Friday, October 24, 2014

La Quercia Farm Stay


After leaving Vernazza, we went to La Spezia by train.  At La Spezia we caught a taxi which took us to a car rental office where we picked up our rental car (a cute little Fiat).  From there, we navigated city roads, the autostrada and country roads to get to our first farm stay.  Phew!  We switched to car travel just in time, too because later that day a train strike was scheduled and was sure to muck up transit plans for anyone who was depending on train service.  Luckily for us we had a rental car reserved and our reservation was honored.  Other people we met in the office had a reservation with another company that was not honored and they had come to the agency we used hoping to get a car. 


At La Quercia outside of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region, we were greeted by Michele and Gabriella, the lovely couple that own the agrotourism farm, and their charming dog, Sambi.  Sambi and I became fast friends even though it was my mom who was the one feeding her bits of cheese from our picnic lunch.  Maybe she could tell I love dog snuggle time.


The owners told me Sambi had gotten herself knocked up while they were out of town.  Her pregnant belly didn't stop her from jumping up into my lap which gave everyone a little chuckle.

Thanks for taking this photo, Mom!

Her snaggletooth mouth cracks me up.  Those 2 teeth add such personality!


Sambi wasn't the only animal at the farm.  They also have meat goats. I tried to focus more on the goat part than the meat part of their explanation.  It was good to see the goats had tons of space and food and were well socialized.  I am not sure how long their lives are, but they seemed to have happy ones.





The billie goat was king of the hay bale!





The farm is located on a mountain but since the afternoon/evening was a misty/foggy one, the view was obscured.  We still had a lovely, long walk before dinner.





In addition to the furry friends and the peaceful settings, another reason we chose to stay at agrotourism farms was the food.  We opted to have room and half board, which meant dinner and breakfast were included. We returned from our walk, said hello to Sambi again and then got ready for dinner.


Dinner! Oh my goodness! We were consulted before dinner to make sure what they had planned met our needs.  The conversation went a bit like this: One vegetarian, right? Do you like mushrooms?  Pasta? Zucchini? Potatoes? Cheese? Eggs ok? Vegetables?  Wine? We said whatever they were making sounded wonderful.  Well, it turns out they were making ALL of those things and a few more.


The food Michele made us was not made with fancy techniques nor was it overly complicated in composition yet it was perfect.  The ingredients were fresh, of good quality and prepared in a way that highlighted their flavors.  The pasta dish was made with porcini mushrooms and was so satisfying that we both talked about it for the rest of the trip.



After dinner, Michele came out to ask us how we liked dinner.  We got a chance to ask him about the sourcing of his ingredients, talked about the wine he made (he is new at wine making, it wasn't very good) and let him know how much we enjoyed the meal.  As we were talking about how we ate so much we couldn't possibly eat anything more, he decided we needed to try his homemade limoncello. At first we protested but eventually, after my mom got him to agree to share a shot with us, we relented.  It was good that we accepted the offer because he makes excellent limoncello and it was a festive way to end our evening at their farm.


With full tummies and a warm glow from the limoncello, we headed to our room, using a skeleton key to unlock the door.


The next morning we awoke to another big spread, this time prepared by Gabriella.


For me, the highlights were the baked goods, homemade jams and local chestnut honey.


When I started asking Gabriella about the jams and the fruits she used to make them, we were treated to a full round of jam tasting including some really caramelized marmalade.  It was interesting to see that her jam making techniques was different from mine and to taste the different results.

Talking about what we were eating with the people who grew and prepared the foods was exactly what we had hoped for in a farm stay.


On our drive back down the mountain, the air had cleared a little and provided us with our first real glimpse of the area surrounding the farm.  Beautiful!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vernazza - Hikes and Views

On one of the hikes we took up the mountainside in Vernazza, I could be repeatedly heard saying, "This doesn't look real!"  Without further ado, I present to you the unbelievable views of the Vernazza area.






The black tubes are city water pipes.





Prickly Pear!



We went for a hike up to a castle at dusk and caught these views, too.





It was mighty windy up there, so we had a little trouble getting a picture in which our hair was behaving.







Before we knew it, our time in this beautiful coastal town came to a close. We took the very short  walk to the train station to catch a train to the next stop on our adventure.  But, before I get to that, I must make mention of one thing that I have yet to share: My mom's luggage!


Before we left on this trip, my mom and I had repeated conversations about the importance of packing light.  She would tell me what she was planning to bring and I would tell her to bring half that much. It is not that my mom is a rookie traveler, she actually travels out of the country at least 2 times a year.  However, when she travels, she usually takes cruises where you move your luggage around a very minimal amount of times and often with assistance from porters.

When I travel, I typically stay in a handful of places and am used to transitioning my stuff.  Since I have to schlep it multiple times, I try to bring as little stuff as I can.  For health reasons, I had to pack heavier than usual for this trip.  Namely, I brought a set of sheets and a towel with me so I wouldn't react to the detergent other people used on the linens provided. Before the trip, I was hemming and hawing about the size and weight of my suitcase, wishing I could have packed lighter.  I thought I had set the scene well enough with my mom that I wasn't worried about her choices.

When my mom and I met at the airport and I saw her bag come out of the trunk, I thought "uh oh!" Apparently, I wasn't forceful enough about packing light, because she brought a full sized suitcase and a rolling carry on bag. I was not alone in my reaction because when we went to check in for our flight, the airline woman took one look at my mom's bag and says, "Oh honey! You are bringing too much stuff!"  It was a little late to do anything about it at that point.

Unfortunately, the scene was set for my mom to be repeatedly reminded of the importance of packing light.  She was reminded in the form of comments from the people we rented apartments from, looks from people on the street and most of all by the hassle of trying to heft her suitcase on and off of trains, boats and buses as well as up and down many sets of stairs.


By the time we got to Vernazza, we had expanded her suitcase in order to fit the other rolling one inside of it. This adjustment made it more possible to move our stuff efficiently.  When I told Paul about the suitcase saga, he asked for pictures to prove it, so thanks to him I have this one silly photo of my mom and our luggage while we waited for our train to depart Vernazza. I have a strong feeling that the next time my mom and I talk about packing light, we will be on the same page about it.


Next up: I drive a car! We stay at a farm!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vernazza - Beach

Beyond the special location of Vernazza and the stunning views, the town is remarkable for another reason. Just 3 years ago, the village experienced torrential rains that resulted in a devastating flood, mudslides and landslides. This video was shot just a few buildings down from where we stayed and shows the water, mud and debris flowing through the village's main street:


The town has done an amazing job of rebuilding and were it not for the signage in town, it would not be apparent how much the community has overcome in just a few years.

An area of town not shown in the video, but I suspect also impacted by the flooding and landslides was a beach area on the other side of this underpass. I am glad my mom braved it and then later came back to the apartment to let me know we needed to check it out together. I am not sure I would have ducked into that little underpass without some encouragement.  There were a lot of warning signs to stay out :)



When you walk through, you come out to the other side on a wide open, rocky beach.  The area seems to be viewed as unstable, because there are all sorts of cables installed to catch or slow falling rock.  I suspect this is the reason behind all of the warning signs.



The remnants of devastation are evident in how the remaining buildings are situated above the netted areas and in the debris on the beach.






We enjoyed two visits to this beach, soaking up the sights and sounds of crashing waves and the power of the ocean tides.








We didn't spend all of our time at sea level, though.  There were beautiful things to see up higher in the village.  I will share some of that with you tomorrow!

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