Saturday, July 28, 2007

Just Another Day Traveling in the Good ol’ U.S. of A.

Friday I experienced one of those frustrating traveling days that come along every now and then when traveling in the USA - hurry up and wait, time after time. A day that Time cannot be commanded nor controlled (not that one ever can), but just had to be accepted with a grudge and a sigh.

It started out with me in the lobby of the hotel at 5:45 AM, on time for booking out and taking the 10-seater shuttle minibus (van) to the airport. But the hotel clerk took his time booking me out. I load my luggage into the van and told the driver I am ready, lets go.
Uno momento, por favor”, he exclaim while showing me a small space between his thumb and forefinger.
“What for? I’m going to be late for my plane.” I told him. He didn’t answer me, just went back into the hotel. Paciencia, patience, I tell myself. It’s then that I noticed they are waiting on another person to be on the van. She casually booked out of the hotel and then still had time to walk to the back of the hotel, to the restaurant and breakfast area to fetch a cup of coffee for the road.
She probably wasn’t late; she might well have booked a ride for 6 AM. I am the one being purposefully delayed by the hotel staff so both can be taken to the airport by the same van. It makes sense, in a perverse way, but only if I don’t miss my flight. I calculated I would have enough time, but I also knew what was coming. I have been part of this situation before. It was going to be a high speed race to the airport with flashing headlights for cars to get out of the fast lane; bodies bouncing up and down as we feel every indent and pothole in the road; bodies swinging left and right because lane changes was sudden as the van weaves between other traffic. I sat upfront with the driver, calmly watching cars flying past; at least this morning’s driver was driving fast, but he was pretty good at it and he never took any uncalculated risks and we had no near misses. The woman, sat behind me, never said a word the whole trip and I don’t think she had a single sip of her coffee either. It probably would have spilled all over her.

All the racing was for nothing though. Arriving at Monterrey airport I discovered my 7:20 AM flight to Houston, TX was delayed by 2 hours due to massive thunderstorms and driving rain in Houston the previous evening, forcing Continental and probably all airlines to ground all planes. So our plane never arrived and we had to wait for it to come from Houston, which set off a chain reaction that would reverberate through the rest of my day and the day of thousands of others. The delay in Monterrey meant I missed my connection flight to Lexington, KY and I was subsequently booked to fly from Houston to Memphis, TN and then on to Lexington. OK, so I was to arrive in Lexington at 5 PM, only 3 hours later than originally planned.

I had breakfast in the Monterrey airport at my usual place, Wings, did some work on the laptop and the 2 hours wait went by quickly. We arrived at Houston and departed for Memphis on time. However, arriving at Elvis’s town we could not dock at our designated gate, another plane was double parked and we spent 25 minutes on the tarmac. After we eventually docked I ran from terminal C to my departure fate in terminal A, only to arrive there to be told that the Lexington flight just left. Great! I missed my connection flight to Lexington again!

From experience I know not to get angry at this kind of thing anymore, because missing connection flights and flight delays are part and parcel of flying in the USA. I was supposed to fly the Memphis-Lexington stretch with Northwest airlines, but they had no more flights to Lexington for the day and I was passed on like a distribution package to Delta Airlines to fly me to Cincinnati and from there to get a connection flight to Lexington. Great another connection flight! I departed Memphis at 5:30 PM and arriving at Cincinnati in rainy weather, the place was packed to the rafters with irate travelers stranded due to more storms raging from the Midwest to the Northeast. It became my halfway station for the next 4 hours.

Well, my 9:10 PM flight was delayed to 9:20, then 9:45, then to 10:30 and eventually at 11 PM I departed for the short flight to Lexington. Why didn’t I just rent a car and drive the 2 hours to Lexington? They had my booked luggage, somewhere, and I was hoping to still get it when I arrived at my final destination. I hoped! But not to be. With all the changing of planes and airlines my luggage got stranded in Memphis, I guess, because it never made it to Lexington. The rain still pelted down when I arrived in Lexington and in the undercover parking lot I looked for the Maxima, couldn’t found it and then realized I came to the airport with the Mazda Miata. So my day was not over yet. The Miata is designed for dry, sunny weather, to take the top down and to feel the wind in your hair, not for rainy, stormy nights. It meant the drive home was slower than usual, looking out for major puddles on the road that can cause the car to plane, and taking corners carefully to ensure the backend does not slide out on the slick roads. I eventually arrived home at 12:50 AM. I had a call on Saturday afternoon from the airlines saying my luggage arrived and that they would deliver it to my house the Saturday evening. Oh well, just another day traveling in the good ol’ US of A.

I can’t do anything to control bad weather, and I will continue to travel a lot more in my life, and where and when these two meet delays will cause me to be stranded in some or several airports. Not much I can do about that, but I promised myself to travel lighter and to keep my luggage with me at all times, where possible. Maybe that will allow me more opportunities to take earlier flights and be more flexible in the future

Monday, July 23, 2007

Granddaughter news

Six month old and I now eat baby food. I try to eat by myself but it is still a mess.
Crashed out with Ouma on the stoep.
Hey there. Long time no see.

I started to crawl and you better watch out. I am getting good and fast at this.

I just looooove spending time in the spa with my toys.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Italia! Arrivederci!

Italy is truly something special. For the art lover, especially Renaissance art, this is heaven on earth. For the historian or lover of architecture this is medieval actuality at its best. For the romantic traveler Italy offer real “slow travel Italy.” It has a lot of beauty, lots of special places and provides many memorable memories. But there is another side to Italy. Thanks to the weak US Dollar against the Euro and high cost of living in Italy, it is very expensive. Being a southern Mediterranean country it takes life in its stride. Let me use the Spanish term to describe it better “alla yo siempre manana”, there is always tomorrow. As our host in La Spezia elucidated to us; Italy can be a very frustrated place to live in if you don’t understand it, grew up in it and except it for what it is.

Rome is proverbially not built in 7 days, not even seven centuries. Its beauty lies in it perseverance to exist as a major city through the ages. It survived the raids and plundering of the Northern Barbarians during the late Dark Ages and the early middle Ages mainly to the existence of Roman Catholic Church. That so many of its ancient ruins are still standing for today’s travelers to see is amazing. Florence’s lasting imprints on my mind is terracotta red/orange and light reddish-brown. These colors are everywhere in its ancient buildings. The city can thank a few Allied soldiers and pilots during WWII for not bombing it and all its treasures to rubble. I am sure the city fathers would have rebuilt the city, but most of its 14th and 15th century buildings would have been destroyed and it would probably not have been the jewel it is today. The Cinque Terre and most of Liguria are what it has always been: A treasure cache to be discovered, savored at that moment and memorized for one’s “golden” years. And Venice, so different than any other city on earth, so amazing that it actually still exists and maintain so many medieval characteristics in spite of the onslaught of mass tourism and the demanding modern world.

Will I go back to Italy? With a drop of a hat. Will our next trip be to Europe? Probably not, but who knows. There are so many other places I would like to see in the rest of the world. We could have enjoyed several State-side vacations for the cost of one trip to Italy, but there are no regrets. We see it as a once in a life time experience. We obviously hope that more European trips can be taken in the future, France is already in the dreaming-about stage, but for the time being there are several other non-travel plans and projects in the works that another European trip will have stay on the backburner and stew until ready to be devour.

And so my series of posts about Italy comes to an end. I wanted it to be different than so many other descriptions of Italy you can find on the Internet. From the start I decided against crunching 16 days into a single page with 3 tiny pictures. You, the reader deserve more. I wanted to describe Italy day by day as we experienced it so you could share our experiences. I also wanted it to be mainly a picture diary instead of a wordy diary. I hope I succeeded. I also hope all the regular readers have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Ciao!

PS: Just like a chef wants to know whether you are enjoying the meal or not, so the blogger wants to know whether the content of his posts are enjoyable. So leave me a comment or chat or criticize, whatever your fancy!

Picture Paintings of Italy - Venician Hats

Venician Hats

Picture Paintings of Italy - Venician Masks - Red & Black

Venician Masks - Red & Black
(As always: All Posts headings and Picture Paintings can be clicked on for a larger, more detailed view.)

A Final Swing Through Rome

Very early on the second last day of our Italian vacation, at 5:30 AM, we took a vaporatto to St.Lucia stazione. Our visit to Venice was nearly over and another few hours to explore Rome were on the cards. But before that we first had to complete a four and a half hour train ride to there.

At our arrival in Rome we walked the short distance to the Hotel RomAntica, unpacked the necessary and then headed back to the Rome Termini to take the Red 110 bus for a two hour drive to look at Rome’s architecture from a different view, the top of an open bus. Sure the view was different and we saw a few places we missed the first time we were in Rome, but nothing special to really report. Upon our return Monica went for a walkabout to do last minute shopping.

Late the afternoon she and I went for a walk to visit the Santa Maria Maggiore church. It was one of the churches on my list that I wanted to see on our first visit, but time ran out and we never got to it. I was so glad we made time for it on our last sightseeing day in Italy. What a beauty! Make that with a capital B! St Peters was impressive with all its big name artists and sculptures and St. Mark’s basilica in Venice was beautiful with its incredible mosaics, but both felt cold. There were a lot of treasures but no feelings, no warmth. Santa Maria Maggiore was totally different. It was alive! There was warmth and spirit and it felt like a dignified place were people come to give something, say thank you, or just wanted to be at. The place was full of people that came to prayer, and a service was actually in progress when we arrived there, which limited our access to certain areas of the church, understandably so. No wonder so many popes decided to be buried in this church. Maybe they also felt the difference.

That evening a thunderstorm dampened our plan to take a last, open air terrace dinner under the Roman sky. We were forced indoors at the La Mense il Bucco ristorante, where we also had lunch earlier the day. The dinner (and the lunch) was simple, real Roman food, but excellent. One of the few good dinners we had in Italy. During our trip we seldom ate indoors, mostly under an umbrella on the sidewalk. I loved that, gives one time to do people watching and in Italy it just feels do natural to eat outdoors. Being indoors makes me feel separated from the experience of traveling.

The last morning was a whirl of activity to get to the train station and then to the airport. What was supposed to be a non-stopped train to the airport, the train stopped several times because of maintenance work on the tracks and caused us to have very little time at the airport to board the plane. We certainly would have missed the plane if it was not for the fact that the plane was late at leaving by 30 minutes. Thank goodness for that.

We left Italy with a little sadness because it was a monumental experience for us and there is so much beauty, in all forms, in this country. No wonder it is most people’s favorite country to travel to and the country where most travelers return to for a second and third visit. But we also felt good to go home again. We were tired. We needed a real, don’t-disturb-me, do-very-little, late-sleeping vacation. Even though we walked every evening a mile or so for weeks before our trip to get ourselves in shape, the real thing made us understand that we have to walk five to ten miles every day to be ready and fit before the next trip of this kind.

Monica takes a last look at Venice from the water bus that took us to the train station.

Rome: The Temple of Herculus Victor on Forum Boarium. One of the best preserved buldings from Republic era (509 BC when the monarchy was overthrow until 44 BC when Julius Caesar was appointed live long dictator.)

Castel Sant'Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Built in 135-139 AD, the ashes of many emporers were scattered or stored here. In the 14th century the popes converted it into a castle and built a fortified corridor that link the castle with St. Peter's as an escape route for popes.

Rome: Trajan's forum and obelix with the Virgin Mary on top of the obelix. It is not strange for Rome to see Christian symbols mixed with pagan buildings. It is simple, who ever rules at the time takes over buildings from the previous rulers and use it for their own purposes.

One of the front doors of Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

The rose window above the entrance of Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

The altar of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the largest and most important place of prayer dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The altar was done by Pietro Bracci, who also sculptured Neptune of the Trevi fountain.

Picture Paintings of Italy - Venician Masks - Blue & Gold

Venician Masks - Blue & Gold

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gliding Gondolas

Venice is certainly different than the rest of Italy. It is so compacted; the streets and alleys are narrower than anywhere else. There is no rigid city layout; it is still medieval in layout, crooked alleys; it is said that if Marco Polo should return today to Venice he will still recognize most of Venice because most of it is still as it was in the 15th century. Well, take that with a grain of salt because he will not believe his eyes when he sees how many people today visit Venice on a daily basis, not will he believe there can be so many shops selling the same masks, t-shits and other tourist-focused goods as there are in Venice. The obvious thing that makes Venice different than any other place is the fact that there are no cars and no noise from motorbikes (thank goodness.)

But what I have a hard time to understand is why it is labeled as a romantic city. Maybe it is because of the gliding gondolas on narrow canals and the water everywhere and so many bridges. It is not particularly more beautiful than Florence or Rome (most certainly better than Naples). Sure, it architecture is different; more Byzantine than Romanesque like the rest of Italy and it has just as many old building like Florence and Rome (Rome’s naturally much older). And then there are the people or rather, masses. When we got there on the Sunday one could hardly walk a meter or two before one has to stop and try to pass someone or let someone pass you. Today there was slightly less people, but Piazza San Marco was still crowded and the lines still long to visit places. I am not complaining, just giving a point of view, and it is definitely worth the visit. Actually I wished we could stay another day or so, to explore all the sections of Venice because we only had time to explore San Marco and San Polo sestieries. I wish we had more time to take a vaporetto and cruise up and down the canals, get a different view of the city from the water instead of just from the streets, or walk the alleys less traveled by tourists.

This morning we visited San Marco Basilica and the Doge Palace next door. The basilica was incredible. Beforehand every research on the Internet was raving about it and I must say I was not disappointed. It truly is one of the marvels of Italy. The mosaic art inside is of the best if not the best we have seen in Italy. It was worth paying the €3 to go upstairs to the balcony and to see the bronze horse, circa 4 BC, and to see the mosaics from up close. It does give one a different perspective and appreciation of the true talent of these ancient artists. A view of the piazza from above was also worth the while.

The Doge Palace or the Palazzo Ducale, next door was a bit of a disappointment after San Marco. There are no furniture in the palace. (The Doge was the ruler of Venice, like a President, but with very little real power, lots of prestige though. And when he became the doge, he was expected to provide his own furniture to the living quarters of the palace and upon death the family promptly removed it again, hence no furniture.) Walking through the Palace was like walking through a art gallery where the surroundings are really cold and non-distractive and although I think some of the ceilings were very good, most of the frescoes were not that great. But then, after you see the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi and use that as a yardstick, not many other places can hold a candle to them. However, I do think some of the doors in the Doge Palace are magnificent pieces of art in their own right.

The rest of the day we spent walking (and shopping) through San Marco and San Polo sestieries (San Polo is on the opposite side of the Grand Canal from San Marco sestieri (neighborhood)). By 4:30 PM we were exhausted and sat ourselves down on the steps outside a small church in a quiet calle, away from the main streets, and savor a gelato. (I have never eaten so many ice creams in such a short period of time in my life, but Italian ice creams are fantastic. I think it is because they taste so “fresh”, if that’s the right term to use, and because of the many flavors to choose from.)

Dinner was on the San Polo side of the Grand Canal with a great view of the canal and the gliding gondolas, but the service was way too fast, as if they wanted our money and then wanted us to leave so they can turn the table a few times per evening. The food was average to poor. After dinner, as the sun was setting, we took a gondola ride down the canal and up several smaller canals. (Right: Inside the gondola.) It was expensive, the 30 minute glide was the same price as 3 train tickets from Rome to Florence on the Eurostar, but that is what you do when you come to Venice as a tourist. You pay the money for that one time experience.

Afterwards we stood at the rail on the Railto Bridge, watched the reflecting lights of Venice in the Grand Canal, and just enjoyed and took in the moment. Behind us, in the center of the bridge, a guitarist was picking a flamenco tune on his strings. The moment and we were not anything special to Venice, but Venice, at that moment was special to us.

Piazza San Marco with the basilica and the campanile at the end of the square.

San Marco basilica façade with the bronze horses on the balcony.

The San Marco clock tower, probably the 2nd most famour clock tower in the world after Big Ben in London. Built between 1496 and 1506, the clock indicates the relative positions of five planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury and could be read on concentric circles, together with the phases of the moon and the position of the Sun in the zodiac (in times past these allowed seafarers to discern the most favourable times for setting out to sea) and last, but not least it tell the time in the Italian 24 hour system.

The façade of the clocktower contains the three symbols of powers that govern Venice, namely the civic authority, symbolised by the Lion of San Marco, the Christian faith, symbolised by the Three Wise Men paying homage to Jesus, and the knowledge of science and mechanics, symbolised by the complex machinery of the clock itself.

The burly Moors on the roof of the clock tower, made of gun-metal and cast in 1497, they strike the bell on the hour. We were fortunate to see the moving Moors in action at the time that we were on the basilica's balcony.

View from the San Marco basilica's balcony towards the lagoon. On the left is the Doge palace.

San Marco's Horses and Monica. These horses are bronze copies. The originals are inside the basilica. No one really knows how old the originals are, but the date from the Classical Antiquity period (7th century BC - 5th Century AD). They think the horses once adorned the Arch of Trajan and that they were also long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In 1204 they were sent to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Forth Crusade. Off course Monica is not from the same period and far younger than the horses.

The Giant Staircase inside the Doge Palace.

A view of Venice from our gondola.

Gliding Gondolas

A view of Venice at sunset from the Railto Bridge.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Monterrey again

The Kentucky River snakes like a cotton wool Anaconda across the green landscape as mist hangs above the river. The windless, cloudless sky makes for a perfect morning as I lift off from Bluegrass Airport for another 10 day trip to Monterrey, Mexico. I can’t say I am looking forward to Mexico because this time of year the usual daytime temperature is around 40 degrees Celsius. Night time is only slightly cooler.

For the next 3 months while my local IT supervisor in Monterrey is on maternity leave I will be traveling to Mexico every 2 to 3 weeks for periods up to 12 days to manage the department there. During the many visits, on weekends, I hope to explore the Monterrey area in more detail, trips to the mountain caves nearby or a visit to Villa Santiago, and take a trip or two to other cities in Mexico like Guadalajara, with is many colonial buildings, or Cancun, with its many Mayan ruins (above left: The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza near Cancun.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Venice Venezia

Early morning we left La Spezia and the train slowly made its way through a series of tunnels and mountain passes before we arrived at the flatlands of Emilia-Romagne. The day was overcast but luckily no rain. The passage through the mountains was slow going on the Inter regionale train, but once we got to Fornovo, the train sped up and the trip to Bologna via Parma and Modena went quickly. After a light, stand-up lunch on Bologna station we boarded the Eurostar train for Venice. We only planned for a day and a half in Venice based on research of many people that traveled there before who felt 2 days was enough for Venice. In hindsight I should have planned for another day or so.

Arriving at Venice we sat on the steps outside of the station just to get our bearings and enjoyed a cigarette. A vaporetto (water bus) took us to the Rialto Bridge where a person met us and took us to our apartment. We would never have gotten there using a map for we walked along far too many alleys and had to make far too many lefts and rights. Venice, occupying 117 islands in the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea is a massive watery maze of grand canals, 177 smaller canals, and over 400 bridges. Maps aren’t very useful here. I tried to use my map a few times, but because there are no beacons to use (we would quickly learn to create our own beacons by remembering little squares and shops) and because there are so many narrow alleys and really no straight streets or calle, one really just walked and followed the few signs to famous places or general beacons. Venice is walkable but it is a mesmerizing experience.
After we dropped our luggage at the apartment, Monica and I walked to San Marco Square and then just all along the lagoon, pass the Doge Palace, hundreds of shops until our feet were sore. Heading home we got terribly lost, but eventually found our apartment after walking in circles for 30 minutes. I am sure we passed near it several times, but just couldn’t find the little narrow passage that led to the apartment. But not discouraged by getting lost in the afternoon, we attempted the maze again for dinner was at a ristorante on the Grand Canal and in full view of the Rialto Bridge. On the return journey we found our home easily.
A view of Venice from the canal.

San Marco's Basilica. Most impressive! Can't wait to see the inside tomorrow.

The Doge Palace on San Marco Piazza. The Byzantine influence is very strong in Venice and can be seen in many of its buildings.

The campanile of San Marco's Basilica.
A gondolier waiting for customers. Riding the gondola is the most expensive form of traveling in Venice, usually reserved for tourists and Venetians when they get married.

The Grand Canal at sunset from the Rialto Bridge. Our apartment was only a 5 minute walk from the famous bridge.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cinque Terre

Our main reason for coming to the Liguria region is to visit Cinque Terre. In medieval times, the name “terre” (land) meant village. From this origin comes the name Cinque Terre (five villages.) Over the centuries, through constant collective work, man has managed to create a monument in landscape architecture of steep terraces sloping down to almost touching the lapping sea waves, the only landscape of its kind in the world. Why the first peoples that lived here decided to embark on the massive task of building 7000 km of dry stone walling, cleverly built without cement to cultivate as vineyards and make their famous D.O.C. wines will never be known, but generation after generation continue to maintain and improve on the original terraces.

Liguria is a place of mixed emotions and experiences. The weather was awful at times (only when on holiday), the scenery spectacular, the services was confusing at times, the food was the best in Italy and the hospitality was out of this world.

We had a late start to the day due to the rain in the morning. We went to the harbor for a boat ride to the villages of Cinque Terre. Due to the weather the boat was not going to stop at the individual villages, but only at Portovenere and at Monterosso al Mare, the last and largest of the five villages. At Portovenere, where we had to change boats, it was chaotic, and announcements were only in Italian, which left many tourist from different nationalities stranded and upset because no one seems to know which boat was to depart next and in which direction. The constant rain only stopped once we got to Montorosso al Mare, but it would intermittently rain the rest of the day. In the hope to get some pictures of the villages from the boat I went to the back of the boat while Monica and Lamar stayed indoors and 300 Italians sang several folk songs to make the choppy journey more enjoyable and bearable.

Monterosso al Mare was packed with visitors, so much more than usual I would guess because it was a national holiday, and we had to struggle to find a place to lunch. We eventually found seats at Ristorante il Pussu, where I had an excellent spaghetti la marinara with lots of mussels and clams and savored a small bottle of “vini tipici locali” of Cinque Terre D.O.C white wine. After lunch we went for a walkabout in some of the town’s narrow streets, some barely 2 meters wide and took some photos. We then took the train to Manorola. Originally we planned to walk the via dell’amore (the love path) with its beautiful vistas of mountains and sea, between Manorola and Riomaggiore, but decided against it because of the weather. After spending about an hour in Manarola we head back to La Spezia in a packed train with barely standing room available.

Notwithstanding the weather, the trip to Cinque Terre was worth it. The quaint little villages are unique and beautiful. The evening we packed for our trip to Venice the next day and ended off our stay in Liguria with an excellent dinner at the argituristica downstairs.
Portovenere harbor and its colorful beach houses. This scene is very popular with painters.

Manorola clinging to the mountain side.

Corniglia. The only village that is not at the seafront. It sits on top of a hill.

Vernazza is somewhat protected from the violent seas by a rock face on the right.

Monica overlooking the tiny beach at Monterosso al Mare, the only village with a beach.

Monica and Lamar out strolling through the narrow streets of Monterosso al Mare.

The man-made landscape of steep terraces sloping down to almost touching the sea waves. Here they make the famous dry white D.O.C wines.

Manorola. All the house are painted in pastel colors except for the house slightly to the right of the center of the picture. I guess its where the town's rebel and non-conformist stays.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Agri-Tourism - La Cicala, La Spezia

La Cicala, La Spezia

As promised, a little bit about agri-tourism lodging. Although not a new idea it is something we have never tried before and something that many travelers don't know about. Basically you stay in the same house (in our case it was an apartment upstairs) as the farmer and if you choose so you can enjoy your meals with them. Many have "restaurants", a diningroom where meals are served. Meals are not ordered from a menu. What ever they choose to serve is what you get. Some of these places only serve a meal and no lodging is offered. Both ways you can experience real home made Italian food. In our case it was Italian mixed with a little bit of Swiss, because the hostess is originally from Switzerland. At La Cicala we also had an added benefit in savoring both the DOC white and Sangiovese-blended red wine that gets produced on the premises. (Sangiovese grapes are traditionally grown in Tuscany and are use as the major component for making Italy’s flagship wine, Chianti.) I have to admit Silvano Grassi makes a very good wine on the premises.

We have found that the lodging and the food is much cheaper than hotels and the food is far superior to most restaurants. As a matter of fact, the best food we had in Italy was at La Cicala. On top of that the hospitality we experienced at La Cicala was fantastic. Our hosts, Silvano and Barbara Grassi made us feel at home the moment we arrived and treated us like family. I highly recommend La Cicala for anyone traveling to the La Spezia area or if you plan to visit Cinque Terre. The best value for money lodging and food in Liguria, and maybe even in Italy.

Here's what we had for dinner our last evening in La Cicala:

Facaccia bread with a bruscetta of tomato & pepperoni (sweet peppers),
and another Facaccia with pesto, carrots and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Thereafter we had a delicate baked dish of curried vegetables with a Phyllo crust.
This was followed by 2 different quiches: One made from apple and leeks (absolutely fantastic) and the other made from sweet onions.
Anti-pasta: Arugula salad.
First course: Risotto (the best I have ever had and I have eaten some good risotto in the past.)
Second course: Roasted Rabbit with rosemary potatoes. (The rabbit was very tender with a lovely roasted crust.)
Dessert: Bitter Orange Tiramisu. (What a fantastic difference from the usual coffee-flavoured tiramisu.)
Finished it off with a cup of Espresso.
Our Wine: A bottle of Silvano's Sangiovese Red.

All of this for under €30 per person. You will not find this quality food anywhere in Italy for this price.

Our lodging was a two bedroom apartment with a sitting room, bathroom (furnished with a washer and dryer) and a small kitchen, which include everything needed to cook your own meal. The lodging was clean and immaculate. If you need a ride into town, for a small fee you can ask Silvano.

For more information on La Cicala and daily rates you can contact Sergio Grassi at grassisergio at hotmail dot com.

Views from the porch of La Cicala.

The apartment's kitchen. It has everything you need while on holiday.