Calamari's Italy Report

Jun 19th, 2004, 08:25 PM
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Calamari's Italy Report

Since you are all such experienced travellers I will gloss over the usual tourist stuff and focus more on what I think you might find intresting.

Swiss Air flight in econ was great! Plane was very clean and quiet. Good movie and music selections. Food was some of the worst I have ever had on flight. Service was excellent, staff very attentive and courteous. The seats! Ouch, now that was a tight squeeze. I would fly Swiss again but only after I take off some kilos. Most of the people I could see looked like they were in as much pain as I was.

My brother-in-law ended up picking us up in Rome the night of arrival so I did not get to stay at Del Senato. We went straight to Florence. It took three hours in the rain on a two laned autostrada. Big mistake.

We stayed home in Florence for the first week. I am happy to report that the weather was cool, light showers, one storm and often sunny. We did the usual strolls through Florence, said hello to friends who work in the center - Ponte Vecchio and Mrkto San Lorenzo Market etc. They all complained bitterly at the rising cost of daily life and politics. Evenings were spent at home or at friends homes grilling Florentine steaks, enjoying lots of red wine and grappa and savoring the home grown fresh vegetabels. I fought and lost a few battles with the washing machine and the hot water heater. Ended up cancelling Auto Europe rental car since my MIL insisted that we make use of her car. Of course we got rear ended while stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the street. Fortunately, we all had our seat belts on and nobody was seriously injured. My back was out for a couple of days but that is only because of a pre exisiting injury. It was almost worth it to see my DH back in action Italian style screaming at the teenagers who hit us in the middle of the street. Love the pharmasist who gave me perscription pain killers without a perscription because he is a friend of my aunt.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 08:46 PM
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Day trips to Greve in Chianti were magical. We visited our friend Dario at his butcher shop called Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano. This is a must do! He has a small butcher shop and it is just lovely. He serves complimentary samples of his meat loaf and sausages cooked with his own blend of spices and sauce. He also offers great local red wine by the glass to all who enter his shop. He literally "holds court". The shop is always packed with locals purchasing some of the most beautiful meat you will ever see. It is fastinating to watch him in action. He has more charisma than anyone I can think of on American t.v. Apparently, he sometimes does a cooking show on Italian t.v. and is a true celebrity. Elton John paid EURO 10,000 for some steaks during the Mad Cow saga. We stocked up on his "Profumo Del Chianti" spice/salt mix as well as his sweet pureed red pepper sauce. We went back two days in a row just to watch him and to watch how people respond to him. Only in Italy could a butcher be a star. Dario sent us to an amazing restaurant in Panzano called Oltra Giardino. We dined on their beautiful terrace. The kids had the ribolita vegetable soup and homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. DH and I had antipato della casa, pasta with ragu of wild boar and bistecca Fiorentina of course from Cecchini's butcher shop, fried aritchokes and zuccini blossoms and a bottle of Brunello. Lunch took almost three hours. I forgot to mention the house specialty, chocolate cake...DEVINE!
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Jun 19th, 2004, 08:54 PM
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Our second day in Panzano we walked around the open air market which takes place every FIRST SUNDAY each month. The stalls wind throughout the small town. For lunch we enjoyed "mixed grill" infront of a rival butcher shop. They set up a grill in a tiny piazza and serve their meats. The spiedini (sort of like shish kabob) were of veal and meat and I could crawl there right now for some more. A heaping portion of grilled meat was EURO 6.00, local wine by the cup was Euro 1.00 and large bottles of COLD water were Euro 2.00. We stumbled upon this set up on our way to another restaurant and could not resist the smell of the food on the grill. This was the cheapest and one of the best meals we had on our trip. There are a few pine picnic table set up in the piazza but no shade. So what! We loved it.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 09:17 PM
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During our second week we had to go to Collodi and Viareggio to visit family. We dragged the kids through the Collodi garden in the rain and then stopped into a local restaurant called Gambero Rosso. I only mention it here as a warning to all. This was disgusting. I kid you not when I tell you that I orderd a carpaccio with rucola and they brought me a raw steak. DH and I stared at it waiting for it to move. Everyone's food was terrible and there is virtually no service at all. It used to be one of the best restaurants for miles so legend has it...

Moving right along, we went to visit my dear Scottish friend in Chiavari(Liguria) again this year. We stayed for a couple of days and had some great meals. We went up to Portofino and ate at Ristorante da o Batti. The phone number is 0185-269370. They do not have a written menu and I have no idea what the prices are since my friend always pays the check when we go there, but the food is spectacular. We always sit on their tiny patio. They only serve a set antipasto which includes baby clams in white wine, garlic and parsley, marinated salmon, anchovy fillets and some crostini. For the entree they serve a nice platter of local scampi done in a light wine, lemon and butter sauce. The flavor is so unique to the region. If we could bottle it we would be billionaires.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 09:47 PM
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Well, since I cannot fall asleep I will continue with some more of my report. Hopefully, I have not put all of Fodors to sleep.

DH tells me that I must add another restaurant which we found by accident on our way home from Viareggio. We asked the toll booth man to recommend a place to eat and as it turns out we ended up at a well known trattoria in Lastra A Signa. We had never been there before and were surprised to see three tables of Americans in one place especially a restaurant so out of the way. The restaurant is called Antica Trattoria Sanesi on Via Arione, 33 in Signa. The phone number is (055) 8720234. They are one of the few remaining true old style trattorias. The kids had crostini and pasta ragu. We had Pasta with black truffles, pasta with wild rabbit, Lombata de Vitello (veal chop) and roast beef. Our side dishes were fried potatoes and zuccini blossoms. Our biggest mistake was not ordering the steak. The Florentine steaks coming out of the kitchen looked wonderful each topped with a big porcino mushroom cap. House wine was good, not great and the complementary grappa was very appreciated.

We had planned on going to Venice and staying one night. Once our Italian friends heard of our plans they all decided to come with us. We ended up taking 6 Florentines to Venice with us for their FIRST vistit to Venice!!! We went up on the Euro Star in the a.m. walked around all day, had lunch at Ristorante Madonna - fillet of anchovey antipasto and squid in ink. Everyone had the seafood risotto which is excellent here and the fried fish misto which was not as good as in the past. More walking and site seeing. Stopped into Harry's Bar for the usual pilgramage and at the Danieli. All of us sat down at a bar in Pza. S. Marco knowing full well that we would pay high euro for two tonic waters, three glasses of water, two coffees, one beer...Euro $74.00. This includes a Euro $3.00 charge per person for the music. Too bad my kids were busy feeding the pigeons. It was a nice ending to a beautiful day. Took the Euro Star back to Florence that same night.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:19 PM
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Welcome home Calamari. I'm enjoying hearing about your trip. So sorry to hear about the lost luggage and aggravation.

Would you please send me your email again at [email protected].
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:27 PM
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Welcome home, Calamari! You are a role model to write your trip report so promptly, and to have kept track of all the details such as the phone numbers of restaurants.

I'm so sorry you had a problem with your luggage. Has the missing bag shown up? (I guess I should read the other thread...)
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:38 PM
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We took the Euro Star to Rome which was a short trip. Got to Rome went straight to Hotel Abruzzi in Pza. Della Rotunda - across from the Panteon. I strongly recommended this hotel last year after our stay there. This year we were less impressed. We were given the "apartment" on the 5th floor which consisted of two bedrooms and the WORLDS SMALLEST BATHROOM for Euro $290 per night for two adults two children. One bedroom had three single beds CRAMED in it, small desk and with frigo bar that was not cold. Nice view of the Panteon however. The second bedroom was tiny with room for one single bed, same small desk with t.v. and again a frigo bar that was not cold or even cool. The view was of roof tops, antennas and dirty windows. The shower was so small that we had to open the shower door in order to bend down to pick up the shampoo and soap. Lots of large fluffy white towels though. I like this hotel because the linens are always stark white and fresh and the mattresses are very firm, yet almost comfortable...hard to find in Italy at least that has been my experience. We really like Sr. Antonio the director. He greets us like family and somehow he always makes me feel like I am getting a "good deal". Anyway, I like him, I feel safe in the hotel (not the elevator) and it is clean enough for my standards. I did visit Albergo Del Senato next door for the first time. Wow. If that is what you are used to then do not stay at the Abruzzi. For Euro $65 more per night you get a bit more. We would have stayed there but they were booked for our dates for this portion of our trip. I am sort of done with Rome for awhile but I will try to book Del Senato next trip.
Gotta run...more about Rome later.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:43 PM
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Marilyn. Thanks for the compliment however I must confess that I am writting this report by memory and am surrounded by my receipts and bills to prompt me along. Everytime I had a good experience I tried to make a mental note to share it with fellow fodorites. Even DH would say, "Don forgetta to putta dis on yoora shat rim". He would kill me if he saw that.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:45 PM
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mclaurie - I just tried to send you my address but it was returned as an error. What's up? I will try again tomorrow.
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:48 PM
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Oh my, Calamari, so that's what this is -- a "shat rim."
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Jun 19th, 2004, 11:56 PM
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Yes, Marilyn. Never a dull moment around here. I have masterd laughing with a completly straight face. I think I may know how Lucy felt about Ricky.
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Jun 20th, 2004, 12:23 AM
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It took me a while to figure out "shat rim" but I got it and it made me smile at this ungodly hour Your shat rim friend notta know why the email she don't work. [email protected]
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Jun 20th, 2004, 07:09 AM
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ira
 
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Hi Calamari,

Thanks for a lovely report.

Hope your back is all healed.

Thisa notta shat rim, thisa four oom.
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Jun 20th, 2004, 08:20 AM
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Hi Calamari, like Ira, hope your back is ok now and great report, you made me hungry. Taking the husband out to a new oyster bar to celebrate Father's Day.
He's a good dad to our dog, Misha.
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Jun 20th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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Okay, I was having trouble with the "shat rim", too. Perhaps you can imagine the obscene scene going thru my head? I will translate for a few others: chat room!!

Nice report, Calamari! I am sure I read about your Florentine butcher in Time Out's Florence & Tuscany guide. I've wanted to check him out whenever I FINALLY get to Florence but will be sure to do so now. I suppose he is a required Florentine site now???

So sorry about your accident & your bad back. Did the rear-ending turn out okay? I mean, did the guilty party repair the damages and were your in-laws ok with the accident? I would've loved to have seen your DH in Italian action!

And thanks for the restaurant recs!!
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Jun 20th, 2004, 08:40 AM
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Ira!
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Jun 20th, 2004, 09:13 AM
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We stumbled on to Panzano one year on the drive from Rome to Florence. Beautiful little village on a hill overlooking vinyards. We lucked out as the only hotel in town had a room available . . upstairs with a balcony overlooking the vinyards below. It was run by an Austrian and his German wife.

They reccomended Oltra Giardino for dinner and it was wonderfull . . but a tad difficult to find ( well . . after a bottle or so of the local wine . .

We apparetnly walked by the front of it on the way up the hill to see the church, and ended up finding it from below the terrace . . a nice little adventure within an adventure.

We missed the butcher . . what a shame!

Sounds like a good trip . .

Rich
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Jun 20th, 2004, 09:43 AM
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Yes, the back is fine. Just spoke to MIL and she said the insurance adjuster had just been out to check out the damage to her car. Guilty party has admitted fault - no problems there. Adjuster said I should have gone to the ER for a check up and to file an injury report. Could have paid for half the trip. I am just so greatful NOBODY was seriousely injured and frankly grinned and bared the discomfort as sitting around all day in the ER is a good way to ruin a trip. I also did not have any of my Italian documents or Italian health card with me. The teenagers were busy "shatting" on their cell phones and never even hit the brakes. It was quite a jolt but I have learned that there is little doctors can do in these situations other than to pump one up with drugs and recommend surgery.

Rome - the food and sites. Our first night in Rome we went to Trastevere for a passagata and the worst meal we have ever had in Rome. Entirely our own fault I might add. I overheard a tourist talking about a the Trattoria Otello in Trastevere and since we found it right away we stopped in. We sat outside where a bus promptly ran over my handbag...not usually a good sign of things to come. We orderd some very forgettable and soggy food. My entree was chicken marsala soaked in a bath of yellow oil. Eggplant parmesiano was burnt to a crisp, pasta al pomodoro was brown and the salad was wet and slushy. The wine was like vinegar but the table water was Panna and chilled. Euro $45.00 The next day we went to the Vatacan Museum & Sistine Chapel early. Very long line but it moved rapidly and we were in the shade. It is almost a blessing that we missed this last year during the heat wave. None of us would have ever made it up all of those stairs. Somehow I do not recall all of the climbing perhaps because I was once young and very fit. THis is would not be an easy task for an elderly or weak person. Last time I saw the Sistine Chapel, the resoration was just underway. I was overcome by it's beauty. We all sat along the bench and marvelled at it for about an hour. The museum and chapel were packed with people and I have to say that I saw only a handful of Yanks. We enjoyed a very late lunch in Campo de Fiori at La Carbonara. My La Carbonara tip is this. Skip the Carbonara entirely. It was one of the worst we had ever had. What is fantastic there is the fresh antipasto self serve buffet. We could have all just eaten that and would have been more than content. Artichokes alla Romana, three types of marinated olives, roasted potatoes, veal meatballs in a creamy sauce, asparagus salad, white bean and tripe salad, sardines and herring, smoked salmon and capers and much, much more all for Euro $8.00 per person. The rest of the meal was good, not spectacular. Total bill was Euro $85.00 a bit high for a lunch and no vine. The service was good. Later on we walked to the Spanish steps did some shopping on the Via Venetto and toured the city. We stopped into a great restaurant near the Italian Parliment. DH thinks it was called Ristorante Gino, but I don't think so. I will hunt down the resceipt if anyone wants to know. It was on Via Parlimento down a tiny alley near a sad looking Pizzeria. It was a great find. Small and packed with Italians. The walls were hand painted with scenes of a gazebo, flying birds, grape vines and old Roman sayings. Excellent menu and reasonably priced. Very traditional Roman fare. They only accept cash and they tried to get away with giving us an "unofficial" receipt without a fiscal number on it. DH caught that and they reluctanly gave us a real receipt. I orderd the involtini de vitello and it was the best stuffed rolled veal fillet I have ever had in a light white wine sauce. Too much red vine and that is all I can remember. We spent the rest of the evening in Pza della Rotunda people watching and enjoying some drinks. The kids ran around the fountain and fed the birds. Pza. della Rotunda is great for people watching. Next day we went to the Villa Borghese to catch the Caravaggio exibit. We toured the gardens, marvelled at the new Lamborghini recently presented to the Italian Police as a gift from the car manuf. Lost of fan fare over this beautiful car, but all the fuss was a bit silly. We were thrilled with the masterpieces and scultures at the villa. The Caravaggio exhibit was very minor as it was of his last works, but definately worth it. A few years ago I saw a Caravaggio exhibit in Florence that knocked my socks off literally. Another beautiful day well spent.
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Jun 20th, 2004, 10:11 AM
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Welcome home, Calamari. Great report. Hope your back is OK now. How were your sandals?
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