Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Cinqueterre / Manarola Day 2: Hiking to Corniglia, Wine, and Lobsters.

Good morning. 

Doug and T-Boz, enjoying breakfast on our balcony. 

Fresh crossaint from bakery in town. 

View of the city from our balcony. 

The view from our balcony apartment is not bad.

We hiked from Manarola to Corniglia today. It was almost all incline on the way over. It's a bit humid so we were sweating like mad, but the views really paid off.

View of Corniglia. More than halfway there :)

We made it! Hiked to Corniglia - city is in the background. 

Had lunch at a small cafe in Corniglia.

The "big mix" salad - tuna, tomato, fresh mozzarella. 

Doug's pesto pannini. Yum. 

Tanya's bruschetta - with tomato, mozarella, and, of course, fresh pesto. 

Of course, I miss all the Wershings, but today, I especially missed Logan. He would have loved the billion steps we had to take to get to Corniglia (including these last sets from the city to the train station to get back to Manarola), as well as all the wide-lense photo opportunties of the cities on our hike.

Post hike and post lunch, we had to bomb down these stairs to get to the train station. 

Once we got back, we hiked up to Groppo for some wine tasting. The Cinqueterre is known for their white wine and their sciacchetra.

Sciacchetra. I typically don't like dessert wines, but this one was lighter. Very tasty. 

After waiting for the train for almost an hour (we didn't pay attention to the timing and this was a total bummer for me - especially because the stupid ride is only 3 minutes!) and hiking in the heat not being able to find the town of Groppo where the winery was located, I was in a shitty mood. But give me a few tastings of prosecco, white wine, sciaccetra, and limoncillo? Feeling like a million bucks! :)

This stick figure captured my activities perfectly. Also, I forget to take my sunglasses off indoors because they're prescription. I'm not trying to be shiesty or anything. 

We finally found Groppo. And their winery.
 We were disgusting after hours of hiking. So Tanya took a shower and Doug and I stepped down (literally) to the beach for a quick swim.

Manarola is awesome.

My handsome husband. 

For dinner, again on our host's recomendation, we went to Aristide. Another incredible meal in Manarola.

Stuffed mussels (amazing).

Ravioli with spinach and ricotta in a brown butter sage sauce (with fresh sage leaves).
Tanya is happy with this delicious pasta she ordered. 

The special of the night: Lobster with vegetables. I ordered it, thinking it would be a small tail or a few pieces of lobster with vegetables. When I saw them bring out an ENTIRE lobster, I got nervous. I had not intended to order a $100 lobster dinner, and since it was a special, the price wasn't listed. Ugh... I was feeling guilty... until we got the bill. And this dish was a mere 25 Euro. I took home half a lobster an a ton of veggies in a "take-away" box with a big ass smile. I was so busy concentrating on extracting this thing from it's shell, that I didn't notice the envy that I instigated (as reported by Doug and Tanya) from other patrons.


Pasta with clams, tomato, and arugula. Amazing. And, Doug's choice! More seafood!

Slice of lasagna. It was tasty, but nothing spectacular.

It's hard to mess up lasagna. This was fine. 

Tanya ordered a roasted chicken. I tried one bite. I'll leave it at that :)

Roast chicken at a seaside town is like ordering the steak at a sushi restaurant. It's probably fine, but it's nothing to write home about. Or text home about, if we're going to update this saying to the 21st century. 

Happy with my lobster. Especially after I leaned the price. I can see a jealous patron over my shoulder, regretting his shitty spaghetti bolognase choice. Loser!

We took a short walk across the other side of the water to capture a view of our apartment (and the city we're staying in) at night after dinner.

View of our city, and our apartment, from across the water. Stunning in person. 

A great hike, great dinner, great food, great wine, great husband, great friend, great views. Life is pretty good.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Cinqueterre / Manarola Day 1: I'm never leaving.

And then there was the Cinqueterre.

A series of small cities, all walking distance from each other. We are staying in Manarola. It is stunning. So stunning I didn't even really get any pictures of the scenery (more to come tomorrow). 

We are staying at the Da Paulin - a rental agency that has a few apartments in the city. We were greeted with small glasses of Limoncino (a local specialty). We were diggin this place already. 

Limoncino upon our arrival. 

The Cinqueterre is known for certain drinks: Limoncino (lemon rind, vodka, and sugar), sciacchetra (a dessert wine, 18% alcohol, made from grapes that have almost turned to raisins, and usually served with a small cookie), and white wine.

In terms of food, the Cinqueterre is known as the birthplace of pesto (the basil grows on the mountainside), anchovies (they are caught and served fresh, not salted and canned), focaccia (the best in Italy, according to Rick Steves!), farinata (fried chickpea flour), and frutti di mare ("fruits of the sea"). The local dessert is the torta della nonna (the grandmother's cake).

Our  host's recomendation for dinner was Marina Piccola. This was our view at the beginning of dinner.

This was also our view. The creepiest guy of all time. The short shorts, the sweatband on the wrist, the greasy slicked back hair. Gross. I assumed he was (New Jersey) Italian, but when he spoke  he had a British accent. It almost made things worse.

Ok back to the other view during dinner. Much better.

Sunset from Marina Piccola. 

Many restaurants are apparantly very proud of their "Frutti di Mare" - fruits of the sea - appetizers. So I ordered one. AMAZING.

I can't remember everything, but stating with the fresh anchovies on tomato at seven o'clock and going counter clockwise: a fried sea thing, mussels stuffed with ham and ricotta, octopus and potato salad, a seafood risotto thing, a shrimp, and in the middle, octopus with red sauce. Best. 

I would also like to point out, to many who know Tanya, and especially Mr. Niznik and Laura (her Dad and sister), that we ACTUALLY CONVINCED TANYA TO EAT A BITE OF FISH. Please write this one down for the record books.

Tanya, with anchovies and tomato, and about to really eat it. Also, creepy guy in the background - yuck. 

Verdict: Didn't love it, didn't hate it, didn't spit it out. It's slow and steady but we're making progress!

Meanwhile I think Doug is finally learning to love the fruits of the sea. Here is a tiny octopus he wolfed down. The appetizers were so good! So good!

Good bye, baby octopus. You led a delicious life. Washed down with house white in the background. 

We got pesto with trofie pasta. Trofie pasta is made of flour and potato, and is specifically made to be served with pesto. It's nooks and crannies hold all the pesto-y good-ness.

Fresh delicious pesto.

Doug got squid ink pasta with prawns. It had pine nuts and bell peppers, with a mild tomato sauce, and was amazing.

 And me? I got the regional specialty. Tegame alla Vernazza. It's fresh (not canned and salted - freshly caught) anchovies, potatos, tomatoes, white wine, oil, and herbs. It. Was. Epic.

This may look like  a plate of neatly organized dead fish, but... well actually I guess that's a correct description, but it was also one of the best seafood meals I've had. The rosemary hit it home. 

Tanya, enjoying her pesto with a sunset background. 

The view continued to improve as the sun set. We've been eating dinner closer to 9PM, and I can see why Italy has it's dinners later - you cannot beat this warm weather and long days (or the views!)

View from our dinner table. 

For dessert, we got the tiramisu (I think we may have gotten one in every city we've visited at this point...) and a chocolate mouse. Both delicious.

I feel like we had a really amazing, regionally specific and authentic Cinqueterre/Italian meal, which made me really happy (and full). And Tanya tried fish so we definitly had some life achievements as well :)

Fresh anchovies rule. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Venice Days 2 and 3: Rialto Bridge and market, St. Marks, Murano glass, and relaxing (for once!)

Venice is a much more quaint (for a tourist area) than Rome or Florence.We were really able to do everything we had intended in a day, which left lots of leisure time and relaxing - a rarity on this vacation for me!

This is the view from our balcony.

On our second day in Venice, we went to Rialto Bridge and the Rialto Market.  I LOVED it! The best seafood outdoor market I've ever been to, hands down. They had a small selection of fresh and dried fruit, spices, and dried pastas as well, but the star of the show was the seafood.

Coming off of Rialto Bridge. 

Rialto Market

I could not resist getting all of the dried fruit available. Every piece was delicious - kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya, clementine oranges, figs, apricots, plums, and green grapefruit. There was no sugar added and no sulfites or preservatives. The fruit was thick and soft, not thin and chewy (I feel most dried fruit is kind of like beef jerky a lot of the time.) Even with my giant paper bag I regretted not getting more. It was delicious.

They had everything here.

Fresh fish. 

Fresh fish, and fresher snails. They were alive and moving! (slowly)

Octopus. More fish. 

SWORDFISH. Obviously. 

Doug and I stopped at a small sidewalk cafe for some calzone, speciality bruschetta (basically, the flat bread with a ton of toppings) and some wine. Nothing special.

Doug likes his calzone and wine. Also, check out that lopside purple dress - yuck!

House specialty bruschetta. Good. 
We walked to St. Mark's Square again to check out the Basillica again - this time during the day. We've seen a LOT of churches - but this one was still beautiful. We didn't go inside and opted to admire it in the sun instead.

St. Mark's

St. Mark's Square

St. Mark's 

In Italy, when you see a giant pizza crust in the shape of a weird face, it is a Venetian tradition that you imitate the face as best you can.

And also in Italy, it is tradition for Americans to be horrified at the "American" products that are for sale in the frozen food section at the local grocery store. This was an "American Style" pizza, and had every topping imaginable - even corn. Grotesque. Dear America: We need to work on our image. "Big Americans" is not the culinary legacy I want to leave behind.

Doug, sad and confused at the state of American pizza in Venice, Italy. 

As I said we've been reading and relaxing a bit more on this trip. Greg has the best "I'm relaxing and reading something quite interesting!" face.

Doug gets a solid silver finish.

I've been carrying around all these damn scarves the whole trip, and the day that it finally cools down enough to warrant one, I didn't bring it! Luckily Tanya had the same idea, and it just so happened that her scarf matched the outfit I was already wearing PERFECTLY. It seemed only right that she let me borrow this fabulous scarf and run upstairs to get her own sweater. I thanked her by asking her to take a picture of me wearing her scarf on the street outside of our house.

Tanya's scarf debuts on my shoulders in Italy. 

Will Tanya get this scarf back? TBD. 

We've been spending a lot of time on our patio. It's tiny, so we crowd around and rotate/take turns.

Greg - Doug - Tanya

Doug and I went out for another date tonight. We wandered around a different area of Venice and ended up grabbing a quick bite at a sidewalk cafe. The food was decent - touristy area so I'm starting to taper my expectations a little (our "authentic Italian" meals have yet to outweight our "tourist Italian" meals.

Spaghetti with hot pepper, butter and garlic. Very spicy and tasty. 

Cacciatore pizza. Good! 

We then went back to St. Mark's square for the dueling cafe orchestras. I'm not going to lie. I LOVED this. We stayed awhile and stood and watched the bands with some gelato (of course). They played the entire Sound of Music soundtrack, as well as a few other Italian songs and some well-known classical music. If we were in Venice longer I'd go here every night and grab some food and wine and relax with my favorite band (there are usually about three "dueling" it out in the courtyard).

We had a beautiful warm walk home, got completly and horrible lost, made it home, and had a glass of wine and patio time with the rest of the gang :)

The next day (our third in Venice), we had a leisurely and lazy morning. I had to harass people to get out of the house by about 11:30AM :)

On our way out Brycen forgot his sunglasses. We yelled at Logan to throw them down to us so we didn't have to run up two flights of stairs again. Just when we were starting to wonder what was taking so long...

Special delivery. 
 Me, Kendra, Brycen, and Tanya did a little bit of shopping for Murano glass, and grabbed some pizza at a takeaway cafe. This restaurant was pretty cool - they make giant sheet pans of pizza (you can see the guys in the back kneading the dough and prepping huge pizzas) and they sell it for one and a half Euro's per 100 grams. So you just sort of show how much you want and they weight it.

Vegetable, meat and artichoke, and spicy salame.
 A small bottle of prosecco was only .50 Euro more than a soda. The beverage choice was clear to me.

Logan has really taken to eating in and having a home-cooked meal on our last night in an Italian city, so of course we obligied for our last night in Venice - and our last night with this group! Tomorrow, Tanya, Doug, and I are headed off to stay in the Cinqueterre, and the Wershing clan is headed to Paris, France and Frankfurt, Germany. I had an awesome time with the Wershings and am sad to see them leave our Italian vacation, but I loved loved loved our trip to Paris and Germany, and I've already tried to tell them a million things to eat and see, so I'll be excited to reconnect with everyone in the States and have a slideshow (after Logan deletes the three thousand picures he took of pigeons - ha ha). 

Our last night together in Italy! Happy but sad. 

The Wershings decided to take a Gondola ride this evening. But first, Logan polished off the last of the raviolis.

The balcony is perfect for eating the rest of the dinner in the cooking pot with the serving spoon. I think this is how Venetian's did it traditionally. 

Post-Gondola ride, we went out for some crepes and gelato.

This crepe machine was awesome. 

Doug liked his crepe. 

The next morning, we packed up and shipped out. It was sad to leave Venice, but I'm excited for our next adventure in Manarola of the Cinqueterre!