Our guided tour of Parmigiana-Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, and balsamico tradizionale put smiles on all our faces. The samples were delicious and the processes fascinating. However, we were driven by our tour guide, a native Italian who drives exactly as you would expect, which is to say CRAZY!
Zooming at full speed around roundabouts and risking whiplash at every stop made my stomach dance nervously. She made a tight U-turn at one point and clipped a hedge, hitting a sign post. It felt like quite a bump, but it just left a small dent in the corner of her bumper. We also drove straight through a smaller roundabout – these have a small hump in the middle about the height of a speed bump – at full speed. But we all survived and remain intact.
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(The photo below has nothing to do with our tour but everything to do with Italian driving. These two cars are parked so close, they’re actually touching!)
The historic center of Parma is so movie-ready. Bicycles are more common than cars, wrought iron street lights line the buildings, and beautiful campanile, or bell towers, rise over all. There are many enoteche – wine bars – along the main street that offer free snacks with the purchase of an aperitif.
Ken really wanted a Martini, but it took three tries to get it. The first place tried to give Ken a Martini Rossi (red vermouth) on the rocks. When we clarified that we wanted a martini cocktail, the bartender said he couldn’t do it. The second place we went understood martini cocktail, but insisted on using gin instead of vodka. Finally, the last place we went was able to make a proper martini cocktail, but neglected to shake it with ice. So it was room temperature. Fortunately this, combined with the free snacks and the experience of sitting outside on such a quiet street, was good enough to make Ken happy. The rest of us felt pretty good too.
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We arrived in Parma by train on Sunday afternoon, when almost nothing is open for business. When we checked into our hotel (after passing numerous closed restaraunts and very few people), we asked for a recommendation for lunch. The front desk sent us to Trattoria Corrieri, which advertises “Open Every Sunday” and offers a discounted menu for ‘asporto’ or takeout. Lunch was incredibly delicious and surprisingly cheap – pumpkin ravioli in brown butter sauce, tomato caprese salad with fresh burrata mozarella, prosciutto salad with local Parma ham, and our unanimous favorite, ‘torta fritta,’ or fried bread. They were soft fried pillows of air, flaky and delicious. (Torta fritta seems to be a local specialty because we saw it at other restaurants.) We loved this meal so much, we made reservations for dinner the next evening. I’m proud to say I did it in Italian, under the name Giovanni, which drew a smile from restaurant staff.
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Although we had to ease into the European meal schedule on our previous visit to Italy – dinner is typically around 7:30 or 8:00 and can last a while – we have unwittingly slipped right into it this time. After our Colosseum tour at 9:10, we decided to stop for “a late snack.” This turned into two glasses of wine and a full meal. By the time we got home it was nearly midnight! For me and Laura, this is unusual, but certainly not unwelcome. The meal was well worth it.
Saturday schedule: Capitoline Museum, Roman Forum, various churches, a monk museum, and a nighttime Colosseum tour. If that dounds like more than can be done on a day, that’s because it is.
At the Capitoline Museum, we followed the written tour guide that Laura and I created for her mom’s birthday present. (It’s pretty good, if I may say so.) Looking over the crumbling ruins of the Forum, we decided to skip walking through. Instead, we had a great lunch at Angelino ai Fori with plenty of wine and – finally – a cheese plate. We love cheese. The outside seating area is entirely covered by a huge vine, creating a dappled light effect that is gorgeous – and a welcome respite from the sun. Looking back, I wish I had taken a photo, but you’ll have to be content with what Google can show you.
The menu included French fries and hamburgers, which would normally scare us away. But the food was actually quite good.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the monastery and museum of the Capuchin monks – Laura’s father’s only specific request. I’m so happy he asked for it, because it was extremely… Special. No photos allowed anywhere inside, but of course that’s just a suggestion. Right? Apparently, some monk was stuck in the crypt of this monastery for while and thought it would be fun to arrange the bones artistically. Not just in little mounds, no. He sorted the bones by type and created decorative architecture with them. Super creepy but strangely beautiful. Some of the skulls still had skin – one even had a nose!
Google images of the crypt
After an illuminating tour of the Colosseum at night ( pun intended ), we stopped at a small wine bar we discovered just around the corner from our apartment. Both the wine and thefood were awesome. The menu was handwritten, as was our bill.
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