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Vendors in Venice, Valpolicella in Verona, and a Clandenstine MaiTai sighting. What else could you want in a trip report?

Vendors in Venice, Valpolicella in Verona, and a Clandenstine MaiTai sighting. What else could you want in a trip report?

May 22nd, 2004, 07:41 PM
  #1  
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Vendors in Venice, Valpolicella in Verona, and a Clandenstine MaiTai sighting. What else could you want in a trip report?

My DH and I spent 10 wonderful days in Northern Italy to celebrate our 10 year anniversary in May. So much of our trip was shaped by information we?d gotten from this website, so thank you all! Hopefully I can pay it forward.

We spent our first 8 nights in Verona, making several daytrips from there. We saw Mantova, Lake Garda (Malcesine and Riva), Milan, Vicenza, and Trento. Our last two nights were spent in Venice.

Since many of you are probably curious about the MaiTai reference, I?ll get that out of the way. Our first night in Italy, we were strolling around the Piazza Bra area of Verona. Along one of the back streets we came across some graffiti (unusual, I know). Plain as day, it said ?MAITAI CLANDENSTINE.? Of course I thought of our friend MaiTaiTom and laughed out loud. Planning to go to Verona on your next trip, Tom? I think they?re ready for you!

Okay, so here it is, city by city:

VERONA:
I absolutely fell in love with Verona. It is so colorful and well maintained?a very cheery city. The people are sophisticated, polite, and very proud to be Veronese. It is the perfect city for what we wanted in a vacation base: a good train hub (we didn?t want to mess with a car), a safe, pretty city with enough attractions to keep us interested but not packed with tourists. Because of the opera festival it hosts in the summertime, Verona has the infrastructure for tourists, but being there in their off-season, we felt like the only Americans there. At first we felt a little self-conscious as our attempts at the Italian language are laughable, but we never had any major problems communicating. After a day or two, we felt privileged to be one of the few tourists, like we were in on a secret that no one else knows about. We spent a lot of time sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants at Piazza Bra, just watching the locals go about their business. Boy, the evening stroll on Friday night is quite a spectacle!

As soon as I can, I?ll give specifics about our hotel, restaurants, and the like. This will be done in many installments.
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 22nd, 2004, 07:47 PM
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Jocelyn: Now that you've been bewitched by Verona, if you haven't read them already, run out and buy Tim Parks's books about his life there as an American. They're wonderful!

funny about the graffiti!
StCirq is offline  
May 22nd, 2004, 09:42 PM
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Hi Jocelyn,
Thanks for the report. We too have just returned from a trip to Verona, our second time because we love it there. Loved Lake Garda too and can't wait to read the rest of your report. Thanks.
Mischka is offline  
May 22nd, 2004, 09:54 PM
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StCirq: thanks for the recommendation. I checked out Tim Parks's books and they look fascinating!


Hotel:
Thanks to Fodorite Claire for recommending Residenza Verona House, where we stayed for all 8 nights in Verona. It's a collection of apartments right across the street from the Castelvecchio, about a 5 minute walk to Piazza Bra and 10-15 minutes to Piazza Erbe. The bus stop is 2-3 minutes away, with a bus taking you to the train station in less than 5 minutes. We never had to wait more than 2 minutes for our bus. Our apartment was HUGE, especially by European standards. You walked in through a small entryway, leading you to a nicely equipped kitchen. A round table seated 4. Beyond the kitchen was a small alcove with a couch and TV. Another door led to the bedroom, with a queen sized bed, large armoire, four chairs, and more dresser drawer space than I have at home. The bathroom, with a shower but no tub, had a large, sunny window. There were four large windows (all openable) total in the apartment. There was even a washing machine! The décor was colorful yet tasteful, with nice hardwood floors, upholstered walls, and an elaborate chandelier in the bedroom. Even though this was essentially an apartment, we still had daily maid service and a voucher for breakfast at the café across the street. All of this for 95 Euro a night! Only two small negatives: 1) the staff at the front desk, although never rude, was not overly friendly or helpful. 2) we couldn't call the US from our room using a phone card. Other than that, we couldn't have been happier with Residenza Verona House.

Restaurants/food/wine:
Our general strategy was that wherever we spent the day, we'd eat lunch with reckless abandon, enjoying multiple courses and always including the local specialty. At dinnertime, back in Verona, we'd usually head out to Piazza Bra and find a passegiata-side table for a pizza or simple pasta and first-rate people watching. Although we didn't try them all, our favorite spot on Piazza Bra was Liston 21. Their pastas were fantastic! On a few occasions we did venture beyond our comfortable routine. I'll just list the noteworthy ones:

Ristorante La Greppia: We ate here with Fodorite Lesli (hi Lesli!), who was staying right next door to us at Verona House. My grilled trout was simple and heavenly, and the Soave wine was nice, even though I typically like reds.

Bottega del Vino: What I remember most is their wine list, which must have been at least 50 pages long (single spaced!), and very pricey. We tried one of their house wines, a Valpolicella from Le Salette, which was probably my favorite of the whole trip. To go along with this wonderful wine, I had the risotto all'Amarone. As you can imagine, it was fabulous. It didn't really look appetizing with it's grayish purple color, but it tasted cheesy and oh, so good.

Osteria del Duca: this little local place is supposedly Romeo's house, although the restaurant doesn't play it up. We felt very foreign here, like we were intruding on someone's family dinner. Although a little uncomfortable, it was a neat experience. I had the polenta with mushrooms, gorgonzola, and salami, washed down with a glass of Masi Amarone. I know this is heresy to some, but, although I appreciate the complexity of an Amarone, I prefer a good Valpolicella with my meal.

Thanks to Fodorite ellenem for recommending Al Solito Posto; we found it (it looked perfect!) but it was closed for renovations.

Next is Mantova...
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 09:44 AM
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Enjoying your report, Jocelyn. Glad you had a great time.

We are hoping to fit Verona into our next trip to Venice, so thanks for the info.
Statia is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 01:29 PM
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MANTOVA:
Mantova, although a 30 minute train ride away, felt very different from Verona. Where Verona is colorful and cheerful, Mantova seemed drab and heavy. We've seen it described as "melancholy" and "moody," but we found it a tad depressing. Oddly enough, perhaps the sunny, clear weather was a detraction? Since Mantova is surrounded by lakes, it's often shrouded in fog, which would have been pretty cool to see.
I did like how one piazza opens up into the next, and some of the architecture was eye-catching, but this was our least favorite of the daytrips we took. We toured the two big palaces, Palazzo Te and Palazzo Ducale. We were a little underwhelmed. I guess after experiencing the treasures of Florence and Rome (our last trip), anything less just doesn't impress. It certainly was not a wasted day, as it put into perspective what we liked so much about Verona.

Food:
We had lunch at Ristorante Osteria Vecchia Mantova. I tried the local specialty, tortelli di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed ravioli). I was looking forward to trying this dish, and it was not what I expected. The pumpkin filling was sweet, with pumpkin pie-like spices--I was expecting more savory flavors. See what you learn when you travel? The house wine, a Dolcetto d'Alba, was very nice. DH had a maccheroni al torchio con fagioli e salsiccia (pasta with beans and sausage). He affectionately called it a "super-duper chili mac."

Next is Lake Garda.
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 02:13 PM
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LAKE GARDA:
This was probably our favorite day. Mille grazie to Fodorites GAC and Bob the Navigator for suggesting the bus route up the eastern shore to Riva del Garda. It took a little over two hours from Verona, but it was a beautiful drive. At the southern end of the lake, the water was like glass. As you drove north and the mountains sprang up, the waters were choppy and the scene was dramatic. Riva is a jewel; such a picturesque lakeside town. There is a wide pedestrian promenade that follows the shore, with meticulously-kept landscaping (we were there with all the colorful spring blooms). Looking south from Riva, through the palm and olive trees you see the rough waters framed on either side by snow-capped Alpine peaks--kind of bizarre. The clouds moved very quickly around the mountains so the scene was constantly changing. From Riva we (reluctantly, as we didn't want to leave!) took a ferry to Malcesine, another beautiful little town with a stately castle out on a peninsula. Thanks to Fodorite Ingo for suggesting the cable car up to Monte Baldo! Things sure looked different from 5600 feet up.

Funny little story: on the way down, we traveled with a large group of grade school kids and a grumpy English woman. Every time the cable car would accelerate a little, the kids would predictably scream in delight. The grumpy woman beside me kept muttering "bloody kids" and telling everyone around her how they're going to panic and it would "be the end for all of us." Her husband, obviously tired of her complaints, began screaming along with the kids.

We wanted to see Sirmione as well, on the south end of the lake, but we took our time in Riva and it was already getting late by the time we left Malcesine so we'll have to save it for the next trip. We have to have an excuse to go back, right?

Food:
Nothing exciting here; we had lunch at one of the lakeside cafes, which had a view to kill for, but the food was just okay. It was still worth it.

Other observations:
We heard a lot of German spoken here. I wasn't paying close enough attention to figure out if it was just tourists or the locals as well.

Next is Milan.
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 02:33 PM
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Enjoying your report, Jocelyn.
cigalechanta is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 02:36 PM
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St Cirq, I think he's British but went to Harvard.
cigalechanta is offline  
May 23rd, 2004, 05:51 PM
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MILAN:
I had heard mixed reviews about Milan, so I wasn't expecting to be wowed. I'd heard that Milan is gray, polluted, busy, noisy, crowded, etc. Yes, all those things are true, but aren't they of most large Italian cities? Milan is more orderly, though, than Rome (for example). The people seemed more reserved and disciplined, in their dress, their driving, and their overall behavior. Milan has such a rich history and some fascinating sights--don't be scared away! We spent a full day there and could have done at least one more. The city has such an interesting vibe.

Sights:
The Duomo:
There is still scaffolding covering the façade, but you can walk around to the side to get a sense for the immense amount of detail involved. I remember having an intense emotional reaction when I walked into the Santa Croce Church in Florence, and also in a few small Baroque churches in Austria, but Milan's Duomo takes the cake. You could have knocked me over with a feather the second I walked in. The interior is simple and dramatic at the same time. We walked slowly around the church, stunned and speechless. I know that St. Peter's is bigger, but I felt it was TOO big. I couldn't get a good sense of The Whole. It has so much going on that your attention is going in all different directions. This Duomo, although massive, was still small enough and simple enough that I could perceive it as one unit...and I just realized I need to add to the "Jaw-Dropping Sights" thread! It was fun to walk around on the roof. Although I really did like Milan, I must admit, it has a darned ugly skyline.

The Last Supper and the Sforzesca Castle were both worthwhile. We also enjoyed walking down Via Dante, through the Galleria, and around the shopping district. It was also neat to walk through Peck, the food emporium. I wanted to take pictures but didn't want to look like the gawking tourist so I resisted. I wish I'd done it anyway!

Food:
We ate in the Galleria for the people-watching. The saffron risotto (Risotto Milanese) was yummy. My first time.

Vicenza is next...
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 06:50 AM
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VICENZA:
I absolutely loved Vicenza. DH and I decided if we ever were to move to Italy, it would be to Vicenza. It is an elegant, classy, clean city with lots of green space. Architect Palladio spent most of his working years here so it's something of an architect's mecca. Although not architects, we really enjoyed the look of the numerous palazzi that line the streets. There were markets everywhere we turned (is Thursday a big market day or is it like that every day???), with clothes, linen, cookware, knick-knacks, and of course, food. The seafood carts were pretty impressive. We didn't hear English spoken the whole day (except our friendly and patient waiter--more about that later). Adjacent to the old city is an expansive park, with a smattering of sculptures and an interesting gazebo. A river meanders through the city, it's banks filled with wildflowers. Seeing the Teatro (by Palladio, the first indoor theater) alone was worth the trip to Vicenza.

After touring the old city, we decided to WALK to the outskirts of town to see some of Palladio's villas, the Rotonda and Villa Valmarana. It looked like a long but doable walk on the map; we didn't realize that it was UPHILL. Regardless, it was a beautiful walk and we'd do it again. We also walked through the upscale neighborhoods to the Basilica. It was worth it just for the view of the city and surrounding countryside.

Little funny story: if you've been to Italy you've undoubtedly marveled at how Italian women parade around in their stilettos on the cobblestone streets. Well, we finally witnessed the inevitable: a well-dressed woman stepped right out of her fancy shoe! She laughed about it, as did we (after she had passed. Manners, you know).

Food:
Mille grazie to Fodorite baldrick for his input on Vicenza restaurants and a little background on the culinary culture in this remarkable city. We had a very memorable lunch at Al Pestella, the first on his list of recommendations. Our waiter spoke English and was very patient with us. He actually read the menu aloud, translating it to English! We started with a local wine, a Tocai Rosso from Ca'Basso. Very light and delicious. Of course I had to try the local baccala e polenta. It was salt cod, long-simmered in a creamy, nutmeggy stew. It was framed by polenta squares. The dish tasted unusual to my humble American palate, but we both enjoyed it.

Other observations:
Outside the restaurant we ran into a friendly elderly Italian woman was explaining to us that she can't interpret the menu because the dialect here is so foreign. Even we, with our very limited knowledge of the language, noticed a difference from town to town (especially Verona-Vicenza and Verona-Trento).

Next is Trento...
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 10:05 AM
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Jocelyn--Enjoying your report and remembering my own happy travels to Verona and some of your other choices. (Too bad Al Solito Posto was closed, though sounds like you ate well--I'm taking notes.) Waiting for more of your report!
ellenem is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 10:38 AM
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I was wondering when youd get back! We had our last Italy planning dinner last night..leaving in 18 days!! we all cant wait.. glad you had a great time..

karen
kmoncrief is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Hi Joc--Your trip sounds absolutely wonderful! I'm excited to start planning my first Italy trip.

Here's a question to all: Would you rather your first trip be 14 days in August, or 10 days in April? A group of us are planning a trip, but people have more available days in the summer.
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May 24th, 2004, 04:03 PM
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rex
 
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I might favor 10 days in April; it might cost literally half of 14 days in August - - and then I could go back the following April (or October)!

Best wishes,

Rex
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May 24th, 2004, 04:36 PM
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Thanks for the kind words, everyone. Good to hear from you, Karen! I hope things are going well in SD.

TRENTO:
Thanks to fodorite Rex for touting this little gem in the mountains! It was about an hour from Verona by train, and well worth the trip. Unfortunately, we were worn out from all the walking in Vicenza the day before, so we didn't stay in Trento too long. We would have liked to go up to Bolzano as well, but just didn't have the energy. Anyway, the main square, Piazza del Duomo, was stunning. The buildings were so colorful! The pretty little Duomo made up part of the large piazza, but the crowning jewel was the Neptune fountain in the middle of this popular gathering place. You could see snow-capped mountains behind the buildings from almost any angle. We spent a lot of time just sitting on a bench, soaking it in. We did walk around a little, making it down to the castle. We toured the inside, which was okay, but not the highlight of the town.

Food:
We had a lovely lunch at La Cantinota, recommended in our Frommer's guidebook. As I'd mentioned earlier, the dialect in Trento is different from Verona, and the food has a distinct Austrian influence. The menu may as well have been in Mandarin! We had fun with it, though. There was a section on the menu with "local specialties," so we ordered exclusively from there, although completely blind. We ended up with speck (similar to proscuitto) with horseradish, cabbage, and a dark bread with raisins for the antipasto. For the primi, DH got gnocchi with green beans and a pesto, I had these delectable bread dumplings with cheese, sitting in a broth with pancetta, carrots, and lots of black pepper. Those dumplings were one of the best dishes of the trip! We split a secondo, stewed meat (beef? We think? We hope?) with rosemary and polenta. Our wine was a local red called Traminer. The color was very intense, like a Shiraz, but much lighter in flavor and not nearly as sweet.

Next is Venice.
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 05:06 PM
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dcespedes
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Hi Jocelyn! Welcome home! What a wonderful trip report this is! Please continue.... AMC
 
May 24th, 2004, 07:52 PM
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VENICE:

I do want to thank Ira, Elaine, Statia, and others who have contributed so much about Venice. Your input helped us to maximize our time there. (I feel like I'm accepting an award!)

Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted to fall in love with Venice. I just knew it was my kind of place. In reality, I was disappointed. We'd spent so much time in REAL Italy, experiencing the culture, struggling with the language, and feeling like the only tourists in town. Coming from that, Venice felt like an Italian theme park--it even has rides. It seemed to us that everything and everyone was trying to appeal to the ignorant traveler: trinket booths lining the streets, everyone trying to sell you something, yelling at you in English, all the restaurants had the "tourist menu." No need for the Italian survival skills we'd learned. We were appalled and embarrassed by the behavior of some of our fellow Americans. At one restaurant, we sat by two tables of Americans. One had four college-aged kids, who were rude, obnoxious, loud, cussing up a storm and making derogatory comments about the staff. At the other table, the young man kept complaining about his Coke. "Well, in America..." he kept telling the waitress. It wasn't cold enough, and he wanted a fountain drink instead of Coke from a plastic bottle. This guy even had the NERVE to tell the waitress that she really should work on her English. No wonder we're called "ugly Americans." I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. I also noticed that Venice seemed much dirtier than the other cities in the Veneto--I assume maintenance is more difficult because of the canals? We only spent 48 hours in Venice so maybe I just needed more time there. On our last night we did the gondola ride, which WAS magical. An extra day may have been all we needed to change our minds. I tried really hard to focus on the things I liked about Venice: first and foremost, no vespas!!! In general, the canals were unique, but seeing the rats climb in and out of the water was a big turn-off. Just looking out on the Grand Canal and thinking about all the history there was pretty cool. The Doge's Palace tour was interesting. But then we'd go to Piazza San Marco, AKA Tourist Hell. We found nothing appealing about San Marco, other than the dueling orchestras at night. We did spend a lot of time off the beaten path (our marvelous hotel was in Dorsdoro, near Campo Santa Margherita) as I've heard over and over that the charm of Venice is in the back streets. Yes, but aside from the occasional canal, you get the same charm in the back streets of Verona or Vicenza.

Hotel:
Our wonderful hotel almost made up for everything else. We stayed at Casa Rezzonico, on the San Barnabra Canal. It had only seven rooms. Our room was very spacious, with a large, brand new bathroom. There was a beautiful garden out in the backyard where they served a nice breakfast on fine china. It was a good chance to mingle and compare notes with the other hotel guests. We were awakened in the mornings to the sound of church bells and the aroma of warm pastries. Matteo at the front desk was so helpful! He was eager to make our trip as easy and enjoyable as possible. If and when we go back we'll probably stay there again.

Food/wine/restaurants:
We hit the extremes when it came to food. We had two delightful meals and two horrific ones. The bad ones I'd just as soon forget. Here are the good ones:

Trattoria Due Torri in Campo Santa Margherita. The menu changed daily, with lots of fresh seafood. Prices were reasonable and service was friendly. Outstanding dishes we had included marinated little shrimp (I can't remember the name for them) on warm polenta squares, and spaghetti with crab. We had their house red, a cabarnet (!), which tasted much lighter and less oaky than what I'm used to from California.

Taverna San Trovaso. We ran into fodorite Lesli there so we all had a fantastic meal together, including scallops au gratin, spaghetti with pesto, four cheese gnocchi, spaghetti with clams, and a salad. The Cabarnet Franc was okay, but not my favorite.

I'll do one more installment to wrap up.

Okay, I'm ready for the barbs.
Jocelyn_P is offline  
May 24th, 2004, 08:13 PM
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rex
 
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Thanks for the kind compliment. I, too, want to spend more than the few hours (plus one sumptuous meal) we had in Trento (September 2000 - - the "Fodorites Italy 2000 trip").
rex is offline  
May 25th, 2004, 06:45 AM
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Hello Jocelyn. We too were in Verona earlier this month, albeit only for 2 nights. Perhaps it was the short sojourn, very likely it was because it poured almost continuously, but we didn't like it as much as hoped.

But looking back and reading your comments I have to agree about the friendliness of the people and the easy public transportation, etc. I'll write more when I finally get around to my own trip report.

I know you want to forget the bad meal experiences but before you do, what was the worst aspect of these bad meals - the price, the service, or just the food itself?

Also, have you been to Lake Como and if so, how would you compare it to Lake Garda?

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