Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Modena, Italy.

Again, work took me to Europe – this time to Modena, Italy. It’s a kinda different place – very old and known for different things. For example, it’s the home of balsamic vinegar, the birthplace (and final resting place) of Paveroti, and the center of Ferrari and Maseroti. The city also has Italy's only military academy - a building which is grand, and pictured above.

We flew into Bologna, got a car, and took the non-motorway route to Modena. We passed the Ducati factory (not much to see), then some ladies who would have been more suited to be out at night – it was 11 in the morning. The Bologna to Modena trip is across some untypical flat land for Italy.

After finally finding Modena we then had the monstrous task of locating the Central Park Hotel. It took us about an hour of driving around in circles through narrow streets to locate it, but we did eventually.

After checking in and shaping up, we headed out for a walk through the city. Cobblestone streets and old, old buildings. People on bikes and mopeds. It was a bit of a shift from metro Detroit.

Starving, we went looking for a café to get some pizza or a roll or baguette or something. We eventually stumbled upon a little place that sold some really delicious slices of pizza for about eu2 each. And a little glass of Tuborg to go with it. Very nice. The guy working there spoke no English, and we spoke no Italian, but there were no problems.

The ancient cathedral, pictured below twice – one side and one front showing the steeple all covered in scaffolding – was impressive. Work on this fine building started in 1099 – and even before that, 2 churches stood on the spot. This cathedral recently made the news – it was here Pavarotti’s funeral took place a few months ago. More on it later.

From there we went to a couple of shops – not buying. Everything there seemed incredibly expensive. And the shops all seemed to be closing around 3pm. So, back to the hotel.

Later, we headed out to dinner. What we quickly learned was that restaurants in Modena do not open until at least 7pm, and that all the shops had re-opened. Four hungry and thirsty guys were not in a mood for shops, so we wandered around until we found a bar that sold beer on tap. The bar we found had a name that I can’t remember, a modern little place that sold beer, wine, coffee and pastry snacks. So, a couple of half-litres of Nastro Azzurro were ordered and drank. A nice unexpected touch was the complementary plate of sandwiches, small pizza slices, and other unknown pastry thing that was served with the beer. All good!

Thereafter, we headed to the Ristorante Belvedere Da Danilo – a really nice little place – I’d been here before on my last flying visit – but being wet and miserable last time, I was in an unappreciative mood then. Different this time – I was hungry and more alert. We had a shared starter, antipasto, which was a big plate of cold meat – prosciutto, parmesanno reggiano, salami of the mountains (?) and others, and some puffy pastry things – delicious! For the pasta course, I had Ravioli di Modena – hand made ravioli stuffed with cheese, coated with balsamic vinegar. The vinegar added some sweetness, which I was not expecting – interesting! We skipped the meat course – all full up and happy. For 4 people, the bill was $100 – and that included a bottle of wine. The service was good to – out waiter talked us through everything he served us in pretty good English.

Then, back to the hotel and sleep.

So that was day 1. Day 2 was spent working until late in the afternoon. And then, hotel, and off out for dinner – a little later this time. We took a recommendation from the hotel, and went to Ristorante L'incontro –a small little place down a bunch of narrow cobblestone streets, past a bunch of operational cobblers (or, I guess, shoemakers). The restaurant seemed to have a brick ceiling, similar to the arches outside, and was family-ran. Our waitress, upon realizing we were not Italian, fetched us English menus, so some of the mystery was taken out of it all. The antipasto was the similar to the night before, cold meat and cheese, only larger in quantities. On our waitress’s recommendation, we also had some kind of toast, one lot covered in a mushroom and port topping, the other had what we were told was lard. It wasn’t lard as I know it – just some other kind of cured pork. We skipped over the pasta section after this, and went straight for meat. Or, Meet, as it was listed on the menu. Our waitress recommended a mixed meat selection, and we happily accepted. It consisted of small lamb chops, a huge steak that had been hung for quite a while judging by the rich taste, and veal – The Cruel Meat – which I avoided. The other meat was great. We finished off with a coffee each. Unfortunately, the bill reflected the quantity. Not my call that night, thankfully.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped into a bar we’d seen on the way to eat – I can’t remember the name. But, it was a trendy kinda place with a big screen TV, showing soccer, and Hacker-Pschorr Hefeweizen on tap (along with some other lesser beers). So we drank, people watched and went back to the hotel.

Day 3, my final day in Modena, was spent for the first part like Day 2, except my colleagues had run out of town to another appointment elsewhere. So I was on my own. After a day’s work, I went off out for a walk through the evening city. It was pleasant, and to make things better, there was Mass going on in the cathedral, so I wandered in. All the singing, and prayer (none of which I could understand) was nice and peaceful, and the building inside was beautiful. There is something very special about being in a place like this that had stood there for so long. Well, I liked it anyway.

I wandered the streets, as it was not dinnertime yet. Eventually, I thought I could not leave Italy without having a pizza. I found a restaurant selling pizza eventually (remarkably hard to find, surprisingly), had a beer and ate a delicious spicy pizza with salami, anchovies, mushrooms, garlic, and peppers on it. It was really good – and not too filling. These people know a thing or two about making a decent pizza – it tasted nothing like Dominos! hehehe in that it didn't taste like cardboard.

Dang shadows!

After this, I headed back to the hotel, packed, slept, and arose in the middle of the night to catch a taxi to the airport, driven by a non-English speaker, but he got where I wanted to go and I got how many euros he wanted for the privilege.

From there, I flew to Amsterdam, then Detroit, stopped flying and came home. Bye Italy for now! I will be back - it's a cool place.

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