• 16. Eating Steak at a Butchers

    The next day its off to the train station. I love the ticketing 😄. Adults, kids and dogs. I typed in 1 dog to see what it cost and put the machine into meltdown. We nearly missed the train it took so long to re boot. If we were in Japan we wouldve missed it. Luckily we are in Italia, so it was fashionably late 😎

    Did I mention the trains here are awesome!!!!! 251kmph!!!! Brilliant!!!! Keeps buses and cars off the road and moves at speeds neither can manage.
    I can believe installing high speed rail is expensive, but its real infrastructure linking cities. That has benefits. Then, once you get people over the vast distances simple is good to move them around. Italy has some issues in their government, but the public transport works a treat here.
    We arrive in Firenze (Florence. Why Florence? Its called Firenze? What tha?) Anyhow, we arrive in Firenze to pick up a car to go to Tuscany.
    Clearly, there was some sorta mix up in the bookings. Anyhow……..
    Now, we stayed at a place called Tenuta Branca. I cant talk this place up enough. It has gorgeous accomodation, wonderful breakfasts and stunning scenery as well as having amazing hosts in Anna, Stefano and Salvadore’. For brekky theres a bowl of fruit salad. Basically, Anna goes out every day foraging for the berries and fruits served to customers at breakfast.
    Then, Stefano chimes in and adds his course. Grappa made from Moscato? Or a grappa made from Prosecco? Or a Vermouth? Sambuca? Yep, a truely wonderful brekky.
    First night the question is “wheres good for dinner?”. Stephano recommends Cantinette di Rignana.
    You would expect that given you need advanced rally driving ability to climb the mountain then negotiate the bush tracks to get to this place, that it would be quiet there. Nup. Its full. Tables are spaced out, so its not crowded, but its full on a Wed night. It takes me ages to seat our group as they cant help but wander around this beautiful place.
    As we walk past the kitchen we look in and see amazing steaks waiting to be cooked. Sadly, tomorrow we have a lunch booked at a butcher shop, so they are on the no list. The pastas are delicious. Truffle seems plentiful here so I order a ravioli that has truffle mentioned twice on its description. Its subtle but flavoursome. Great dish. The tomatoes piled high on the brushetta are rich red but still crunchy. Just so good. We werent hungry and we over ordered by mistake in our enthusiasm to try everything. But everything got eaten.
    These guys grow grapes out the front of the restaurant and make their own wines which are excellent!
    The next morning its a pre brekky dip (cold and refreshing) before seeing Anna for her foraged foods and Stefano for his grappa. Lunch today is with the famous Dario Cecchini. Dario is a farmer (cattle in Tuscany and Spain), a butcher and a restauranteur.
    There is a queue to get into the butcher shop. Once in, a person serving warmly greets us (he doesnt know we are here for lunch) and pours us wine, gives us snacks and asks us how we are and what we are up to. We say we are Australian and the yelling starts. AC DC was already playing when we walked in. A photo of the guy serving us is produced with him and Brian Johnson in it. The music gets turned up. More wine is poured. Its like visiting a close friend. Theres a bowl of herb infused lard the size of a basketball ( they call it Tuscan Butter). We spread it on fried bread and wash it down with Chianti.
    We go upstairs for lunch. An open fire is burning. Meat is laying around coming up to temperature for cooking. We mix herbed salt with olive oil and dip carrot, celery and fennel in it. Gorgeous! The meat starts to hit the grill. Theres maybe 40 of us seated at a communal table banquet style.
    The round bottle with the flat base wrapped in straw to prevent breakages and damage during transport is called a Fiasco. True story, I kid you not.) Our Fiasco held 2L of house red which was a quite credible Chianti. Brilliant! Wine and grappa are complimentary during lunch. Now it feels like Christmas at a close friends house.
    The meat is high quality, flame kissed, cut thick for cooking then served in a doneness that suits the cut. Some steaks are blue to rare and sliced thin at service like a carpaccio. Others are medium and served cut into rough chunks. All are delicious. Steak tartare makes an appearance and is quickly devoured. Tuscan beans (Im guessing confit in herbed oil) hit the table too. Spuds wrapped in foil, topped with Tuscan butter (ok, lard) are delicious. Then an olive oil cake, coffee and grappa. I need to learn more about the cake. I suspect boiled lemons are in it, its a sponge consistency. Anyhow, if I had 3 chunks it had to be good.
    Happy Customers!
    As we leave we run into Dario. I think his English is as good as my Italian. My friend Nino Zoccali told me to go to see Dario so I mentioned his name. I could see Dario wasnt understanding what I said to him, then suddenly hes yelled “Pendolino, Pendolino” and turned to his staff yelling and pointing at me “Pendolino”. Then he grinned broadly and shook my hand vigorously. As I left a carving of Dario and a steak watched over me😄.
    When in Panzano go see Stefanos shop. Its a wine academy. Customers sit in lecture hall style seating while Stefano wanders around in graduation robes educating them on Chianti Classico. Its a must. Stefano is not blinkered, we will drink anything and enjoy it , but 80 percent of what he drinks has to be Chianti Classico. I organize some wines he sells and some he makes to be sent back to the land of Oz.
    Its been a big day. Nibbles beside the pool will suffice with a bottle of Primitivo.
  • 15. Venice

    This “tardis” greeted me when we left the boat. Its a lift to our new room in Venice. Or is it?

    We go to check in, only to be told we are in another building all together. Sound dodgy? Anyhow, down a street and round the corner and we end up in a big room with a huge bathroom. That night we go out for scampi with freshly made spaghetti. The waitress says we are full here, but follow me……. Same as the accomodation, down the road, round the corner and into a delightful space with an awesome guitarist/singer. We didnt want to leave, so we ended up at midnight drinking lemon cello while the staff had dinner. Friends at the table arrived in Venice that day and had the same experience as us. No, you arent in this building. Come with me. They ended up in a beautiful flat.

    We still had a ticket for the museam at St Marco square, so we decided to use it. There were some amazing pieces. Ive always liked the story of Icarus

    But, then some pieces started to catch my eye. I think we should have a caption competition!!!!

    Now, I dont pretend to know whats going on in these photos. But, I can make it up I reckon 😄
    Last two for the caption comp. It just gets weirder and weirder!!!!
    Finally, its time to leave Venice and its surrounds. We catch a vaporetto (back in the day they were steamboats and were named for the steam coming out of them). Its a short, chaotic, confusing ride to the train station where we jump anorher of Italys fantastic trains for a 2 hour hop to Bologna. We have been to Bologna already on this trip. The end goal is to get to Tuscany, but why rush???? Bologna is part way, so we booked a room near the train station for the night.
    Bologna has kilometers of these porticos. They are great! You are undercover but outdoors. Makes getting about in any weather pleasant.
    So, Bologna is the home of Mortadella. Hmmmm. In the world of cold meats im not sure where I’d rank Mortadella. Anyhow, we go into the CBD and find Simoni Salumeria. We get the Grand Platter. Mortedella, Mortadella ( thats not a joke. Its a bit like the Monty Python spam breakfasts) prosciutto, salami and cheese. Our waiter explains theres the historical Mortadella and the modern style. They are different I decide. I dont know if what we get in Aus is imported or domestic in origin, but its identical to the modern Mortadella we are served (at about $22.50 a kilo). The older style has a slight braun like patchwork quilt look and is firmer and drier like prosciutto and sliced wafer thin.
    I might have screwed up. This thing is the size of a huge pizza! Armed with a local Gewurztraminer and a Valpollicella red we soldier into it. Afterwards we attempt some sight seeing but decide to hibernate and sleep off the meat. By early afternoon we both asleep.
  • 14. Last Moments on the River Countess

    Next day its cold and rainy for a change. We jump a river taxi and go to the markets with the boats head chef to buy supplies for lunch and dinner.



    Theres great produce, especially seafood. A mixed seafood dish ( like calamari but with prawns and octopus too) is quickly decided on. Fennel soup. Grilled Sea Bass (I wanted mutant Sea Bass with fricken lazerbeams on their heads. The Venetian fishmonger seemed confused by my request…


    Next day we did a Murano glass making display. Our master took 17 years to complete his training and be granted “master” status. The tools are pliers, a blow pipe and a cutter. Thats it. It is amazing to watch these guys tease a shape out of the glass.


    Finally it was time to leave the River Countess and say goodbye to the staff, crew and fellow travellers. Good times. One of the lads working the breakfast shift took great delight in spiking my morning coffee or fruit juice. Others were just so attentive. The fellow travellers were great fun and just lovely to be around.

  • 13.Isle of Torcello

    Then off the next day to the isle of Torcello. This is the original site of habitation in the Venetian Lagoon. Its church dates back to the 800,s. Its a ghost town now, with just 8 inhabitants. But it seems to have a healthy cafe culture and the place is beautiful. Some vines on the island were recently identified as the “Golden Grape of Venice”, a grape thought lost. Viticulture was popular in Venice but a 2 day king tide about 70 years ago killed the vineyards and people seem to have decided that re-planting is too risky an undertaking.


    The church of Torcello…

    A dog kennel maybe??? With dingo cats written on it???? Dunno

    Then to Burano. Another lovely place. Its similar to Venice in the way it has canals and restaurants. Burano makes lace. Its all hand done.

    This lady is in her early 70’s and has done this sort of work since she was 15. At the factory there are different ladies who do the 7 different knots used in lace making. They specialise in just one knot, passing a piece on to the next lady when their bit is done. Finer threads give higher quality results, but greatly increase production timeframes. I had no idea this sort of work was done by hand…

    Back to the River Countess where the Ulysses has tied up beside us. Its a pretty cool boat, complete with helipad. Fellow travellers start googling the owners a debate breaks out whether is a NZ billionaire or Mark Zuckerberg from facebook. Either way, it would appear Mark is the current occupant (when he has time). I still cant bring myself to do facebook. Hes probably too busy to go on it too…….
  • 12. Chioggia by Boat

    Its morning. Today we are going to the fishing village of Chioggia (key oh ja). Its a short and lovely boat ride. Chioggia has a modest local fish market of stuff just caught and often still twitching. Things like Scampi are 8 euro a kg. Bargain! Its a buzzing place. Bit stinky though. We were there early but as the day warmed up to 32 degrees the market ripened in the sun…….


    Chioggia is a lovely place. Venice does have residents, but they get lost amongst the tourists (I think I heard 30 million a year as a figure). Chiogga is a bit more “real”. It probably deserved more time than it got.

    We went up the 150 steps to the bell tower for a look and a bit of breeze (32 degrees). Its a lovely spot. Theres little historical pieces, paintings etc Im not quite sure what these paintings are about……

    In the churches sometimes theres images of animals throwing up people they have eaten on the day of reckoning. Giving their dead back to god. Not so sure why the horse is eating a person……

    In Venice the lagoon and the canals are roads, so everything you might see on a road is floating past.


    Theres a big boating culture here. Lots of Europeans come here for summer vacation. Chioggia has a big market where clothes and food are very well priced. The first photo is of a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was caught in a fishermans nets, so he set it up in the middle of the lagoon.


    On the way back we passed boats training for a race day coming up. Its a stand up style of rowing similar to a gondaleer. Theres buildings everywhere on these islands leaning and sloping. It does have a falling down feel…


    And then back to the River Countess for a rest and refreshments…


  • 11. Bologna

    So, today is a little slow. Robin takes an hour to eat half a croissant at brekky. Theres the odd question from fellow passengers inquiring as to our general health. Today we go to Bologna. The home of the worlds oldest university and bolognaise sauce.


    The thing I love about italy is the culture. Everything is just so elegant….

    Neptune with his trident is a very famous statue in Bologna. When three brothers from Bologna started the Masserati car company they choose neptunes trident as their emblem for the cars they built. 3 prongs for 3 brothers.


    The church in Bologna. Mama Mia! Back in the day the pope agreed to part fund the church. They would have fully funded it, but the church in Bologna would have been bigger than the one at the Vatican and the pope wasnt a fan of that idea. But, he liked the idea of building the church and put some money towards it. Undeterred the locals took the cash offered and started building the grand church they had planned. Then the cash ran out, so they finished it on the cheap. When locals talk about the church they say its like the people of Bologna. Not perfect, but unique 😄.


    These vastly superior technologies appear all over Italy. You watching this Clover? Bam! Hook up a tractor to a trailer and in 2 minutes not 2 years you have a fully functioning light rail system.

    So many yummy things…


    The little yellow thing are tortellini. Tiny little hand made pastas. Cheeses up the back…

    Cheeses, butcher shop…..

    Then, off to the Uni. The worlds oldest. We had a look in the old (human) dissection lecture theatre. It was tough getting bodies back in the day, but when they did classes would form in these rooms under statues of learned men such as Hippocrates and watch a demonstrator dissect a body under the guidance of a lecturer. The place was bombed by allied forces in WW2 and completely re-built.


    A good dissection always makes you think of food so we went to a jazz bar come restaurant to learn the art of making egg pasta with its many forms. In Bolognaise thats things like tagliatelle, angel hair pasta, lasagna, tortollini but NOT spaghetti. The people of Bolognaise are out raged that aussies put bolognaise sauce on spaghetti which is from Sicily. They feel the same about mozerella cheese as parmesan is their cheese. So, mozerella on lasagna is a no no. To prove the point they served us bolognaise on taglitelle (I think it back fired the spaghetti is better). I also prefer mozerella on lasagna. I think thats whats so good food wise in Australia. We borrow from everywhere and if its better we just do it.

    Then on the way home we stopped at a servo for a toilet break. All the servos (except the self serve ones) have a full range of beers and wines. They view these products (as do the Tasmanians) as tourist souveniers. So, they are freely available everywhere for people to buy instead of stupid stuffed koalas made in China. So, they actually SUPPORT local farmers and manufacturers. ARE YOU READING THIS NSW?

  • 10. Cruising Through Venice

    Theres a lot of grand buildings. Theres a chapel dedicated to St Mark. Photos arent allowed inside, so sorry about that. Its worth a look. The story goes St Mark had a vision hed be buried in Venice. But Venice didnt exist in his lifetime. It was just a swamp. Consequently, he died in Egypt. Hundreds of years later some likely lads decided to help St Mark with his prophecy so they found him in Egypt. Hid his body from the muslim security forces by hiding him under pork products and snuck him back to Venice for re burial. Or so the story goes……..


    The gaol in Venice. Only one person ever successfully escaped, namely the still notorious latin lover Cassanova. He was imprisoned for knocking up a nun (really Cassanova? Really???) and sentenced to gaol. He bribed a guard to let him out (so, when I say escaped……) and buggered off in a gondola. He stayed away until things settled down a bit. He did return eventually and even did things like worked as a Venetian spy.


    And to you Cassanova!

    Walking around Venice….

    First woman in the world to get a university degree. It did cause a bit of a stir at the time, but it did happen. She obtained a degree in theology snd then went on to be a nun (and no, I dont know of she joined a nunnery in the hope of meeting cassanova).


    Produce at Padova. It has a similar feel to Victoria Markets in Melbourne. Beautiful displays of fish, meat, vegies…


    Then, it was time for a cruise(well we are on a boat). Our butler Paul lopped the top off a bottle of Champagne to start proceedings then we went for a cruise around the Venice delta.


    The rest of the day is a haze of caprioscas, prosecco, whisky and wine. At midnight there was an arguement about which country the Bee Gees are from. A clear sign its time to go to bed! PS the Bee Gees started in Redcliff in Brisbane 😄.

  • 9. Amarone & Risotto (and some history…..)

    The last supper and the crucifixion of christ were painted on opposing ends of the monks smoko room in Milan. The last supper was a common theme for artists, so leonardo da Vinci (not Leonardo da’capprio just to clarify) didnt invent the concept. What he did do was jazz it up a little and give the various subjects emotions, telling the story of the betrayl of Christ by Judas in their expressions. Its a big piece, as you can tell by a person in the foreground of the crucifixion. The Last Supper took 4 years to paint so the monks were over Leonardo by the time they got their lunch room back. Leonardo used the face of the monk who complained the most as his model for Judas. Cool guy 😎. Wouldve made a good Aussie that Leonardo.

    In world war 2 the Italians under Mussolini fought against Australia. As a result, England and America bombed Milano and destroyed 60 percent of the city. Much of the “historical” buildings are reproductions, re built after they were destroyed by aliied forces. Its very sad. I dont get the impression the Italians bear a grudge against us. Ive heard it described many times now as Italy being liberated by the allied troops, but still. There had to have been huge losses of both lives and property. The monks smoko room was hit by a bomb and it blew the place up, but left the two walls with the two paintings standing.  A miracle?


    And, sorry da Vinci code fans. Theres 12 disciples and Christ in the painting. No ladies. John is beside Christ and looks a bit girly, but thats cause Johns just a bit of a kid. If the character beside Christ is a woman, then we are missing a disciple? What tha? So, what happened? John ducked out for a leak when they did the painting? Or maybe he was running late? Trying to find a park for his ass? All seems a bit unlikely…

    We have been outside the church so its time to go inside. The local guides are invaluable, providing insights and history on things that are quite overwhelming.

    You cant really tell, but this roof is not carved. Its painted to look 3D. They cant restore it because they cant find anyone who can paint that well.


    A crypt within the church. A pope? A bishop? A leader? 

    Nup. A pimp. I kid you not. This guy ran brothels and made a heap of cash. Towards the end of his life he made a huge donation to the church in an attempt to buy his way into heaven. Did it work? Dunno. But, they did bury him within the church!!!!

    A Milano thing is happy hour on the grand canal (Milano had an extensive canal system but Mussolini filled them in to improve car access). Anyhow, their happy hour involves food, not booze and goes for all of dinner time. For 11 euro we got an all you can eat buffet and a drink (glass of a nice amarone). Good fun!

    The Grand Canal of Milano is a buzzing, vibrant area of hip bars and restaurants. Take note NSW, the minimarts have fridges full of beer and you just duck in and buy one and walk out the door drinking it. Yet, no violence……. I popped into a shop that sells arancini balls. I bought one. They are really good. The shop is open until 4am.

    Then off to Verona! Verona became famous when little Willy Shakespeare did a Natalie Imbruglia and knocked off a story that already existed about two star crossed lovers named Romeo and Giulliet. I’ll give Willy some credit though, he did more to the story re writing it into a play than our Natalie did when she covered Torn. Anyhow, it put Verona on the map. Sadly, little Willy never actually found the time to visit Verona.


    Research was done to try to suss out who Romeo and Jules actually were and the Italians think they know. This is the house Jules is believed to have lived in. I think the balcony is a new addition. Theres a statue of Jules below it. If you rub her arm its meant to bring luck and ladies if you rub her boob its meant to help you fall pregnant. Robin wouldnt go anywhere near Jules!!!


    They worked out where Romeo lived too, but no one goes there….

    Italy has a problem. There is so much “stuff” in Italy the whole population could be involved in preservation works, but the government isnt real flush with cash. Its a very tricky problem id imagine.

    Verona has an arena (not Tinas sister) like Rome does. They hold concerts there and Opera. Opera singers perform there without microphones to crowds of 10 to 15 thousand people. Its open air, so if it rains they have an intermission. Being an arena if theres a horse in the story they actually use a horse! Elephants have been banned at the Opera nights after one fell into the orchestra pit….

    The bridges were destroyed by the allied forces in the second world war but have been re built. Such destruction.



    Ok, enough of Verona. Its lunchtime 😄.

    Verona is a short drive from the wineries of Valpolicella. The home of Amarone!!!!! Woo hoo!!!! Amarone means bitter, which is a pity. Amarone is not s bitter wine. Its a long story but the first Amarone was a mistake. The winemaker was trying to make a sweet red wine (a bit like a vintage port) but cocked up and made a dry red. It wasnt sweet like he wanted so he referred to it as being not sweet or bitter. But, its not bitter. Amarone is lovely.

    Anyhow, a lovely lunch with matched wines preceeded a winery tour where grapes are spread out on racks to dry and sultana prior to the commencement of the winemaking.

    Followed by a short drive to Venice. Venice is accessable by car from the mainland via a bridge. Its a lovely drive across it.

    And on to the River Countess, our home for the next week. Its a Dutch boat, Dutch captain with an international crew. Many crew members are from Bulgaria and have backgrounds in studying languages.


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