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Sept 14-Oct 4 in Northern Italy

We have just returned from N Italy. Our interests are wine, food, art, and music.

We went to Milan (3 N), Ravenna (2 N), Padova (2 N), Torino (5 N), Pisa (2 N), Siena (2 N), and Firenze (4 N).

1) We never had even a hint of pickpockets or thieves. Everyone was very kind and helpful. In popular places (Duomo square in Milan, Duomo Square in Firenze), there are a bunch of police. Maybe this keeps the bad actors away.

2) There are a lot of beggars and peddlers of worthless trash in Italy. I won't say more, as some comments are censored. I will say that they make a lot of money when it rains, as you can always find some guy with a fist-full of umbrellas.

3) Coffee in Italy is wonderful - inexpensive, made quickly (go to a cafe in a busy railway station to watch a coffee maker at work - amazing how fast they can go).

4) We didn't find huge variation in food prices. Small towns were a little cheaper. We never got to many really small villages, though.

5) Our favorite moment was apertivo time, from 5-8 PM. Spritzes, which are cocktails using aperol or campari, are served. Often they come with a little snack - potato chips, nuts. You see many people having their apertivo in the cafes. Now THIS is one place where costs varied - an aperol spritz could be as inexpensive as E4.5, or as high as E8. If you were close to a big site, costs were higher.

There is a place in Milano (best apertivo deals in all of Italy) where you could get an "unlimited buffet" of snacky snacks to go with your drink. The catch is that the drinks were more expensive, plus many of the snacks were Mexican food, which we didn't fancy in Italy.

6) We love the breakfasts in Europe. We would spend time there, and have either no lunch or an inexpensive one.

7) The euro is a parity with the dollar. Go now.

8) Ravenna was a wonder with the mosaics, created almost 1500 years ago, and bright and beautiful today. Firenze has the best art of all that we visited. Padova's Scrovegni Chapel was the highlight of our visit there - the frescoes are from 1300 (700 years ago), and the colors are bright and beautiful. Italy is making a huge effort to conserve and maintain these stunning works by regulating humidity and the number of persons viewing at one time.

9) We never had a problem with tickets, as it is shoulder season. In Firenze, we got a timed ticket for the museum with "David" 2 hrs after buying the ticket. We decided that we did not want to see "the Last Supper", so I dunno about that. But Duomo tix in Milan were picked up for the same day.

10) We usually don't follow restaurant reviews in RS or other places. Rather, we sort of wander in a restaurant district, and look for prices and options. Maybe 1 meal was iffy. The rest were great. My belief, for many years, is that wine in the restaurant is selected by the chef, and so even less expensive bottles are OK. Again, no disappointments.

11) Customs upon return to the USA was great. We did not have to have our bag checked. We merely made a verbal report of what we purchased. The limit was $2000, which is pretty high. We could have purchased another bottle of Armenac, and it would have sailed through.

12) The popular stereotype of Italy as disorganized does not extend to the trains. The trains ran pretty much on time. Don't get to the station late - you will be disappointed. The place where disorganization WAS found was at a food and wine fest. The "check-in" process was a complete disaster. Lines are well-done in Germany and England. Not so in Italy, where being a little pushy is the key to success.

Posted by
3060 posts

About the Salone del Gusto, which is a bi-annual food and wine event in Torino:

We went to about 10 events, each of which was E30-40, save for the dinner, which was E100. We got a modest discount because one of our party was a member of the sponsoring organization. All tastings were in Italian, but a headset with English translation was available.

Some of the tasting were great. The cheese tastings were pretty good, lots of interesting cheese that I have never tried, and conducted by a professional cheese guy. The down-side was that the events were pretty disorganized, in that they did not conduct a scripted tasting indicating flavors that the professional detects.

Some of the tastings were not good. The sparkling wine tasting sounded good, but the discussion was all inside-baseball about the wine industry, which was sort of interesting but not for a long time.

The Mt Etna tasting featured 10 different foods from that local, including a wonderful orange-flavored cordial. I was gifted with a free bottle, which was a real treat. Possibly because I was pretty effusive in my response to the drink.

We enjoyed a "women and pasta" dinner. Also a last-minute "Georgian feast" dinner was great. The food was really interesting. The white wine was not good, but there was plenty of it. The red was pretty decent. Georgian wine production is not a modern method, which leads to oxidation and off-flavors. But the dinner itself was really fun, outside in a small restaurant with lots of interesting appetizers, incredibly good chicken and lamb, 3-4 great salads - all for E45. Amazing.

Would we go again? Probably not, due to the costs and disorganization. However, we really enjoyed most of the experience. The event was held in a park, and there were HUNDREDS of vendors of olive oil, spirits, wine, bread, cheese, beer, sausage, all kinds of artisinal food. My wife said that it was like a US county fair, except everything was really great.

Posted by
7403 posts

I was hoping you would be sharing a trip report, Paul, since you were spending time in Torino! Thank you!

It sounds like lines at sites were shorter. Were you able to go inside the Florence Duomo? The lines in early September were too long and not moving, so we had to miss it.

I used the apertivo with chips, peanuts, mini-pizza bites sometimes as a replacement for dinner. The smaller town main piazzas provided a nice ambiance, and I sure couldn’t complain about a 5€ “dinner”!

Posted by
8210 posts

I'm with you about Torino--one of the most understated cities of Europe. And it's a shame that everyone goes to Rome/Florence/Venice and bypass the region with perhaps the best cuisine in Italy.

We were in Ravenna, Bologna and Venice in June. Next trip, it's going to be Lake Como/Lugano, Milan and Torino.

Posted by
7574 posts

Thanks for the report, Paul. We’re heading tomorrow to Pisa for the day, before getting to Lucca for 3 nights. Any key Pisa tips or recommendations? Food, unexpected sights, piazza for aperitivo, etc.?