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Eastern and Western Europe -- Part III

Author: WFDoran
Email: WFDoran@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by WFDoran)
Date of Trip: June 2006

We went there on Tuesday night and it was virtually empty. There was one other group in there. The restaurant was large and probably sat 150 people if you counted the outdoor dining. It was a family owned affair and there were three brothers running it. They said their parents also worked there but they were away on vacation.

We had a lovely meal and great service and good conversation with the boys. I had very simply grilled pork chops preceded by pasta in a light tomato sauce. Pat had a roasted chicken leg served with polenta. We finished our wine with a nice little plate of cheese and then the boys bought us a grappa at the bar on the way out.

The next day we rented a car again and drove to Lake Garda, which is about 1 1/2hours away. Lake Garda is the southern most, the largest and the cleanest of the famous Italian lakes. The first place we went to was Sirmione. Sirmione is on a peninsula that jets out from the southern shore of the lake and has lake water on the east, west and north side of it. It's basically a preserved small walled medieval city. To enter the city you must go through the castle area. There are basically no cars allowed in the city except for some businesses and residences. The city is well preserved and there are lots of old buildings; however they've been turned into shops, bars and restaurants that cater to the tons of day tripper tourists that visit the area. You can walk out a little further and there are some delightful private residences, condos and posh hotels.

We walked out of town and found a nature walk around the peninsula which is very interesting. We were able to see the town from the backside as well as view some interesting nature and other sites.

When we left there we went over to the east side of the lake and drove up to the small towns that nestle up along the eastern lakeshore. They seemed a lot more appealing than Sirmione. The towns on the east side of the lake that really seemed appealing to us were Pescheria, Bardolina and Garda. These are small towns on the lake, laidback and non touristy. Yes there were tourist facilities there but it was not overcrowded and I was in the opinion that you could mix in with the locals and enjoy yourself and feel a part of the atmosphere rather than the tourist trap in Sirmione.

Driving in Italy is not a problem at all. On the Autostrada it appears that most areas are not governed by speed limits. There are some as you go through cities and other area. Cars will come up right up on your back bumper, flash their lights and push you over. At one point I was driving about 100mph and I was by no means blowing by anybody. The tolls on the Autostrada seemed to be expensive. At the rest stops you can get some excellent food, however you can also get alcohol to go or to drink there.

In the cities you must be careful for the pedestrian crosswalks. Pedestrians have the right of way at any crosswalk and you must stop for them. There are also lots of roundabouts, which can be a little tricky if you don't know what you are doing. The other problem is that many of these cities are extremely old and the streets are narrow. The streets were put there before cars were invented so it's extremely difficult to navigate through the streets, make turns or park.

That evening we had dinner at Al Santo, located at Via del Santo 47. We had pig roasted on an open wood burning fire. Pieces of pig were hacked off and put on a plate and served with roasted potatoes and a salad. It was excellent. That meal which included wine and coffee cost us 48 euros. Not bad at all.

After dinner we had yet another serendipitous moment. We were walking down a street looking for a place to have a grappa and we stumbled into what I thought was a bar. It turned out to be a restaurant but there was a guy standing at the bar talking to the bartender. It was about 10:30pm so the restaurant was in the process of closing. I ordered a grappa and we started talking.

The guy standing at the bar turned out to be a Jesuit priest from Boston College who taught ethics there. He was in Padova to run a meeting of 450 ethicists from around the world coming to talk on various ethical subjects I guess. He was a very interesting guy, an Irishman from Brooklyn whose father was Chief of Detectives in Manhattan. Well I ended up buying the good padre a couple of grappas and had a few more myself as he, Pat and I, and then the bartender discoursed through the evening. He also told us that this was one of the best restaurants in Padova so we planned on going there the next night.

On the last day (Thursday) we went back in Venice to visit the Dorsoduro area. This area is across the Grand Canal from San Marco. It is a quiet world of residences, shops and small piazzas connected by canals and bridges. We stumbled into Campo of Santa Margherita. I'm sure the good saint is extremely happy to know that there has been a pizza named after her. We ate lunch in a place called Marcel Duchamp's, a bar with a wide assortment of draft beer. As became our custom we had two small beers to help wash down our lunch of focaccia sandwiches.

We visited some small piazzas and walked through narrow alleys and crossed over canals and went through residential areas and looked at hidden gardens and rooftop rooms and nifty shops. We passed a place that had a sign that said they made the masks for Eyes Wide Shut. At about 3:30pm we stumbled upon the Marine Stazione. This is where the boats and ferries dock. There is a little bar there and we sat and enjoyed a wine and watched the passengers scurry by to and from the boats. We finally got up and walked along the Canal Bella Guibecca and stopped by the floating beach and I ogled the bathing beauties. If you can, try to find the boatyard where they build the gondolas. It's at the end of the Canal San Tommaso. I could not find it but maybe you can. This area is a wonderful place to spend the day in Venice but not of Venice.

That evening we went back to the bar where we met the Jesuit. It's called Restorante Antica Trattoria Deipaccagnella and is located at Via del Santo 113. As it was our last night on vacation in Italy we decided to indulge in a little vodka on the rocks before dinner. Much to our surprise they had Muskovshya vodka which is our favorite. This was a good omen.

Pat and I split an order of homemade fresh pasta that was in the shape of little twists. It was sauced with a light pesto that had chopped fresh tomatoes added to it. It was wonderful. We each had a perfectly grilled veal chop and a wonderful bottle of Valpolicella selected by the owner/bartender. For dessert Pat had a tiramisu and I had a small plate of parmesan and pecorino cheese. The pecorino was absolutely the best I have ever had. I finished off with a grappa and decaf espresso. The tab for this wonderful repast was 58 euros. The good food and conviviality with the bartender/owner relaxed us sufficiently so we could go to sleep almost immediately upon returning to our hotel. This is good as we had a 4:15 am wakeup call for a 5:15 am cab to the Venice airport. We flew to Milan for an 11am flight to Atlanta. However, because they had to change a flat tire on the plane we left Milan 1½ hours late. We had a three hour connection so it gave us not too much of a worry.

We got home that night tired but with fond memories of a wonderful trip through Eastern Italy.

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