Monday, April 03, 2017

3/20/17- On the road to Garda

So many tunnels!

Moving forward to the third stop on our journey.  Up to this point we had been operating at a pretty aggressive pace.  Today we were both looking forward to sleeping in, hopping on the autostrada, and enjoying a leisurely few hours driving through the Po River Valley and Emilia-Romagna.

Before we left we spent some quality time at the Piazza Michelangelo filming some of dad's life history.  I truly enjoyed this segment of the trip and, like the last visit, came to really savor the magic of this city.

The drive, like every drive we've taken, was scenic.  The terrain between Florence and Bologna was more mountainous.  No big deal, I was raised along the Wasatch front.  What was very surprising and pretty cool was the sheer amount of tunnels we encountered.  We like to drive along mountains in the US, they like to drive through them.  I guess I now realize why they are so serious about collecting revenue through their toll roads over here.

We arrived in Emilia- Romagna around noon.  This is both the breadbasket and industrial heartland of the country.  I was originally planning a sidetrip in Bologna (Culatello, Balsamico Tradicionale, Mortadella, Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, etc...) to take in this culinary mecca but the last few days had exhausted our sense of adventure.  We opted to avoid stops in Bologna, Modena, and Mantua in favor of an earlier arrival at our hotel in Peschiera del Garda.
The gold standard of cured meats

We arrived at the Hotel Ziba around 1pm.  The place is nice, spacious, and more on par with the boutique hotels we might find back home.  This was our first hotel with an adjoining restaurant, pool, and spa.  Our room wasn't ready when we arrived so we went the the Trattoria bell’italia for a late lunch.

The restaurant had a comfortable and rustic setting and the owners served both Italian and German dishes. It wound up being one of our best meals to date.  It also gave me a chance to try culatello.  It was cut thin and had the sweet musky flavor that it is known for.  I don't know if it was the best cured meat I've had but it was certainly unique.  We also had a very tasty veal shank.

There was a pretty intense fog that greeted us once we reached the Po River Valley. It would follow us all the way up to Garda.  We were originally planning to use our afternoon to drive around the lake and catch some of the scenic roads that were carved into the sides of the mountains that surround the northern portion.  The weather dampened our spirits and kept us closer to home.

This thing dates back to the 13th Century
Instead we drove to Sirmione. It is a small resort town located on a narrow peninsula on the southern end of the lake.    The highlight was the castle and the grotto of Catullus.  The town had a great vibe about it, part historical Italy and part beachside resort.

After leaving Sirmione we drove along some of the southern coast.  This place is built to be the summer family playground for Europe.  There's GardaLand, Hollywood Land, countless hotels, and a bevvy of fast food choices.  In fact, this was as close as we've felt to being in the States.  We were so caught up in the American nostalgia that we opted for a burger at the Steak 'n Shake.

All in all a pretty calm and low key day.  No stressful drives through narrow streets.  No crowded streets or medieval churches.  Just a pleasant day and some rest prior to launching the last legs of our trip.

Other notes and highlights:

  • Italian tip of the day- Take the time to stroll through a local grocery store.  It's exactly as you'd picture it and can help you understand why Italy has such a fresh and impressive food culture.
  • Food Highlight-  Naturally the cullatello. We also had a great Bolognese with fresh noodles and not dried.  I'm not an 'al dente' kind of guy.
  • Random Observation-  We didn't see much penetration of US culture in the cities we visited with the very notable exception of the south shore of Garda.  I wonder if it because this area is geared towards European families and it is just easier to peddle things like Disney, Burger King, and Southern California.  

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