It has been since last September since we have gone anywhere mostly due to the move. I wanted to concentrate on that for the last months and had no desire to go anywhere.
Now we are moved and things mostly livable we decided we needed to go somewhere for a short get-away. The problem was, we had no cat sitter anymore. Paul, our friend and cat carer was farther away and also leaving Umbertide for their move after selling their house. What to do?
We have a new housekeeper named Linda. She is from Albania, I think. I have known her husband for a while. She picks up jobs doing different things from home health care to cleaning houses. She cared for a friends husband during his last months in his home, and another good friend who is house-bound. So I felt she was reliable. After she had cleaned for me a couple times and I learned she has 3 indoor cats I thought maybe she would want to help us out with ours. She doesn’t live far away so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for her to sit for them. She seemed happy to do so and earn some money. So this trip was essentially a test to see how it all worked out.
We went for three nights. We decided on Cremona in the Lombardia region, and Parma in the Emilia Romagna region. Cremona is the home of the most famous violins. There has been very bad flooding in the Emilia Romagna region in the past week. 15 people have died and tens of thousands are homeless. It is a horrible disaster. The bad flooding was at the mouths of the rivers in the coastal towns. Rimini, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì and many more smaller towns are badly damaged. We knew our hotel was just near the big Po river so asked if all was ok before we left. It was, they said, ok.
After a longer drive than necessary due to traffic we arrived at our hotel, Antica Corte Pallavicina. Well, we sort of arrived. We drove down a dead end road and were at a building with many signs. Pointing many directions. After driving on this tiny muddy roads we finally went in the building there and it turned out to be the hotel. It is pretty soggy here after the rains.
Amazing building built in the 1300s just next to the River Po. It is a working farm. They have a lot of white cattle in the fields around the house (Eden😉). They also sell the famous DOC controlled ham called Culatello. They grow the vegetables in the gardens that are served in the restaurants (there are two, a Hosteria del Maiale, and a fancy place, same name as the hotel – a Michelin one star) They grow the wheat with which they make the delicious bread. The bread here is nothing like Umbrian or Tuscan bread, which has no salt and is tasteless. This is yeasty and salty. Yummy.
The room was not what I expected. We were in one of the two towers of the original building. There is a big living room with armoire, table, two chairs and a sofa. And a bathroom with shower. Then, up a very scary set of stairs is the bedroom, situated in the tower. It has itty bitty windows around the room. About the size of a 3×5 index card. I suppose for keeping a lookout? Shooting arrows? (They’re also windows like these on the bottom floor). But the whole idea of having to go up and down those stairs in the middle of the night to the bathroom was not to my liking to say the least. I guess what do you expect from a 14th century castle?
We had a nice glass of wine on the terrace. There is a peacock here. He is extremely loud and displays often. I haven’t seen any peahens yet. There is also a kind of a pond which is full of frogs all in a high state of sexual arousal calling (or should I say croaking out?) for love. Then there are the cats. Very very pretty cats. Some with long hair. A real menagerie.
Dinner was disappointing. I loved the place. The ancient building. The look of it. And there was a shop selling the famous ham called Culatello. The Hosteria is a stop gap for the night the fancy restaurant is closed. Our starters were good but the secondi were definitely not good. But it was OK. We took our bottle of red wine onto the terrace where Luther could smoke his cigar. There was a group of four motorcyclists also there. Two from Germany and two spoke English, so English was the common language. There was another couple here as well.
Tuesday May 23
We headed out to breakfast in the same building as the dinner last night, where we were ignored. Place is strange. The breakfast was serve yourself from a buffet. We ordered a bottle of water which never came. There were no plates so I had to ask for them. The good thing was I liked the cheese a lot. Very unusual. During my 3 breakfasts the man never asked if we wanted coffee. Got cereal once. No spoons. The bread was horribly stale. And as a teaser there were fresh loaves being sliced right on the counter opposite. Oh well, we ended up fed.
After breakfast, off we went to Cremona. The day was absolutely glorious. The Giallo Angelo with the top down for the first time this year. It took around 30 minutes of winding around the local highways to get into town. This part of Italy, all up and down the Po river, is extremely industrial. So it is unattractive. But once we got into Cremona we enjoyed it a lot.
The city was a real surprise. It is a city of 71,000 so it is not terribly big, and the traffic was light and polite. We parked and walked into the center. Lots of shopping. Pedestrian streets and cafes and bars everywhere. And extremely quiet. Sometimes we could see nor hear anyone. I don’t know if I have said, but I like less frenetic and crazy-busy cities. Smaller mid-sized towns are for me. Cremona fit that bill just right. Bikes are the preferred way to travel.
Our goal was the Museum of Violins. Cremona is the city of art and music. The great luthiers all lived and worked there. Also many great composers. The Museum was great. It took you through the process of making a fine violin and then there was a room that kind of took your breath away. Full of the finest violins from the 1500s onward. Incredibly beautiful and delicate. Made by the famous Luthiers Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. The last room was a small theater where they were showing videos of artists playing the fine old instruments we had just seen in glass cases. We assumed the instruments benefit from playing. And the music was ethereal. Good violin music always makes me cry.
After this we walked over to the cathedral. Amazing piazza surrounded by old buildings and the 11th century cathedral and the tower 112 meters / 369 feet tall. Hard to take it all in, in photographs. Needless to say the cathedral is nothing like the original having been added to and changed throughout the centuries. The interior was ginormous. Just an immense space. No stained glass, which surprised me. Many highly ornate altars etc.
Now, ready for a light lunch, we went right across the street to a cafe. Nothing makes me happier than to sit on an ancient piazza in the outside air of a gorgeous perfect day with some vino and watch the people. And the lunch of salads was just right.
We walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel. All along the road were signs for cherries for sale. I think cherries are my favorite spring fruit. They are also having a cherry festival nearby.
Back at the hotel the peacock yelled at us as we walked past to kick back for a couple of hours before dinner.
Dinner was a disappointment considering it was a Michelin One Star restaurant. Pretty room. The people were way too serious. They had several big tasting menus. They explained them to to us. Neither of us felt up to a big long dinner so we decided to order a la carte. Two courses each. It was as though they kind of lost interest in us at this point.
After our two courses we left, didn’t even give them time to ask if we wanted dessert. Outside it was lovely. We enjoyed the moon and Venus setting in the sky.
Wednesday May 24
Off we went after another breakfast where we were ignored. It was amusing at this point. Today, it was Parma. About a forty minute drive on smallish roads with lots of trucks.
The city has 175,000 people, so it was quite a bit bigger than Cremona. We found parking and walked into town to visit the Palazzo della Pilota which has the Teatro Farnese within its complex. The Teatro Farnese, in Parma, was the court theater of the Dukes of Parma and Piacenza. It was built starting from 1618 to celebrate the stay in Parma of the grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II, on his way to Milan. It was finished that year but not inaugurated until 1628 because of an illness that caused Cosimo to cancel his pilgrimage. It was finally inaugurated for the occasion of the wedding of Odoardo, Ranuccio’s son, with Margherita di’ Medici, Cosimo’s daughter. The theater was only used eight more times due to the complexity and cost of it’s use.
We left the theater because a woman said we couldn’t go back the way we came. So we ended up entering a door to the gallery of art and going backwards through the exhibits. Didn’t really matter much. Here are a few pictures.
Off we went to see the cathedral. We used our google maps to navigate but we could hear the big bell tolling for midday and could follow it’s sound. It was a really big bell. Deep and and slow. Many more than 12 times. I love bells. Bad news is that it closed at noon. We arrived at 12:15. Oh well. We decided to have a pre-lunch glass of wine.
Look at this place! I would love to know who lives here. High in the sky above the cathedral piazza.
Our lunch destination was Osteria del 36. A very old (since the 1880s), very traditional restaurant. Just what the doctor ordered. The cameriere was super nice and friendly. We had some very delicious food. I started with the tortellini in brodo, Luther had a gnocci dish topped with smoky scarmorza cheese. I got the duck breast which was prepared just right IMO. The gelato crema was too good to pass up but it was a big bowl. It was very soft, like soft custard cones in the US, and had chocolate sauce. Best gelato ever.
On the way back to the car we stopped into a prosciutto shop. They also had other local specialties, wines, parmigiana reggiano .
Thursday morning we checked out and headed back home to our boyz. Rocky and Simba. Here is a picture of the cantina under the building full of Parmigiana reggiano being aged.
We got home in 3.5 hours. Along the route there was ample evidence of the flooding in the coastal areas. But the worst was in the mountains through which we must go to get to Umbria. The rains caused many landslides and the evidence of the normally small river rampaging through the valley was significant. The good news is our boyz were fine with their new caretaker. So this will allow us to travel in the future for shorter trips.