A Travellerspoint blog

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Taking rides from strangers

It was buono fortuna that we ran into an old man and his two dogs at the abandoned house at the top of a hill. Even better was that he had a truck and was willing to give us a ride. I asked Paulo, "do you know him?" he said "no". So I got in. It didn't matter at this point of desperation. The strange man maneuvered through the divots in first gear with his truck, passing poor Meemo on foot pushing the tractor en route to retrieve the hot air balloon we had landed in a field, far from any accessible road.

Being funky with heights, when I awoke earlier that morning and was relieved to see a nice, calm day, and I hoped for a gentle ride in the hot air balloon. I wished for gentle winds, and, boy, did I get it. I was the poster person for the trite caution: "be careful what you wish for". Not as bad at too windy in a vessel dictated by wind, but not enough air was a close second.

It all began perfectly. We arrived at 6 am in the field in front of the cemetery of San Donnino church. Paolo and Meemo were unfurling the balloon. It seemed just a matter of minutes before Paolo said, "okay, get in!" In America we would have had to sign this paper and that waiver and take this safety course... but not in Italy. Just hop in, no credit card or signatures needed.


The flight was peaceful. Paolo gave the balloon some heat for some altitude to clear the mountains. He pointed "Carpienti castle is there.... and ceramico place is there..." We were up there for about one glorious hour. We sailed 5 kilometers east, traveling at about 1 knot, then there was a wind change, and we seemed to retrace our steps back west, traveling about 1 kilometer back, at a rate of 1/2 knot.


Then, nothing. We were absolutely stagnant.

"Oh, this is going to be difficult," Paulo said as he threw little ripped off pieces of tissue paper and watched as they floated to the ground. Absolutely straight. He was checking for any wind change if we descended now. Now?! He said he lands wherever, in any open field and does his best not to damage any crops. But he tries to land close to a road. We were no where near any passable road.

We held on to the "oh-shit-handles" on the basket and squatted to brace for impact. With a couple thuds, we were safely on the ground. Not bad.

This is where our adventure really began. Yeah, taking a hot air balloon has been on my bucket-list of experiences to have, and the events following will make it even more memorable.

Paulo walkie-talkied Meemo to give him our location. No street names, just landforms. Without Meemo there, Matthew did most of the grunt-work tying up the balloon with Paolo. I offered velcro ties. We left the basket and the balloon in the middle of the field on the hill and started walking. Uphill walking, dirt-crevased road, flies, heat, the smell of fresh dung... we kept walking- I mean hiking and hiking, hoping to run into Meemo with his tractor and taking off one layer of clothing at a time, stopping to catch my breath. It was a classic "we paid for this?" moment.

We didn't run into Meemo, but we did see a deer and an old man at a crumbling house. That is when we got in the car with him. He drove us to Meemo's truck and Paulo drove us back to our car, stopping for some water - his treat - at the local café and tabbacheria and then returned to help Meemo retrieve the balloon.

We tipped him and went home to nap. It was 9:50 a.m.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 03:00 Archived in Italy Tagged emiliaromagna hotairballoon Comments (0)


Later that same afternoon...
We sampled all things grape: from jam to vinegar balsamico to wine to grappa. We zig-zagged our way up to Modena, Matthew drove and I manned the gps, that we named Regina (pronounced Ree-jine-ah). She often didn't know what the hell she was talking about. She missed a whole lot of roundabouts. Oy, the roundabouts. But her calm British accent kept us sane.


We pulled into the Osteria di Rubbiara, another Tony-stalking-recommendation, for our between-one-and-one-thirty (so italy!) lunch reservation. We sat on the patio, looking out on their vineyards, but before, we had to lock our cell phones in old wooden compartments and take the key. They say it is because this was an old church but that doesn't make sense. I think they want to keep a covert operation and not allow any of the balsamico secrets to escape. The Pedroni family has been making tradizionale balsamico since 1862.

We both ordered the family wine. M: lambrusco frizzante (red sparkling) and L: bianco frizzante (white) Apparently the owner saved this white grape from extinction in 1991. So now only this family makes this wine. The waiter brought over 2 whole bottles-already uncorked- and placed one in front of M and the other in front of L. We just kept helping ourselves...

Lunch was four courses. Tortelloni stuffed with ricotta cheese and sprinkled with balsamico italio, aged at least 12 years. Who would have thought of balsamic on pasta?! delicioso. kinda reminded me of maple syrup. Next was strachetti (a bigger, looser farfalle) with a mix of meats ragu with freshly grated parmeggiano reggiano. Third course was ridiculously good. An omelette sprinkled with balsamico aged at least 12 years, chicken marinated in lambrusco wine, and a pork somethin-delicious. Unbelievable. For dessert: vanilla ice cream sprinkled with - you guessed it - balsamico extravecchio. so good. so darn good. And the whole "lunch" only €32.50 each.

Then came the samplings of grappa...

We had espresso, knowing we had to interpret Regina on the way home. We were offered to join the tour of the Pedroni family production. While L thought, "wow! How lucky are we?!" M thought, "Oh no, gemstones...". It was interesting hearing about different barrels, and the patience it takes, and the smell... oh the smell. Yankee Candle should package it. We sampled their 5 types. We bought the Italio, aged 12 years, to impress our future dinner guests while serving pasta and 2 bottles of wine frizzante, one red, one white.

That night back at our agritourismo overlooking Emilia Romagna, we drank the bottle of white and ate Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese we bought from the market, and made in the town next door.


Italian term of the day: slip road - Regina's Cockneyed word for on-ramp.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 15:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)


Italian phrase of the day: pomeriggio chuisa - closed in the afternoon.

Disclaimer: posted hours are left to the discretion of the proprietor (they should be interpreted loosely as they may not be open the times posted. For example, if it "closes" at 7:30, in actuality it could be closed when one shows up at 7:15.) hence, the search for the #*^%* SIM card continues...

Alas, we didn't have to search long. We drove to Reggio E (a.k.a. Reggio Emilia) and bought one. The old town is really cute. We wandered around. We didn't do what we usually do - eat, because we were still full from our €16 lunch that included taglietelle with ragu, magherita pizza, 2 glasses of vino rosso and a bottle of water. What a steal! It was recommended to us by Stefania. And we figured if her tastes are half as good as her baking, then we knew it would be great " simple, traditional food at a honest price" as she said. Added bonus: we were the only English speakers in the very crowded restaurant.

Italian phrase of the day (secondi) : primo colazione - contrary to popular belief, it does not mean "the best calzones". It oddly means "first course", or breakfast. So no, señora, they do not have a "calzone take-out menu".

Posted by LaurendeMatt 13:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)


Again this morning Stefania dropped off some baked goods she just whipped up for us. She gave us hugs and a bottle of Lambrusco frizzante, because we are so "sympatico". And she knows we like our wine.

Driving in Italy is a two-person job. On our way back to Bologna to return our car, Matthew maneuvered the hairpin turns while I interpreted the gps. No time for distractions like the radio or napping.

It took just 35 minutes to get to Florence. Bologna to Firenze on the italo train cruzed quickly through sunflower fields and farmhouses.

Il Guelfo Bianco, our hotel, is an old convent. high, wooden-beamed ceilings with gold flowers, and brick arches. It is close to attractions, but not too close. a quintessential hotel room for our stay in Florence,

We had booked Galleria D'Accademia reservations long ago for 3 in the afternoon. We came prepared and yet first we had to stand in line to swap the internet reservation print out for actual tickets and then we could stand on another line for those who already had tickets or a Firenze Card. Line-standing is inevitable.

We both pressed play on our Rick Steves audio tour and the crowded museum noise faded away. It was me with Rick and the David, both of which are impressive. Michelangelo's David is perfection. He is frozen in the moment right before he slays Goliath. Mich's Prisoners were neat. They embody the artist's philosophy that the sculpture is already in there, he just chisels away the excess to free it. These are unfinished.

We enjoyed Rick's tour so we downloaded another and went on his Renaissance Walk. It gave a nice overview. We ended in the Oltrarno neighborhood (the name translates to "the other side of the river"). We wandered over to the Piazza Santo Spirito for a Rosé and so that I could show M Eurocentro, my school during my term abroad, exactly 2 decades ago.

Consulting Rick, we went deeper into the Oltrarno to Trattoia Al Tranvai. They had the menu on a little wooden easel that they bring over to your table and the specials of the day are written in chalk. We ordered the house rosso, which came in a wicker basket.
We split the primi: gnudi (pronounced noo-dee) al Gorgonola. melted in our mouths. Then we shared two different secondi: coniglio (rabbit) fritto con zucchine and tagliata d'anatra (duck breast) in red wine sauce. We had to switch to heartier wine, of course, so we ordered a heavier Chianti and then split dessert, creme custard. (Note to self: custard= yucky texture.)

Italian word of the day: dividere - to share.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 17:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

"Damn those Medici are good"

We wish we had clocked our steps walked today. It felt like miles and miles...
Our reservation time for the Uffizi was not until 14:00, so we hit two attractions before:

Medici-Riccardi Palace -
Just a block from our hotel, we started in the courtyard and then made our way up.
The Chapel of the Magi was a nice surprise with colorful Frescoes like Procession of the Magi (or as Matthew refers to it as Florentine Dandies).

Borgello -
This is a great museum in its own right; the cherry on top was that it was not crowded. This is another one of those museums where the space the precious art is in is just as interesting as the actual art. It was a former police station, then prison, then logically, a sculpture museum. Again with a nice courtyard. We went in to see Donatello's David (the first male nude to be sculpted in a thousand years) and it also has some lesser known Michelangelos and, again, we really appreciated the museum's setting.

is overwhelming. We were glad to have Rick narrating a more specific visit. It has, after all, the greatest collections of Italian paintings anywhere. The first room of Madonna and Child Byzantine altarpieces were interesting to see the progression of perspective. We both liked the tutorial. My favorite painting was Madonna with the Long Neck. Matthew's favorite was the whole Bottecelli room. The Birth of Venus and Primevera never disappoints.

'Ino Wine Bar - had the best sandwiches ever! We ate on wine barrels.

For dinner we went out on a limb: looked cute and was well rated on TripAdvisor. (You never can trust those reviews.) no bueno.

Posted by LaurendeMatt 17:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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