Italia (Part 2)

…continued from Part 1

Chianti country

Now where was I? Oh yeah, we just finished lunch on Isola Comacina on Lake Como.

One of the interesting things about Lake Como is where it is situated in Italy. Lake Como is way up north at the edge of the pre-Alps which is only about a 15-20 minute drive away from Switzerland. This explains why all the menus where in Italian, German and finally English (in that order). I wish we did a little more studying of geography ahead of time because we weren’t adventurous enough to jam in a totally unplanned trip to Switzerland, especially since we only had the GPS programmed for Italy. We figured we got in enough trouble not knowing how to speak Italian.

After several days of ferrying about the lake, we hopped in our ugly-american-mobile (which the manufacturer more lovingly calls an E class station wagon) and drove to Tuscany.

Vroom!

This may have been the longest leg of our drive, so now is a good time to talk about driving in Italy. Driving was much easier than I expected, mostly because they drive on the same side that we do, that is, the correct side (see, I am an ugly American). An interesting tidbit is that the roadsigns are not quite as literal as here in the US, they are merely suggestions. One way? Do not enter? 90km/hr? Surely recommended, but sometimes you gotta make do. Some other fun stuff? On the autostrade, each lane has a different min and max speed limit! How awesome is that, slowpokes are not allowed (remember, not recommended) to be in any other lane than the rightmost one. Italians are very aggressive drivers, but they seem to follow passing rules really well. They totally get up your ass, pass on the left, and immediately get back into lane, leaving the left most lane for “the blinks”. The blinks? This is what Nik and I call the drivers in the left most lane with the left blinker on. Apparently this is a signal meaning, “I am going really fast, so get the fuck out of my way”. I am sure that comes out much nicer in Italian. Let me quantify really fast for you, I was driving around 110mph (that’s not a typo, I do mean miles), and cars were flying past me.
City driving was a whole other kettle of fish. Motorcycle and Vespa driver own the road, and it feels like you are always navigating through a swarm of bugs. Trying to get into a busy roundabout was not my most pleasant moment. What came out of my mouth likely wouldn’t sound good in any language!

All righty then, to swing the conversation back to food let me make a quick mention of Autogrill. Autogrill is the Italian version of our crappy roadside places to take a leak or grab a really sorry burger or crappy slice of pizza warmed under those red lights. Autogrill was just like our places, except for one thing: the food! Seriously, they served seafood salad! I wasn’t adventurous enough to try it, but it looked darn good, and people who were eating it looked happy. Next time, I go to Italy, Autogrill seafood salad for me.

The side of an Autogrill. The pic sucks, but it’s not like I planned to post about it!

Tuscany

We fully expected Tuscany to be my favorite place in Italy, being foodies and all, and we were not disappointed.

You know all those cheesy paintings you see of Italy with the little house in the rolling hills, among olive groves and vineyards? It’s all real, and along with the nice people of the area give a rustic vibe that just makes you want to take it all in with some vino in hand (which we were happy to oblige).

Roses are red. Fuck the violets.

Many a glass were sacrificed on that table.

It doesn’t suck to be a dog in Tuscany

How many kitchens have you seen with this painted on the backsplash?

Imagine opening the doors to this every day? You really don’t need that pool now do you?

The place we stayed is called Borgo Argenina, and the buildings look as if they have been standing for centuries. Elena (the owner) built the B&B from the remains of a ruined hamlet. By the way, who doesn’t love the word hamlet? If I were controlling the liguistics around here, it would mean ham omelet, but alas it’s just a small village. Elena rebuilt this village using local artisans leveraging the old techniques and it shows.

Elena from her kitchen

Elena welcomes all guests with a map of the region and lays the ground rules for her home. No plastic bottles, no bringing her external food, no pool, no nonsense.  Her aim is for you to have an authentic taste of life in Tuscany. If you are “The Four Seasons” or “Ritz Carlton” kinda crowd, you are in the wrong place this time. If you are want a luxurious pool or spa like atmosphere for you and your little rugrats, why go to Tuscany at all? Just stay in Como, Garda or even the Bahamas! What Elena does provide is genuine warmth, home cooked family dinners around her table, fresh fruit and produce growing on the property, and plenty of history and guidance for your local travels. Or not. Why travel anywhere when you could just kick back with some biscotti dipped in vin santo (a dessert wine made from dried grapes) under the stars.

Elena making us some lasagna. Mmmm, would it be rude to ask for 3rds?

Good thing Elena didn’t care about us using laptops!

A little Vin Santo…

…and the stars. Heaven.

The B&B is housed in the main building, but remember that hamlet business? Some of the extra buildings were converted into one and two bedroom villas. Even though it was more expensive than a regular room, we decided that we wanted to do some Tuscan cooking and  went with the “Piccolo Villa”. This was a very wise choice indeed, and like any self respecting food blogger would have done, we hosted a dinner party for the rest of the guests.

The outside of our little “honeymoon” villa. If the 2 foot thick stone walls are a rockin’ don’t come a knockin!

Our little villa before we mucked it up!

So after all these years, we found where they “keep’s the beef.”

Some cheese and charcuterie while prepping the veg.

Look at how red those ‘maters are!

Table for 7? Nah, we can squeeze more in!

Now that’s a chopping block!

Cheeses, dried and cured meats, giant t-bones all served with fresh pasta tomatoes and zucchini. And wine. Lots of wine…

…lots of wine. With a little beer and limoncello for good measure.

We had a rip roaring good time, with some good food and newly found friends. This is what Tuscany is about, not stinkin’ pools.


Once in Tuscany, you have a lot of choices of places to go. Florence, Siena, Montepulciano, Gimignano, the list goes on and on. For us, the two big places not to miss were Florence and Siena. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I’ll give you some pics to whet your appetite.

Siena

Tower in Siena

The cool “Oreo” church in Siena. My favorite church in Italy.

That “Oreo’ ain’t skin deep. Check out the inside!

Florence

A produce stall in Florence.  I’d kill for stuff this nice at home.

A little Medusa action. What’s with Florence and all the genitalia being displayed?

Nicole just chilling in front of the church in Florence.

This is my favorite picture I took on our trip.  This dude has character.

Well, considering I haven’t posted for months (you did notice didn’t you?), I think I am all tuckered out from all this reminiscing. Stay tuned, and I’ll finish this series up with Rome and Sorrento. Ciao!