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Drive Fast, Eat Slow: Our Whirlwind Tour of Italy

Drive Fast, Eat Slow: Our Whirlwind Tour of Italy

Jul 7th, 2004, 12:13 PM
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Drive Fast, Eat Slow: Our Whirlwind Tour of Italy

E and I have returned from Italy. This is going to be long, so you might want to skip it if you bore easily.

General info:
4 cities, 8 days - There are those on this forum who will tell you that this is way too much, and they are probably right. However, it worked for us. E and I fully realized that we would not be able to do and see everything if we spent only two days in each city. But at this stage in my career, I cannot take more than 8 days off at a time, and I wanted to get a good overview. We're young and we don't need a lot of sleep. Next time I'll go back and spend more time in places. Pack light and keep a sense of humor and it can be a great experience. Oh, and I would only recommend this if you were planning on driving through Italy. I wouldn't want to waste time waiting around for scheduled trains.

Packing for Italy (for those who hate these discussions, please skip this part) - I don't wear shorts in NY, I wasn't going to wear them in Italy. I didn't take jeans bc they take up too much room, though many young women were wearing them with colored, Puma-styled sneakers. My one recommendation has to do with shoes - Italy is very different than Manhattan - the roads are cobblestone and there aren't taxis on every corner. I brought two pairs of stilettos and wore each exactly once. Italian women seem to have a fabulous collection of stylish evening flats.

Eating in Italy - my main problem with Italy is that there simply isn't enough time to eat everything you want. I mean, if you eat two amazing 3 course meals a day, then when do you have time (and stomach room) to eat copious amounts of gelato, focaccia, and cheese??? No, you don't have to order every course at lunch, and if you want to ever fit in your wardrobe again, you probably shouldn't. The waiters won't curse you, at least not to your face. I highly recommend lengthy 3 course dinners though. And wine with every meal. With at least one bottle of acqua frizzante. (Don't underestimate the power of drinking water. Between standing out in the sun all day and the increased wine consumption, you really need it.)

Driving in Italy - E's one request this trip was to visit Maranello and the Ferrari museum. (Lest you think him a total airhead, he has lived in Italy before, and has seen most of the major cultural sites.) So there was no way we were taking the train. Driving in Italy is an experience. Italians are excellent drivers - they pick a course of action and commit to it. And they have the most sensible practice of flashing their blinkers every time they must slow suddenly. But the autostradas are VERY fast. The local roads are VERY narrow and winding. E had the time of his life. If driving 110 mph while being passed by a German automobile is going to bother you, you probably should take the train.

Stay tuned for details on Bologna, Maranello, Florence, Monterosso, and Milan...
KikiLee is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 01:27 PM
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Welcome back...glad you had a great time. I agree with the eating and driving in Italy. I love to drive there, not on the autostrada, but on the secondary roads. What a pleasure without all the traffic (until you get to a popular town).
adrienne is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 01:55 PM
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The autostradas are exhilerating aren't they? I would like to visit the Ferrari museum some time too, how did you like it?
SeaUrchin is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 02:08 PM
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Zoom Zoom......fantastic drivers and roads in Italy. Loved your brief report. Hope there is more coming. I always do the BIG cars in Italy so I can blast along. Screeching brakes to wave at the girls in the Turn-offs! I have to agree with you on the food. I think we should start at noon and continue to the morning...dessert the next day.
johnthedorf is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 02:20 PM
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I like your report so far. You're right, it is way too much, but if you're up for it and know what you're getting into, it can certainly be done and be quite fun. The first time I went to Italy we did 9 cities in 18 days. All on the train. Our motto was "Sleep when you're dead." That trip was pretty strenuous, but certainly enjoyed.

Looking forward to the rest of your report....
offwego is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 02:57 PM
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Love your title & the report so far. This trip is right up my DH's alley. We'd love to see the Ferarri museum too! Fantastic! Can't wait for the next installment! Trish
tpatricco is offline  
Jul 7th, 2004, 03:25 PM
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Hi kiki,

>...there simply isn't enough time to eat everything you want.<

T'is true, t'is true, t'is pity and pity t'is, t'is true.

You just can't make up for a lifetime of deprivation in a week in Italy...... or France......or Spain......or Greece..
ira is online now  
Jul 8th, 2004, 08:14 AM
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I have decided that the Italian government should invent a drug that will allow tourists to digest faster and thus eat more.

Wednesday:

Arrived in LIN after taking Virgin Atlantic from JFK, with a 1.5 hour stop in LHR. (Two Dramamine and a glass of wine and I was out for most of the flight.) Bad weather in London (is there good weather in London?) delayed the first flight's landing. As I had to switch terminals I would have missed my second flight had it left on time. Luckily for me it didn't. Got the feeling that this was par for course at LHR.

Found E in LIN with no problem. (E had been in France working at the 24 hour LeMans - I wasn't kidding about this car thing. He stopped to visit some friends in Amsterdam and then it was off to Italy to meet me.) Air France had lost E's luggage. Not good. We stopped by the AF counter and gave them our 4 addresses for the 8 days, knowing full well that if his luggage were ever found it would certainly never find us.

Off to Europcar to pick up the rental. (Booked through autoeurope.com.) We thought we had a free upgrade to an Alpha 147, which had excited E tremendously. Apparently, we had a free upgrade to a 147 or other car in its class. They were out of 147s. This was not shaping up to be E's day.

Into the car and onto A1. Made it to Bologna without issue, had a bit of a trouble finding the hotel, but a nice man in a salumeri explained (in classical Italian way, complete with exaggerated hand gestures - I think he would have carried us there if he could) and we finally found Hotel Guercino (84 euros a night, with another 11 for parking). We were pleasantly surprised by the hotel. It looks like the website, only nicer. It opens onto an adorable courtyard straight out of an old Italian movie, complete with climbing vines, hanging laundry, blooming flowers and children's voices floating away through open windows as they chattered away during their evening baths. I almost expected someone to appear on a balcony and start singing. Our room was quite large, and after a quick change we were off to explore Bologna.

Guercino is on the north side of the city, but it was only a 10-15 min walk to the university and shopping area. Tons of people milling about. With my blond, preppy look I don't blend with alternative college kids in the States, and I CERTAINLY didn't blend with the euro alt university students, but oh well. Had dinner at a place on Via Zamboni and tasted pasta with Bolognese sauce. Food was good but quite heavy. Finished the meal with a good moscato and a delicious liquor that tasted like honey but wasn't cloyingly sweet, whose name we promptly forgot. (Anyone have ideas?) Full and exhausted, it was off to bed.

Coming Thursday - Ferraris and my unsuccessful quest for aceto basalmico.
KikiLee is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 10:46 AM
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Thursday:

Slept late, and when we woke up E's bag was still MIA. So off to buy some underwear. E made the mistake of asking me what color he should get, which resulted in a torrent of scandalized Italian from the proprietor of the shop. Apparently, in Italy you do not discuss the color of your undergarments with a lady. E and the man spent the next 45 mins discussing the relative merits of various styles and fabrics (we were much amused by mee-cro-fee-bray) until finally he made his purchases and we were off.

The drive to Maranello was less than pleasant - we got stuck in traffic of A1 forever, and then got quite lost (well, not lost exactly, we made it but I am not certain we took the most direct route). Pulled into Maranello and heard the sounds of cars roaring by as it was apparently a testing day. The track is obviously shielded from the view of visitors, but if you walk around a bit you can get glimpses through the fence. The sound alone is quite impressive. We were going to have lunch at Il Cavalino, but it was closed so it was off to the museum. It is quite small but well designed. E was fascinated, and I finally realized why they call a V8 a "V." (I know, I know, you would think that after 5 years with E some of this would start to sink in, but nope.) All in all, we were happy we went, and I would definitely recommend a trip to serious car enthusiasts, though not to the average traveler. (And the museum's relative small size makes it bearable for the TCs of car enthusiasts!)

Off to Modena where I wanted to get some of the famous aceto balsalmico. Unfortunately, we got there during the afternoon when all of the shops were closed. I was very disappointed, but a gelato helped me get over it. (I fell in love with baci - chocolate and hazelnut, why can?t we make it correctly in the States???) Strolled through Modena, which seemed very nice, I'll have to get back there in the future. (In fact, I would love to spend an entire week in Bologna, just exploring the region.)

Back to Bologna and into town to get E some shirts, as luggage had yet to appear and he was starting to smell. Had dinner at the restaurant in our hotel - Ristorante San Luigi, which was wonderful. Décor straight out of a West Elm catalogue, and excellent food. Started with Parmesan with Modena vinegar, and it was so delicious I nearly became distraught over our failure to find it. Luckily, another course came and I was distracted. We had a bottle of Lambrusco - a sparkling red - with our meal. I tend to think any sparkling wine is fun and enjoyed it. E rates "fun" somewhat behind "complex," "balanced" or "has interesting flavors" in the qualities he desires in a wine, and was not as impressed. We stayed late as E chatted with our waitress (who had come to Italy from Poland four years ago) and I tried to follow. Interestingly, the more limoncello I drank, the easier it became...

Coming Friday - Why I want a villa...
KikiLee is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 11:22 AM
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I'm excited. You write with style.
More more...
SuzieC is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 01:45 PM
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Thanks for the kind words. I know this report is getting ridiculously long, but I am so enjoying writing it.

Friday:

A few years ago, E's parents' friends bought a villa in Compiobbi, 20 minutes outside of Florence. P was in Italy and heard we would be in town, so invited us over for lunch. The drive was great - fast autrostadas and then narrow, winding roads filled with blind turns and 170 degree curves over 100 feet drops. The villa was appropriately gorgeous. The view was breathtaking. Italy really looks like you want it to.

P took us to lunch at some little hotel on the edge of the cliff. I do wish I knew where it was, as the food was superb and the views incredible. They weren't actually open when we arrived (I think they served us as a favor to P) so we were the only people there, enjoying eating outside in the honeysuckle-scented air. (Yes, I know that it is a ridiculously romantic description, but Italy is a ridiculously romantic place.)

Pigeons in NY = flying rats. Pigeons in Italy = a fantastic lunch! So yummy on pasta. Followed by steak Florentine, which was also great, though I do think I will stick with Peter Luger's. Overall, a great lunch with great company. P was leaving that afternoon to go to Warsaw, so he invited us to stay in the villa while he was gone.

Now, here is a very important lesson: when someone invites you to stay for free at their amazing villa, in a beautiful setting, and says "eat everything in the refrigerator because it will go bad anyway, oh, and feel free to help yourself in the wine cellar," you must, absolutely, without question, say NO!!! Make up some polite excuse - you cannot get out of your hotel reservation, you want to be closer to the city, whatever... Because if you don't, upon your return home you will spend all of your time trying to figure out how you, too, can get a villa. (Preferably soon, and without any boring "scrimping and saving.")

Back to the villa to lounge, admire the vineyards, listen to the pheasants, and generally pretend we owned the place. Quick dinner at a local pizzeria, then off to Florence. Wandered the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi. Had a drink at Gubellie Rossa so E could relive his semester abroad. (Service was astoundingly bad.) More gelato - baci for me and strawberry for E (for some reason he hasn't yet figured out that a dessert is only truly a dessert if it contains chocolate).

I know there are many who disagree, but I didn't love Florence. It is beautiful, yes, and I realize that it is historically and culturally significant. But it just kinda felt like Soho. We wandered the city, E showed me where we used to live, and then it was back to the car along the crazy roads (which were actually safer at night as you could see approaching cars' headlights around blind turns) and to bed.

Next installment: Garga, oh, Garga...
KikiLee is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 02:07 PM
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Hi KikiLee,

Great report with outstanding observations and insightful descriptions.

Could you elaborate on the comparison of SoHo to Florence?

Thank you,

==Mike
mendota98 is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 04:47 PM
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Very witty report, I love the driving comments. I used to to time trials, and driving in Italy is a kind of parallel thrill, IMO.
But I, too, am a little confused, and don't understand the comparison of Florence to Soho either. Soho-once a deserted manufacturing district, transformed into lofts and working spaces by artists, and galleries, then gentrified by movie stars and yuppies, now outrageously pricey and swarming with tourists. My brother still lives there, though, in spite of every thing, it's just a neighborhood.
The only parallel with Florence seems to be tourists, is that what you mean?? A nice report though!!.
sognatrice is offline  
Jul 8th, 2004, 05:04 PM
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KikiLee----I'm loving your report. ContinueContinue!! I also did not LOVE Florence. I loved Italy, but Florence was not my favorite-----I decided I needed to maybe become a bit more educated in the areas of art and sculpture. Altho David was quite beautiful-----as well as the other Florentine men I bumped into......
Colette is offline  
Jul 9th, 2004, 05:30 AM
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Re: Florence and Soho - I'm not sure I can explain it completely, and I certainly don't expect others to agree with me. It's just that walking down the streets of Florence on a Friday night - with its swarms of tourists, overpriced boutiques, and street performers - seemed much like walking through Soho. I know this is an exaggeration - I fully realize that I am a tourist and was walking through tourists spots and that Florence has a vibrant local culture that I didn't begin to see. (And I do hate those who judge my home city solely by their walk through Times Square.) And I realize that Florence has a cultural and artistic history (and just history in general) that Soho does not begin to match. It's purely an emotional judgment, but for me, while I thought Florence was beautiful and think that no first trip to Italy is complete without seeing it if only for its significance in the history of Italy and Western culture, future trips to Italy will likely explore other cities instead. (Limited time and money, SO many places I want to see...)

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention in yesterday's report (I know, I know, this report is so long it is hard to believe that there is ANYTHING I forgot to mention) - when we walked downstairs to check out of the Guercino in Bologna, E's bag had arrived! Hurrah Air France! So E looked dapper and (even more) handsome for the rest of the trip. (Though I think he was secretly hoping to have an excuse to do more shopping.)

KikiLee is offline  
Jul 9th, 2004, 07:03 AM
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Enjoying your report Kiki. Looking forward to the next installment.
Statia is offline  
Jul 10th, 2004, 03:43 PM
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Kiki- really enjoying your report. No need to apologize for length or detail. we're traveling vicariously through you. Also, I didn't get to drive in Italy. I did not care for Florence either. I tried, but preferred other cities. Look forward to hearing more.
ninasdream is offline  
Jul 10th, 2004, 04:11 PM
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KikiLee -- such a delightful report. I so enjoy revisiting Italy through a first timer's eyes. Thanks for posting.
Treesa is offline  
Jul 10th, 2004, 04:35 PM
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I love your style. Next time I may want to tag along with you, but I do need my sleep.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jul 10th, 2004, 04:38 PM
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Thanks for explaining about the Florence/Soho comparison, now I get it, it must have been a passing street moment.
When I go down to Broome Street tomorrow, I'll pretend I'm on the Ponte Vecchio! (smile) Your report is alot of fun,and very funny,hope you keep writing!
sognatrice is offline  

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