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Report 330: Trip Report Summer 2003 Part 3- Back to the Opera

By Dean from Maryland, Summer 2003

Trip Description: Third week of the great opera march.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Rome, Tuscany

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Foodie Trip; Opera; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; 3-4 people

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Page 1 of 7: Off to Lucca

Jane wanted to buy a top for the opera in Roma so we went into Montalcino for the market. We wandered around and she bought a couple of things. About €10. Next up was a quick lunch at Osteria Porto al Cassero. Primi consisted of Kay’s passato di ceci, Jane’s bruschetta al pomodoro and my pici al pomodoro. The pici were thick and irregular in shape, very chewy and nice. Kay’s soup was a thin broth with the ceci coarsely crushed rather than pureed. Jane had papa al pomodoro as a secondo, a version more salty and soupy than she had tried earlier at Grapolo Blu. Kay had baked vegetables. I had an old favorite, lengua al salsa verde- tongue with a green herb sauce. I don’t think it was as good as our original meal there. We drove back to Costanti after an emergency stop for 2 bottles of 2001 Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino from Bruno Dalmazio. We loaded up the car at Costanti, left the apartment keys and were off to Lucca.

We drove off towards Lucca. We had reservations at Villa La Nina just outside Montecarlo, about 15km east from Lucca. As we were on the A11, the oil light went on. I pulled off at the next possibility. Kay was freaking out looking for maps, emergency numbers etc etc. I got really ticked off at her because (a) it was probably just low oil level and (b) it was a freaking rental. The worst that would happen, even if the engine seized, was that Auto Europe would give us a new car. So we had our one and only argument (although I had enough presence of mind to get Kay to follow me quite a distance from her mom so Jane would not be witness to our little spat). It turned out that the oil was low. We went to the next off ramp and got a quart. Problem over.

We had a little difficulty figuring out which off ramp we needed, so we wandered a little out of the way to find Villa La Nina. Finally we drove into Montecarlo, a tiny hamlet on a hill dominated by a castle. From there followed the signs to Villa La Nina. We found the spot and I wandered into the restaurant to check in. I talked to a waiter who helped us. The restaurant was in a large two story house with several dining rooms, a large kitchen, and a huge patio under a pergola. The rooms were in a villa across the street, a modern and characterless affair that looked out over the dreary industrial valley below. There was a large garden with tacky plastic statues that were used as backdrops for photos for the many weddings held there. The weekend we were there, there was a large wedding going on.

Jane lucked out and got an air conditioned room, while Kay and I had a “non conditioned” room on the second floor. After settling in, we took off for an evening in Lucca. We found the town using a back road and parked outside the city wall. We walked the walls of the city about half ways around and then came down in the San Frediano district.

We found Via Fillungo and spotted a vineria called Vinarkia. The menu and wine list looked interesting, so we entered and sat down. We had a great snack. We shared a sformata di spinaci con lardo which was claimed to be a Caterina di Medici recipe. It was tasty and rich. It was a torte of pureed vegetables with a paper thin covering of lardo warmed in the oven until the lardo was just translucent. We also tried pescaspada affumicato con insalata misticana e kiwi. This was a beautiful plate of bitter baby greens topped with slices of kiwi and see thru slices of house smoked swordfish. This was also very wonderful. Last up was a huge plate of assorted cheeses, all local pecorini of different ages. It was served with a small dish of truffle honey. Sharp aged pecorino with truffle honey is a wonderful match, the honey taking the strong edge off the cheese and the truffle adding its perfume. We drank several glasses of Falanghina with this. The place is small with a lovely old wooden bar and a wild mosaic in the wall. The bartender was a hip looking pierced young lady who was concerned that we had a good time. The chef/owner was a hipster who spent more time getting into and out of his motorcycle leathers than actually making our food. Shaved headed and with that 3 day unshaven beard look, he also chatted with about half of the folk who walked by. We enjoyed Vinarkia immensely.

After, we continued around town. We went to the Piazza Anfiteatro, one of the major tourist spots in Lucca. One of the most wonderful parts about Lucca is how real it seems, so even at Piazza Anfiteatro, the atmosphere was not a tourist trap. The Anfiteatro is a collection of stylish shops and the Piazza is oval shaped with a set of streets circling the outside of the former Anfiteatro. The old Roman structure was transformed into a series of modern by comparison, but still renaissance, palazzos. Many Roman features are visible today. It is quite a sight.

We continued our walk around Lucca just wandering and watching the people. We got a little lost until we wound up back by the Anfiteatro. We had spotted another vineria earlier and returned to it for another snack. This one was called I Santi. Kay had a steamed chicken salad with melon. I had carpaccio di manzo followed by an insipid looking but great tasting insalata mista. We drank a couple of glasses of good red. The food was particularly light and flavorful. The music great and the folk there really friendly. After our meal, we took a slow and sleepy walk back to the car.

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