Friday, April 30, 2010

Lombardy, Italy: Lago di Garda (Lake Garda)

I just want to post some lovely views of Lake Garda in Sirmione:

Lago di Garda or Lake Garda is a very famous destination not only for tourists but for the locals as well. The Italians come here by the hordes when the weather is nice, especially when its a public holiday.

The Scaliger Castle in Sirmione.

Travel Period: April 2010
Destination: Sirmione (Brescia - Lombardy), Italy

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It’s Queens Day in Utrecht and it’s raining and I’m outta here

Overheard in the airport the other day when I was sending Dutchman off: Dutch father and Spanish mother speaking English to each other; then Dutch father spoke Dutch to the two little boys while Spanish mother spoke Spanish to them. It must be an interesting experience for the kids growing up multilingual. They will also have better chances in the career market.

I guess I can consider myself multilingual? I speak 3 languages now and a dialect, and will hopefully add another language when I retire.

Queens Day last year in Utrecht Oudegracht (canal). Orange is the Royal Family's color based from the House of Orange bloodline.

Anyhow, its Queens Day today and its raining cows and cheeses outside, as well as I hear thunder and see bolts of lightning speeding across my window. I feel sorry for the Queens Night and Vrijemarkt festival revelers in Utrecht. I really do.

See you next week! I’m off to the former Eastern Bloc to spend a loooong weekend there and learn new things including greetings such as ‘dzien dobry’ and ‘witam’. I hope its better weather there.

Utrecht 2010

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Views and a Visit to San Giorgo and Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella wine country

Taking refuge in a soothing and green environment with splendid views, somewhere perhaps on a mountain top overlooking the vineyard valleys and the lake, was the finishing holiday therapy we needed to bring this Italian getaway to a close. And true enough, I found this little town in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella called San Giorgio di Valpolicella sitting on a hilltop that bids only breathtaking views as far as Lake Garda.

So after a relaxing lunch in Sirmione we drove to Valpolicella, one of the notable vineyard regions in northern Italy, just 15 minutes away from Verona. You might not be aware of this but the Veneto region has contributed to the world of wine pleasures through its dry and sparkling easy-on-the-pocket rival of champagne, Prosecco. I would have loved to stay in Treviso where the Prosecco town is located but since we were flying out in Verona, we chose a nearby alternative, the Valpolicella wine country.

San Giorgio di Valpolicella

This is the mountain top village in Valpolicella where we stayed the night over.

San Giorgio di Valpolicella, a little hilltop village in Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella in the Veneto region. The locals call San Giorgio - 'Ingannapoltron' which means this place is not fit for the sluggish types because reaching the mountain top would entail climbing the steep and winding roads (if you are hiking).

Great views here as you can see.

The barbaric Romanesque Parish Church in San Giorgio di Valpolicella dating back to the end of the 12th century. 

The archaelogical ruins beside the church believed to be around the 4th century BC.

More beautiful views of the wine country from the top of the village.

We followed a snaky ride up to the mountain top and when we reached the small plaza we saw cars and people wandering about. Why, even here the throng of tourists is following us! We quickly found out that they were locals out for a walk and enjoying the beautiful panoramas from the mountain top as explained to us by the chef, the son of owner of the restaurant we had dinner that night in Sant’Ambrogio. It’s Easter Monday so people are out.

We walked around San Giorgio and had coffee in the neighborhood cafeteria. Outside the cafeteria was a riot, the locals were singing, cajoling each other and laughing the whole time, the whole atmosphere of little town San Giorgio was very cheery indeed and carefree.

We paid €4.20 for a double espresso, a capuccino and 2 biscuits that looked like donuts. Quite cheap here, and I hope it stays this way.

Valpolicella (Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella in the picture) is one of the renowned wine of the Veneto region.

The little village center (plaza) of San Giorgio di Valpolicella with locals singing and having fun.

Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella

Then we went down the mountain and drove around Sant’Ambrogio while admiring the scenic views expand before us. We were quite early for the vineyards and we can only see the trellises lined neatly down the valley and in some areas we sighted almonds. Very pretty!

We chilled out in this café terrace on the main road of Sant’Ambrogio while sipping on a cold Lugano. We were probably the only foreigners in town. Everyone was local or Italian who is visiting and they seem to know each other pretty well which is quite nice to observe how they interact with each other. I love going local, it gives you a glimpse of other people’s cultures and customs which adds substance to traveling.

Going down the winding road to the plateau we passed by this Almong plantation.

The church of Sant Ambrogio di Valpolicella in the main village.

The cafe terrace, Petra Antica where we enjoyed our cold pre-dinner glass of Lugano wine.

Dinner was at Al Cavolo Ristorante Enoteca, which is a pleasant formal dining place in the village. We had some spritz to start as aperitifs!

I was not able to take pictures of the lovely dishes we had, only our dessert: different types of local cheese with jams. Multo buono!

After dinner, we stayed the night over in San Giorgio in a traditional house that runs a trattoria and a bed and breakfast. The owner was very friendly; he woke up early the next day to fix us breakfast.

While stepping inside the car and driving down the winding road en-route to the airport, we took our last peek at the amazing views and bid our goodbyes to beautiful Italy. We wished we could stay longer but I got work waiting for me in Amsterdam.

Travel Period: April 2010
Destination: Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella (Veneto), Italy

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lake Garda, Italy: Lunch with a Lovely View in Sirmione at Il Grifone

We had lunch at this lovely place, a garden restaurant beside the 13th century Scaliger Castle called Il Grifone (Hotel) Restaurant.

The restaurant is tucked away from the busy touristy streets of Sirmione. Our table, under the olive tree shade was facing the gorgeous serene Lake Garda. There were lavender flowers in bloom everywhere, on the terrace, beside us, in front of our table, the place smelled so fresh and utterly divine. We couldn’t ask for more and we couldn’t get enough of it.

From where we were sitting, we could visibly see the Dolomites, its snow-capped mountains. I think there is snow there throughout the year. The English folks sitting near us told us—you could not ask for any better table in this restaurant. Hmm, I think they desperately wanted to switch tables with us, haha.

We had Prosecco for drinks. Blondine told me that in the Netherlands Prosecco is out? So what is in then? Well, guess what? Beer. My response: HUH

We had a plate of delicious goodness of mix grilled seafood: juicy shrimps and scallops, tuna belly that wonderfully melts in your mouth and ribbon squid served in a very elegant and delicate gourmet presentation. It was yummy, 5 stars of course. Then we had aubergine topped with mozarella and tomato sauce, and not in the foto, lovely grilled potatoes in rosemary for our side orders.

After paying the bill we wandered around the old walled town while enjoying a pistachio-lemon gelato in hand for dessert that we bought in a gelato shop around the corner. Heerlijk.

Dining on the Lake Garda and just look at our view... the nearby Dolomites.

Delicious mix grilled seafood: juicy shrimps and scallops, tuna belly that melts  in your mouth and ribbon squid. This was soooo delicious.

Aubergine with mozarella cheese and tomato sauce. Also scrumptious.

Travel Period: April 2010
Destination: Sirmione (Brescia - Lombardy), Italy

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Venetian Lagoon Island: Lunch in Burano

We had lunch in Burano Island in a restaurant called, Bar Sport. A very interesting name for a restaurant I reckon. We sat outside of course.

Blondine had Pasta al Frutti di Mari while my lunch was typically Italian vegetarian--grilled vegies: peppers, aubergine and courgette, and green rucola and tomato salad on the side as well which we shared a bit. I love vegies, I can eat them every day.

The restaurant was quite busy, it was prime time lunch that they forgot to serve my grilled vegies on time. So I had to ask them about it and I had to WAIT longer. Good thing that I ordered a green salad so I started my lunch with it.

The prices were fairly decent though compared to Venice (obviously because this is in the islands, it is outside Venice) but Blondine was less pleased with her pasta. However, she only has great praises for the desserts. She ate mine as well as I cannot stand the sweetness!

So the verdict. 3.5 stars out of 5. Except for the desserts, I think Blondine will rate them 5 stars.

Beside the restaurant we found this cute cat sitting on the window sill. We tried to harass the cat but she was in her own world.

Our trip to Burano was lovely. We loved every minute of it. The charming and brightly coloured houses are one of a kind. They are so un-Venetian.

Travel Period: April 2010

Italy: How to Become a Belligerent Italian Behind the Wheel, and Finally - Hello Sirmione!

For our last day in Italy we took the early morning fast train from Venice to Verona. In Verona we picked up our rental car and drove to Lake Garda which is less than an hour’s drive. We want some relaxation and nature for our last days and what better way to spend our lunch in Sirmione in Lake Garda.

This is Sirmione in Lake Garda. The medieval fortification, the Scaliger Castle (from the Lords of Verona) that once fell under the Austrians. The castle dates back to the 13th century.

Sirmione is an elongated peninsula jutting out of the mainland to the lake. Located in Brescia province, already part of Veneto’s bordering region, Lombardy, this little town, like its neighbouring sisters Desenzano and Peschiera, are very popular thus unbearably touristy. We didn’t expect the horrible chain of traffic we’ve come upon after exiting the highway. Cars were manic on the road, as well as this was my first introduction to the Italian contemptuous way of driving.

Now, I’ll expound a little bit on this Italian way of driving because this experience has totally made me furious my blood pressure levels rose to boiling point I was about to explode the Eyjafjallajokull way (okay, who can actually pronounce this? lol ).

OK I’ll be forthright—I am gob smacked to witness the large number of Italians short in driving etiquette. If they were to take a driving exam in the Netherlands, many would have flunked. I would have thought the Filipino drivers back in Manila were worse but many Italian drivers are not only ignoring you, like most bus and jeepney drivers do in the Philippines when they cut you head on, they are casually aggressive and extremely zealous! You can see them raising their hands frantically up in the air and should the car windows are down, you could probably hear them scream, ‘Merda!’ or ‘Cazzo!!!’ while sneering at you. What about the honking, the tailgating, driving above the required speed limit and harassing a pedestrian on a zebra path? HELLO!? I am having a heart attack now.

When someone gets aggressive with me on the road, what do I do? Answer: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Pronto! LOL

Our last left of the holiday: Verona to Sirmione. After Sirmione we will go to Valpolicella nearby. We actually flew into Venice, then from Venice we took the train to Verona.

Anyhow before I get further deeper into this traffic duel, let me tell you that Sirmione is a lovely town! Gosh, this peninsula town is beautiful.

But it looked like everyone had the same plan in mind that day; Sirmione was very busy. It was an Easter Monday, a national holiday, and with the beautiful weather, the herd of locals flocked to their beloved Lago di Garda. It took us almost an hour from the highway exit to get to Sirmione town proper when that would have taken us under 10 minutes on a normal day.

Here are my pictures of Sirmione:

The 13th century Scaliger Castle.

They have HUGE lemons here in Italy.

Moi standing on the street going to Il Grifone Hotel & Restaurant where we had lunch. 

Sirmione is beautiful and very colourful.

We had some gelato after lunch as we went around exploring the town.

Sirmione on Lake Garda: You can see the Alps is the far distance.

Next blog post: Our scrumptious LUNCH in Sirmione!

Travel Period: April 2010
Destination: Sirmione (Brescia - Lombardy), Italy

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