were stuffed. The young couple had two – one after another. They are still feeding each other. We have caffe, and at 11 PM, called it a night. Cost: 99 euros.

    We went up to the room and stood on the balcony for a few minutes. There were fireworks across the lake. To bed. Again, I woke up at 4:30 and had to close the doors. Bellagio’s birds are the loudest!

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    Hi! drbb:

    I have been waiting anxiously for the Bellagio/Lake Como portion of your report! DH & I will be there in September and I am visualizing the beautiful lake, villages & gardens as you have described with anticipation!

    Thank you!

    2010

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    2010- You will love Bellagio, and September should be a great time to visit weather-wise. Even though so many people say Bellagio is less desirable because it is crowded, I used the logic that we would be gone during the day when the crwods were there. It is much quieter at night, and there are many restaurants from which to choose.

    Thanks, sacc. Hope you got some good ideas for things to do.

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    DAY TWELVE

    Today was the day of Bellagio’s festival. There was a bustle in the air as preparations were made. After breakfast, we went to the ferry ticket office to get a ticket to ride to Villa Carlotta. We had some time so we walked back to the hotel to ask the concierge about driving back to Malpensa. He reassures us – 10:30 AM flight, need to be at airport by 8:30. So leave Bellagio by taking the 5:50 AM car ferry to Cernobbio. Much better road than the Lecco road. From Cernobbio towards Como. Big signs for the autostrada and then for Malpensa. Can’t miss it. Plenty of time.

    We got on the boat for Villa Carlotta which was one stop after Tremezzo. The Villa itself had been converted to a museum. Artwork in the downstairs rooms including statues by Canova. The upstairs rooms were gorgeous – furnished, with ceilings, walls, and floors that are architecturally intricate.

    We walked outside for several hours. The grounds were immense – a rose garden, a bamboo garden, a rhododendron garden, a fern valley with a waterfall and stream, a grove of citrus trees, beds of flowers everywhere, and the largest staghorn ferns I’ve ever seen growing in trees.

    We walked into Tremezzo to look for a lunch spot. Mike feels like “snacky food” which I think means he is getting weary of three-course meals featuring pasta. We stopped at Ristorante Azalea which has a covered patio and is very casual. We ordered pizza – quattro stagione – which was baked in a wood-fired brick oven and was surprisingly good. He also ordered insalata caprese and then asked for patate fritte (French fries) and a grande Coca-Cola. It’s snacky food but the fries are hand cut, hot and salty. I have limonata and an insalata mista. No wine. The book is not even consulted although it has come on the trip. Cost: 34 euros.

    We walked to the Tremezzo ferry stop and caught the boat to Lenno. Following the signs and the people, we then walked THE LONG WAY to Villa Balbianello. (Note to self: If I come this way again, do not let Mike talk me into walking. Take the boat!). The asphalt and then dirt pedestrian walkway goes up and up and up to the Villa through woods and then around the point. We toured the grounds only, although one can take a guided tour of the villa interior.

    The grounds were gorgeous. There was a separate loggia with fantastic views of the lake. The trees and bushes were sculpted into precise shapes that gave them an other-wordly look. There were many statues and huge urns with flowers. The buildings themselves were that yellow-mustardy color that I always think of as “Siena gold” and the green trees and red & white flowers are a stark contrast. Everything was very manicured, and the gardens were very different from Villa Carlotta or Villa Monestero.

    We took the ferry back to Bellagio and stopped at Café San Remo for an afternoon drink. I ordered the house aperitif and Mike ordered a lemon granita topped with sparkling water. We got olives this time – luscious big green meaty ones – and a snack that I’ll simply describe as “everything-pickled-on-a-plastic-stick.”

    We people-watched for an hour or so. The town was packed because of the festival. Lots of kids in their soccer uniforms as well as coaches and proud parents. We walked to Bilascus and Antico Pozzo to make reservations. As we walked, we saw a marching brass band get in formation. According to the green silk banner carried in front, they were the “Alpini” from Como. They wore matching pants and shirts and little Tyrolean-style alpine hats with feathers. They marched down the street towards the Hotel Florence, and when they got to the end they turned around and marched back for a second pass. Everyone stopped to watch and clap.

    Antico Pozzo takes no reservations, but the owners shrugs. Come back at 8, no problem. We reserved at Bilascus for the following night, our last in Bellagio. Mike headed for the hotel for a nap, but I sat on the hotel’s arcade patio, nursing a caffe macchiato and writing in my journal. At 7:45, we headed for Antico Pozzo. It was almost full with festival-goers. We selected a wine – 2004 Ca de Bosco Curtefranca Terre di Franciacorte Rossa. I started with an asparagus cream soup, and then the bucatini Antico Pozzo. The pasta had a sauce of sautéed onions, garlic, red pepper, pancetta, and red wine. Mike had tortelli with a sauce of ground veal and spinach, then a veal scallopine dish with Brianzola (a local take on gorgonzola), cream, and walnuts. We skip dessert, and order caffe. Cost: 82 euros.

    We left the restaurant which is on Salita Mella (one of Bellagio’s famous vertical streets) and walked up to the cross-street as we once again heard a brass band. The Alpini ragazzi are back, followed by a long parade of city officials, a dozen or so boys’ and girls’ soccer teams in uniform, friends of the teams, mothers and fathers. People in the windows overhead were throwing black-and-gold confetti, and everybody in the crowd waved black-and-gold flags. At the end is a Dixieland jazz band complete with banjo. Then we saw one lone soccer player running behind, gelato in hand. He must have stopped for a cone and was now trying to catch up to his team.

    The parade went as far as it could go, and then went down a street to lake level. Now they were matching in the opposite direction on Bellagio’s main street. We scampered down Salita Mella to see them again. They marched past the ferry boat office where the podium has been decorated with flowers and hanging lights. There was a microphone and the announcer shouted out the names of the teams as they went by. All the towns of Lake Como were represented. Black-and-gold balloons are released. The parade marched down the street and then turned around, back to the podium. There were several speeches by men in dark suits, wearing ribbons and medals. Lots of clapping and cheering. The last speech ended with “Mille grazie! L’anno prossimo!” ("Thanks. Next year!")

    Mike and I went up to our room, but we could hear the festivities continuing. The Dixieland band was playing. We giggled as we heard “When the Saints Go Marching In” because we are from Louisiana, and this is considered by most Louisianians to be the official state song. I swear! I cannot make this stuff up!

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    drbb -
    In the building in Bologna with the sloping walkway up to the top, is the Morandi museum. However, it was probably in a different location while you were there. Bologna and New York have put together a big exhibit of his work - it was at the Met in December, then on to Bologna where it was displayed at the Museo d'Arte Moderne di Bologna. The exhibit is the most comprehensive yet of Morandi, pulling together works from American & Italian museums and numerous private collections.

    But, the good news is they're getting his former house ready in Bologna so soon there will be yet another good reason to visit Bologna.

    Anyway - your story of the book is way too funny! It's own bag! When I was traveling in Italy in 2008 w/ my dear daughter, she had a giant basket from Kenya with her. It fit into a bright green Printemps basket and it never occured to either of us that it could stay with her other Kenya items in storage in Paris. Instead, it went everywhere! I paint and she recently asked for one of my paintings but said it needed to be small enough to fit in the basket.

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    rosetravels-

    Not that I needed an excuse to go back to Bologna : -)
    but thanks for the info on the Morandi.

    Yes, the book took on a life of its own. We are traveling to Alba in October and actually already have the 2009 version of the book for our visit there. It will also come on the trip, along with its leather bag.

    I have to admit, if you are into Italian wine and want to know more about the vintners, the winemaking processes used, the grapes, etc. the Gambero Rosso is a valuable resource. I've used it several times in my research already to make sure I had the correct addresses or to get the URLs of a particular winery.

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    DAY THIRTEEN

    Last day in Bellagio which means – shopping! We had seen a little antique store that had some old hand tools in the window. Mike went in to look but nothing really caught his fancy. We went into a shop featuring articles made of olive wood. There are bowls, spoons, cheese boards. The boards are just 1 inch thick cross sections of old olive trees that have been sanded silky smooth and oiled. They still have the bark on the sides. Mike bought a few things there for his wine buddies back home and talked his way into their workshop in the back so he could check out their tools.

    We looked in wine stores. We had bought 7 bottles so far and we thought we could pack a few more into our checked luggage. Principessa’s wine selection was good, and the owner promised free bubble wrap with each bottle purchased! We decided to come back in the afternoon when he was going to open some bottles for a tasting.

    We went back to the hotel to drop off packages. I stopped at a little grocery store and bought bags of farro and a mixed grain called “cereali di minestra” which is for soup and has farro, something like barley, canaroli rice, and few other grains I no nothing about it. (I did make a soup from this at home, with sautéed carrots, onion, celery, garlic; Italian sausage; diced San Marzano tomatoes; beef stock; and red wine. Add the grain and simmer for 40 minutes. Then add sliced escarole and simmer until it’s wilted. It was a good, hearty soup!) I bought some gifts at a little jewelry shop that featured glass beads made in Como strung on ribbons to make necklaces.

    On our way to Villa Serbelloni for lunch, we again stopped to drop off packages, and I picked up my pashmina because the day has suddenly turned cooler and grayer. The Villa Serbelloni which is a luxury hotel to the nth degree is next to the Hotel Florence. We entered the plush antique-carpeted lobby and asked directions to the terrace restaurant. We were escorted through magnificent drawing rooms, all lavishly furnished and decorated. The terrace restaurant was beautiful, enclosed in glass from floor to ceiling with a great view over the lake. The waiters were in white tuxedo jackets with bow ties. We had a menu of the day, the regular menu and a wine list. We selected a 2006 Les Cretes Petite Arvine Vigneto from the Valle d’Aosta.

    I started with a scrumptious goat cheese mousse flavored with herbs. Two oval mounds are in a gratin dish on a bed of fresh tomato coulis. The dish has been run under a broiler or salamander so that the top of the cheese is lightly browned. It is seemingly so simple, yet so delicious. Mike had a ravioli of slow roasted beef and spinach. The ravioli were in a brown butter sauce with fava beans and sautéed leeks. Also outstanding.

    Next I had spaghetti alla vongole veraci and was again in garlic and clam heaven. Mike had roasted guinea hen in a deep brown wine reduction with a side of crispy potatoes. We enjoy this delicious lunch at a leisurely pace, watching the boats on the lake. The day turns a bit sunnier, a magic button is pushed, and the glass walls of the terrace sink into the floor to let in the air.

    Mike does not see his favorite dessert on the menu, but apparently this is the kind of restaurant that brings anything to its pampered customers. A lady sitting next to us requested pasta and vegetables, no oil or sauce of any kind, diet coke. The waiter merely says Of course, madame! I’m sure the chef back in the kitchen is crying. So Mike asked hopefully – Berries perhaps? Cream? Well, certainly. A beautiful bowl of raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries is brought out with a little pitcher of cream and a bowl of sugar with a silver spoon. Caffe all around. Our last lunch in Bellagio has been a decadent, wonderful experience. Cost: I’m nor really sure as I can’t find the receipt, but I suspect that it was about 120 euros.

    As we were leaving, it suddenly started to rain, so my plans for wandering through the gardens of the Villa are literally washed out. Mike used the opportunity to plan a short afternoon nap. I gained custody of the umbrella and went out for further shopping. There are a number of very nice shops that sell silk scarves and shawls; the silk comes from Como. I went to one called Patrizia and bought a gift, and then Mike and I bought another gift at a silk store called Azalea.

    At six we went back to the wine store Principessa and tasted a few wines from Lombardia. Mike liked a sfursat and a Gaja wine blend called Dagromis. We asked many questions about the grapes and the wine making process. We looked at the book and took the recommendations of the proprietor in the end. He had a good selection, and we lusted after some pricey bottles that we would never dare to take back in a suitcase. He said it would cost at least 170 euros in shipping to send a case to the US. Again, like so many other we have met, he seems sincerely appreciative of the fact that we would like to learn more about these Italian wines. He threw in free bubble wrap, not only for the bottles we bought, but for our other 7 back in the room as well.

    We dropped off our packages (hope we can get all this in our suitcases!) and set off for Bilascus as we had a reservation at 8 PM. Like Barchetta, Bilascus has a patio on the 2nd floor. Since it had been sprinkling on and off today, the tables on the open patio were not available, but part of the patio was covered and we snagged the last table for two. Most of the day tourists were gone, and it was actually very quiet in Bellagio that night. The twilight on the terrace was very relaxing, and the birds were in full chirp mode. Flowers were in large urns on the patio. A great setting for our last meal.

    We select a wine – one from the Piemonte, which is where Mike and I have decided that we want to go on our next trip. We picked a 2006 Tenementi Ca’ Bianca Guardastelle Langhe Nebbiolo. It is young and fruity with some pepper. I started with the linguine with shrimp and lemon which tastes a lot like a dish I make at home. A good garlicky punch. Mike had his goodbye serving of prosciutto and melon. The cantaloupe comes as a half melon in a bowl of ice, and it is peeled and sliced tableside. Then I had scalloppine pizzaiola, and Mike had scalloppine con funghi porcini. Mike’s was a bit better, but both were good. Mike had his final dessert, and since no berries were available, he settled for strawberry gelato served in a meringue cup. Two espressos please. We sat until almost 11, enjoying the evening. Cost: 91 euros.

    As we went back to the hotel, Mike insisted that we have one more confirmation from the desk clerk on the correct morning route to Malpensa. He always gets a little antsy about flight arrangements. The clerk assured us that our directions were good – the best route. No, we cannot miss it. Everything is clearly marked. If we do make a mistake, we will know it because we will be in Switzerland. OK. That seems pretty clear to me!

    We did some packing, making sure we had room for our bottles and gifts. We packed everything carefully. The suitcases were heavy. We left a wake up call. I opened the doors knowing that I would be up before the birds started chirping. I could hear the water lapping against the shore.

    Impressions of Bellagio and Lake Como:
    -Gorgeous scenery, gardens, lake views, mountain views
    -Great food, but I should have eaten more lake fish
    -Always keep a ferry schedule with you
    -Check you camera battery or bring an extra. It is inevitable that your battery will go dead when you are at Villa Balbianello
    -If a brass band and a parade come down the street, clap and throw confetti
    -Bellagio has undeniably the world’s noisiest birds

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    Hope the information is useful to you.

    The book is a copy of the 2008 Gambero Rosso guide to Italian wines, bought at Hoepli bookstore in Milan. See Day Three--

    "We stopped at the Hoepli bookstore near our hotel. I wanted to find some good cookbooks in Italian. Mike found and bought the 2008 edition of the Slow Food Gambero Rosso guide to Italian wines. (Little did I know then, but this book will practically become a third member of our travel party. It will get its own bag, go with us everywhere, often get its own chair at a restaurant, and be the topic of many a conversation.)"

    For anyone interested, the 2009 version is now available and it can be purchased at amazon.com.

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    Bravo brbb...thank you for writing such a wonderful (and food-centric!) report...love it! :)

    I was just talking with my mom (aka...my travel "partner in crime") and told her about your report and how I'd like to do a similar trip next year. She was all for it! :)

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    drbb-Thanks for the Bologna advice. I just got back into L.A. today, from out of state, so haven't been near a computer. I'm glad you're still posting your trip report and I plan to read every bit of it as soon as I have time! Happy Travels!

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    LowCountry- thanks so much. It was a good trip from the perspective of visiting places that were very different - big city, smaller town, lakeside - with different traditions in cuisine and wine and varied activities. Plus the driving was easy and relatively short. Go for it!

    Fifi - so sorry this was too late for you to use! But hope you can go back. Have you been to Bologna and Lake Como? Easily could do two weeks in just those places.

    Guenmai - Enjoy and I hope you find something useful. Still have the last day of trip report to post and I hope to do that later today.

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    This is the last installment ---

    DAY FOURTEEN - BACK HOME

    Up at 4 AM. Dressed, finished packing. We were worried – the suitcases were very heavy. I thought that we had an extra baggage allowance for Business Class, but….

    Down to the lobby which is dark. We had actually checked out and paid the night before. Mike went to get the car while I waited with the luggage. Then off to the car ferry at 5:00. We were first in line of course. The ferry will not arrive for another 50 minutes. The ticket office didn’t even open until 5:45. But Mike was determined to be first in line – he’s antsy again about missing the flight. He always drives me crazy right before a flight.

    It was completely dark at 5:00 but we got a bonus for being early – we got to watch the sun rise over the lake. Pinky-orange, then yellow clouds pushed away the dark indigo of the sky. We watched the ducks. Ticker office opened promptly at 5:45. There were now three cars in line, and we set off at 5:50 on the dot. The trip across the lake only took 10 minutes. We exited the ferry and followed the signs along the lake road towards Como. We then saw signs for the autostrada and Malpensa. It was easy to follow. Although I would have liked to go to Switzerland….

    We arrived at the airport, and found the Hertz rental lot. Uh oh, we forgot to fill the tank. With the tank almost empty Mike calculated that it would cost him almost as much to fill it up as to pay the gas service charge. So we dropped off the keys and hauled our luggage into the terminal.

    We found the Delta counter all the way at the end. Our two check-in bags are weighed – 67 kgs. altogether. We must have been OK although the clerk put “Heavy Bag” tags on each. I pictured baggage handlers with hernias. We got boarding passes and we made our way to the “Sala Pergolesi” which apparently is Italian for “Delta Crown Room.” We got cappuccino and sat for while. Then we went in search of food. Oh boy.. pizza! Our plane started boarding at 10 AM. We took off at 10:30. We have lunch, we nap, we read, I wrote in my journal. I filled out the customs form. I listed gifts/souvenirs. I listed wine separately. I had all my receipts and put the total value on the form. A few hundred euros for gifts/souvenirs. 400 euros for wine. (This turned out to be a mistake.) We are still under our total duty-free allowance, so I thought no more of it.

    We arrived in Atlanta and got in line for Customs. The line was very long. We got to the desk with passports in hand. The clerk looked at our form. 400 euros for wine!!! How many bottles did we have for goodness sake??? We mumbled and looked at the floor – well, we forget, four in this suitcase, maybe three or four more…we’re not sure.

    We were escorted to a holding area for questioning. In this area were others being held. Some look like drug dealers and some like unscrupulous importers of meats and agricultural products maybe. There is a Nigerian man with three wives, all decked out in colorful wild print robes and headdresses. They have about twenty suitcases, some tied with string. I was sure there was a live chicken in there somewhere. I’m picturing being thrown in Customs jail. Mike fretted that we’d miss our connecting flight.

    A Customs agent came over to us. How many bottles? Do you have receipts? What is the total value? She does some figuring and then throws up her hands. “Oh, go on. Welcome to the US.” We looked at her in amazement. She repeated herself slowly like she is addressing idiots, “Welcome to the US.” We hightailed it out of there in a flash. What we figured out later was that at 3% duty minus the two most expensive bottles we were allowed duty free, we probably would have had to pay maybe $15 in extra duty. Not enough to be worth her filling out the paperwork apparently.

    We re-checked our luggage and went to the gate for our connection to Baton Rouge. Rest of the trip was uneventful, arriving back home at 7 PM. Of course it’s 2 AM Italy time so we’ve been up almost 24 hours and are exhausted. No breakage of wine bottles though!


    ******************************
    In summary, what a great trip! I liked the combo of Milan, Bologna, and Bellagio because I felt that we got to experience three very different parts of Italy, all unique, wonderful cuisine, and great wines. We had no problems (well, other than Customs), stayed in great hotels, and enjoyed all of the sites. As usual though, we only scratched the surface and I think that the Bologna area and Lake Como would definitely merit a return trip.

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