Thursday, June 18, 2009

Days 9 & 10 - Travelling and Day 1 in Greve

The pictures I've been posting are the low-resolution versions of what I actually took so I don't kill the blog. The big guys are located here for Day 10:
On Day 9, we woke up and took a ferry into Naples. We got to the train station, snagged some McDonald's for lunch, and got on the train. Our seats were all the way in the front of the train, and we hiked down the platform. Dad remarked, "Hey, at least we'll be the first ones off the train!"
Once we were settled on the train, a few groups of people came by claiming that they also had our seats. "Man I feel bad for those people, the train people double-booked these tickets!" The conductor came by and pointed out our tickets were for May 25th, not May 24th and that we were a whole day early. Doh. Turns out the travel agent booked our ticket for the wrong day. As we hustled to get off the train, Mike said "Well you were right, we WERE the first ones off the train!" He and Dad laughed as I yelled "NOT FUNNY YET!" Luckily, there was another express train to Florence only an hour later, and we were able to get on that one. Not bad, as snafus (esp in another country where you don't speak the language) go.

The only other major snafu of the trip was when we pulled up to our hotel in Greve. "Oh no," I thought. This is not where I made the reservation. This is the dirty, nonhospitable hotel our neighbors warned us to stay away from. Albergo del Chianti. I made a reservation at Hotel del Chianti. "Um, April," Mike said, "Ya think maybe Albergo is Italian for Hotel?" DOH. It HAD been recommended by the Frommers book, so we decided to go in and look around. I think that an older guy used to run it and his two sons had taken it over - our neighbors had told us that the older guy was SUPER not nice, and the place was awful. But it wasn't bad. Our room smelled like the previous tenant had smoked like 10 cigars in a row in it, but it was clean, on the piazza, and had a cute little courtyard with a pool. So we decided to give it a try. And I'm glad we did because it was pretty cool!

That night we just got some dinner at a restaurant next door (amazing gorgonzola and asparagus penne - I think all the restaurants in the Greve region we ate at were good!) and then had some chianti in the courtyard. My idea of a good time.

The next day we woke up ready for wine-tasting. We got a map with all the wineries marked on it and set off. First we stopped at Vignamaggio. This place was gorgeous, and was the most professional wine-tasting experience we had. They had a little cute wine-tasting and sales room, and we had a few different kinds of chianti.

Mike is looking THRILLED

Now, I had taken a wine class in Chicago where I had learned a bit about wines, but didn't think about how what I had learned would affect our experience. The wine-class lady told us that in "old world" wines (anywhere the Romans were) the taste of the wine is very based on region, steeped in tradition, and the vinters take great pride to stay very loyal and consistent with regional traits. In "new world" wines, how the wines taste very much depends on how the vinter wants it to taste. What I didn't derive from that was this: So you may go to a winery in Napa, and they'll have 7 wines and they'll all taste very different. And those 7 will taste very different than the wines the guy up the road makes. There, tastings make sense - how else would you know what you're getting? In Tuscany, they make chianti (mostly). So you'll go to a winery and they'll have chianti table wine, chianti classico, chianti reserve, etc. A lot of chianti. And while they do strive to make them quality and there are small differences in the wines, it's not enough to make the tasting experience a big thing. It just isn't like that there.
Random shot of a hillside castle
So the second winery we go to, Castellanuzza, we walked up the driveway and saw a door that was closed and locked that said direct sales. What? We checked our watches... nope, not siesta time. We walked up the driveway farther and heard someone taking a shower inside. OK, now we were the creepy people outside the bathroom door. We started walking back to the car to give up when a tiny Italian grandmother came out and started talking to us in Italian. Now we speak next to no Italian, but she got our "Vino?" and motioned that she would go around and let us into the direct sales room.
We walk in, and we're in this dusty room that is very obviously not a wine-tasting room, but a small room off the production facilities where they happen to have a countertop. She opens some chianti classico for us, she talks in Italian, we talk in English. We point to a bottle of wine and pay for it (Thank God the price list was on the wall), and decide to bail. I have one word to say about the entire exchange and that is AWK-WARD.
We decide to drive to the next place, Castello de Stinche, to try our luck there. Again, the direct sales door is closed. We knock, and some dude in his pajamas throws open a window on third floor and says "Vino?!" We all nod, and wait on him to come down.
The guy comes downstairs and opens the door for us. He shows us to a tiny dark dusty room where there is a table, wineglasses, and two chairs. Mom and I sit down, the guys hover around. Wine dude goes to pour us a glass and knocks over one, shattering it all over the stone floor. As he cleans it up we decide to buy a bottle of white wine and a couple bottles of olive oil. We tell the guy that it's OK, we'll just take the junk and go.

At this point I'm about over dragging guys from their nap and ladies from the shower and decide to tell everyone that I'm starving and we must stop to eat (even though I am at best only mildly hungry). Everyone knows how crabby I get when low on food, so we find the nearest restaurant and park in a nearby church parking lot. Of course the boys had to go into the church, so I sent Mike in with the camera while Mom and I sat in the air conditioning, as it was like 90 degrees outside.
Picking this place ended up being our best move by far. It was so freaking good. By the time we finished lunch we'd made reservations for dinner that very night.
We started lunch out with a glass of prosecco. I have always been a bubbly fan, but the bubbles bother my reflux and it gets a little sweet. Prosecco is drier, and has less bubbles that are smaller in nature. It hits the spot, let me tell you. I may have a new favorite drink. Also, the view from this place was pretty amazing. We could see 4 different levels of hills/valleys in the distance.
At the end of lunch, the waiter poured us some lemoncello. We sipped a bit to be polite. I always felt bad leaving it on the table (they poured it after every meal in many places), but I just can't do 100-proof hard alcohol. I guess that is a sign that I'm getting old, eh?
After lunch we headed back to town. We lazed around until dinner - shopping in the piazza, getting gelato (YUM), napping (by this time our room had aired out from previous Smoky McSmokerson), hanging by the pool. Generally, the perfect afternoon. Once the time came we headed back to Lamole for dinner at the same restaurant as lunch. On the way we saw this blue tree. I have no idea what was going on with this guy.
We also stopped to take pics of a house Mom liked. She wanted to frame a pic of it, so I took like 50 to make sure I got at least one she liked.
And then we sat down to one of the BEST meals I've ever had. I took pics of every dish but this one was amazing. Warm asparagus flan. We also ordered a red onion and truffle flan. As I gulped it down, I told everyone "You know, if you'd told me yesterday I was going to be eating vegetable pudding and liking it I would have told you you were crazy. But this stuff is amazing!"
This was my entree, a black risotto with asparagus and rabbit. So good.
And we had lots of vino. We had an amazing chardonnay (I liked most of them out there, they were not as oak-y) and a 2004 chianti by Lamole di Lamole. So good. I am regretting not buying some at the grocery store while were there and bringing it home. But we were pretty sure we were close to our weight limit on the suitcases, so didn't bring back any wine :(
And watched an amazing sunset. Our meal overall took about 3 hours, and we were stuffed with some of the most amazing food after we got done. I would SO highly recommend this place, it's like heaven on earth. And the waitstaff was all super friendly and sweet. Our waitress, Francesca, was great at recommending wines.