Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Soave (So-ah-vay): A fantastic land of chocolate, wine, and castles

I was feeling a little apprehensive when we woke up early to go to Soave. After all, the only planned event of the day was a wine tasting, and I was pretty sure I had drunk all the wine in Verona the day before. However I am not a quitter so we got up and out the door with enough time to spare for Dr Husband to do his Italian impression of drinking espresso at a counter. Meanwhile I did my best American tourist impression and got a Coke (which Dr Husband drank some of thank you very much).

You may have noticed that Soave and Verona do not have the same letters in them, that is because they are two different towns and thus have two different names. In order to reach Soave we had to tackle the local bus system. Unfortunately, the bus sign was in Italian but we figured out where and when we needed to be. When we finally got on the bus we were surrounded by the type of people who would take public transportation to get to another town, it was scary and the driver's driving was very scary – but that's a part of Adventure. 

When we finally arrived in Soave we were not sure which bus stop to get off. So after the first stop in town we hit the button and hoped for the best. Luckily our stop was across the street from the Castle Wall – exactly where we wanted to be. The enormity and antiquity of the town were amazing. We walked through the gates and onto a street which was bustling with people setting up booths of various shapes and sizes. It was upon closer inspection of these booths and the signs around town that we realized that we happened to be there for a chocolate festival. We got second coffee (well a latte machiatto and cappuccino) and decided to get something in our belly before our wine tasting. Since there was a chocolate festival happening the answer was simple, that's right, a chocolate filled croissant. But just not any chocolate filled croissant, it was the best chocolate filled croissant in the world (or so I think). It was chucked full with gooey chocolate, I ended up with chocolate all over my face and my hands, and I'm normally a pretty neat eater. Dr Husband ended up the same, but he likes to eat like he's five, so this was not terribly unusual. They really should have given out wet wipes with those. Then it was time for us to go to the wine tasting at Cantina di Soave.

Our tour and tasting was with two American couples from Indiana who didn't have much to say until after their second glass of wine. I think they were intimidated by our knowledge of fermentable beverages. Our tasting lead us through five healthy pours of wine. The other two couples were headed toTuscany to re-create “Under the Tuscan Sun,” or at least that's what I imagined. To be honest, I really wasn't paying much attention as we were drinking lots of wine. After the wine tasting we got lunch at a place Dr Husband approved of, meaning the menu was in complete Italian and the servers had to attempt to speak to us in English. The restaurant, Enoteca il Drago, was beautiful. We sat outside on the patio under the roof  in the shade (because I get burned in the sun, even in October). We picked food seemingly at random, and ordered more wine (Soave white wine, of course). It was there that I had my epiphany: Italian food and the restaurant atmosphere is amazing. And I went to live under the Tuscan sun with my new middle-aged American friends. I got a little emotional and told Dr Husband this and he suggested I drink more water.

After lunch Dr Husband decided he wanted to go on a 10 mile hike to the Castle in town. I wanted to go into a store and drink more wine, but for some reason (maybe because we were celebrating our one year anniversary) I decided to stay with him. While it may not have actually been a 10 mile hike it was certainly up a large, steep hill, and it wasn't long before I became thirsty and tired and (somewhat) irritable. I couldn't understand how no one had thought to set up a rest station filled with water... and vino. It was a dynamite idea. I shared my business plan with Dr Husband, and he laughed at me. That's okay; more wealth and prosperity (and vino) for me, I thought. Once we reached the castle, it was closed because the custodian was still on his lunch break. So Dr Husband wanted to hike to the top of the vineyard which was obviously on a hill which meant walking further uphill. I wasn't really a fan of this, but I decided to go anyway instead of sitting on the side of the road with the rest of the tourists.

When we made it back down the castles was finally open. However, the price of admittance was 7€ each which would obviously be spent better on food (and vino) so we walked back down to the city. We wanted a small snack after all that walking so Dr Husband got a cannoli with chocolate sprinkles, and I got a gelato. His cannoli must have been really good because by the time I got my gelato it was gone. He claimed it was the best cannoli he'd ever had, but since I only had one tiny bite (and am unfamiliar with the cannoli flavor ranking scale) I can neither confirm nor deny this. After that it was almost time to catch a bus (or so we thought).

We waited for over an hour until a kind bus driver explained what the small subscripts on the bus schedule meant in English. There wouldn't be a bus for Verona for another hour. So we ended up waiting for close to two hours to go back to Verona. I told Dr Husband that I wasn't really in the mood for another fancy meal when we got back so we decided on pizza for dinner. After we got back and relaxed for a bit we went to a smallish local pizza place where they served a popular pizza that had french fries on it. We didn't see it on the menu because the menu was in Italian, but three or four people ordered it while we were there. Overall it was a nice last dinner in Verona.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and did a farewell wander around Verona. We half-heartedly looked for the “Juliet Balcony,” that was added on to an old house in the 1930s, but we didn't see it. We ended up at a cafe where Dr Husband got a farewell cappuccino, and I got a farewell glass of wine with a side of judgement-- 11am seemed like an appropriate time for wine. We then went to the train station to catch our ride back to Innsbruck.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Verona Part 2 – and whence I tried to drink all the wine in Verona

 We woke up bright and early so that we may thoroughly concur Verona before sundown. We ate an American sized breakfast at the buffet downstairs and headed out to take in the sights (and foods and drinks). We started at the Roman Arena, which was beautiful and old. Then we walked around the streets, which were also beautiful, old, and narrow. We saw the different Piazza’s which were beautiful and old. Then around 12:30 we decided it was late enough to start drinking in this beautiful old city.

            Dr Husband fully of disdain for all things touristy and Anglican finally found a restaurant which he deemed worthy after searching for 45 minutes. Café Monto Baldo fit all of his strict requirements. Our first course of action was to order wine. I got a pasta dish, which was okay. Dr Husband ordered a Verona regional dish “carne di cavallo in umido con polenta” (I wouldn’t look that up unless you are really sure you want to know what kind of meat that is). It was very good and tasted very much like stewed beef (but of course, it was not beef).

  I’m not sure how they do it but we sat next to people at both restaurants that did a full course menu, and ate everything: Antipasta, primi piatti, secondi piatti, dessert, and caffe. It was awe inspiring to watch and neither couple were overweight. Maybe the espresso burns up all the calories?! I stuck to one course and enough wine and I was quite full.
  After lunch we walked about 10 meters and decided we were still thirsty so we went to Archmivio Juice Beer Bar. We ordered several glasses of wine and then Dr Husband had the smart idea to hydrate by drinking a beer. I kept drinking wine because hydration is for quitters. After walking around for a bit longer we went to a small wine shop on a side street, Cantina dal zovo vini and liquor. It was floor to ceiling wine bottles. They ranged in price from 8€ to 799€. The owner was an elderly Italian man who spoke no English, who was very enthusiastic about wine. Dr Husband bought a nice bottle of Gewürztraminer von Südtirol (the German speaking part of Northern Italy near Austria). We drank a few more glasses of wine and then decided to go back to our hotel to relax a little bit before dinner.

We hadn’t planned on drinking the bottle of wine unchilled – but sometimes in Verona when you’re sitting on your 5th story balcony enjoying the view wine demands to be drunk. After a bit of internet research we decided to go to a local husband/wife owned restaurant, Enocibus. We got a bottle of wine for 10€, a primi piatti each – one cheese ravioli and one beef – and a secondi piatta each. Dr Husband ordered rare roast beef filled with three cheeses. I ordered herring over polenta. We were both very happy with our meals (and the price). 

The owner of the shop and even came and talked to us several times during the evening. We couldn’t really understand each other too well, but nonetheless it was a wonderful experience and I would recommend Enocibus to anything in the Verona area. After that we stopped by a popular local watering hole where we had the first beers I’ve had while in Europe that tasted like they actually had hops in them. Since it was getting pretty late and we had to get up bright and early for our trip to Soave in the morning we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

Part 3 - Soave - coming soon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Verona: Land of Beauty, Wine, and Food – Part 1

Those of you who are my friend on Facebook know that this past weekend, Dr Husband and I traveled to Verona in order to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We left on a Thursday evening after Dr Husband got off from work in order to maximize our time in Verona. We traveled via train which was very easy and convenient. There is a direct line from Innsbruck to Verona. Dr Husband did some quick research before we boarded the train and discovered some basic tips about Italian culture:

1.) It is customary for there to be a table/cover charge per person (usually between 1€-
2,50€/person). It is usually stated on the bottom of the menu.

2.) Using bread to wipe up the leftover sauce from a dish is a sign of appreciation to the
Chef and not an insult like it may be in other cultures.

3.) Breakfast is from around 7 am – 10 am; Lunch 12 pm – 3 pm; Dinner 7 pm – 11 pm

4.) Cappuccinos are for breakfast only. Don’t order after 10 am unless you want to look
like a total noob/dork/tourist. Feel free to order espresso (i.e. “caffè” in Italian) whenever
and where ever, however.  

Since I now knew everything there was to know about eating and drinking in Italy, I was ready to get to know Verona through the most direct path – my belly.

Some things to note about Dr Husband and my travel eating habits: we don’t like to eat at chains, we try to stay away from “touristy” eating establishments, and we try to eat reasonably priced food (i.e. we rarely if ever do fine dining or gourmet restaurants). Dr Husband gives bonus points to places without any English translations on the menu while I’m ok with knowing exactly what it is I’m about to eat.

So now that you have a little background information allow me to continue. We arrived in Verona late in the evening and after we checked into our hotel we were looking for a place to eat. Luckily we were in Italy (and not Austria) because people don’t starting eating dinner until after 7:30pm and everything in Austria would have been closed. For me proximity to the hotel was paramount as I was starving (and it was around 9:45pm). I’m not sure all Dr Husband was doing on the interwebs but it took awhile, and he finally found a restaurant nearby for us to eat.

        We decided on l’Orologio because it passed my near-ness test and didn’t look too expensive. Little did we know what awaited us. Wine by the glass was fairly inexpensive (about 2,50-4€) and our server spoke enough English for us to understand each other. We got the bruschetta, I got the meat stuffed ravioli and Dr Husband got swordfish. It did not matter that we were there to celebrate our first anniversary, had my ravioli been a man I would have commenced with a torrid affair complete with clandestine meetings in bathroom stalls and stairwells. It was incredible. I suspect Dr Husband had a similar feeling because his swordfish was not as good and almost twice as much. I should note here that meals in Italy consist of an antipasta (Antipasti 3-10€) a small first course (Primi Piatti 6-12€) and a meat as the main course (Secondi Piatti 10-20€). If you are not terribly hungry primi piatti should be fine. Plus wine helps.

We were offered espresso, but since it was 11pm and we wanted to sleep that night we declined. We wandered around a bit and found a bar that served ½ liter of wine for 4,50€. They also served liters of wine for 9€ but that was just a little too ambitious for us at that point (though I gave it serious consideration). We went back to our hotel to prepare for our first full day in Verona.

Part due coming soon!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Addendum to My Previous Post

I feel the need to add that Dr Husband and I buy the "S-Budget" brand cheese as you can literally get a kilo of it for 4euro. Do not be mislead though. This cheese is in no way better than the slightly more expensive cheeses available. We just like it because there is a lot of it for cheap, and it is pretty good. Keep in mind that we are from America, birthplace of  those processed cheese squares, "American cheese," so our diary expectations are considerably low. So I would take my "pretty good" recommendation with a grain of salt which is literally how every American food is taken because we like flavor and heart disease.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some Tips That Will Help You Save Yourself from Sprained Wrists (and Other Maladies)

Since Dr Husband and myself have been living in Innsbruck for close to two months, I feel pretty confident about my ability to share wisdom on these subjects. The first hard hitting subject I’m going to cover is soda/pop/cola/coke. As an American and someone who grew up in the state of Georgia, I love me some coca-cola. If left to my own devises I would be the size of a house due at least in part to this wondrous beverage. Around junior/senior year of high school I realized that I had to start paying more attention to the

calories I consumed so I started drinking diet soda with occasional “treats” of regular. Before we left the States for Innsbruck, I would normally drink at least one diet soda a day. The thing is that soda in Innsbruck is expensive. Like a 6 pack of .33L (a little more than the 12oz commonly found in the US) is 4.50€. That’s more than a 12 pack in the US! I have bought them a couple times, but they are really more of a treat/dessert for us now. I was wondering what other (preferably cheaper) nonalcoholic beverages people in Innsbruck drank because deep down I knew Americans couldn’t be the only ones that liked to drink sugar. I summoned the spirit of the great Obese to show me the way. That was when I found the syrup section. Pay dirt. I grabbed a raspberry and lemon flavored syrup and a mineral water and headed home to try my discovery. Tip: the orange flavored syrup + mineral water = orange soda. It will suffice to fill your cola hole.
The second is more of a cautionary tale from my own experience. A lot of sauces (mayo, mustard, tomato puree, etc) come in tubes similar to toothpaste instead of tubs. I speculate that it has to do with storage room because our refrigerator is much smaller than those commonly found in the US. Anyways the sauces range in size and price of tube, and since we had already learned that you should always go at least one step up from the “Budget” brand whenever fiscally feasible for flavor purposes, we got the next step up which was in a metal tube. Do not do this. Please learn from our mistake. The metal tube is fine at first, but once you start really trying to get the sauce out it becomes painful. Literal physical pain comes from doing this. I nearly sprained my wrist trying to get some mayo on bread. Try to buy the plastic tubes when possible or become comfortable throwing away a tube that still has quite a bit of sauce in it. Or, you could try to cut in to the container but because it’s thin metal you’d probably end up eating metal which probably isn’t good for you. Seriously though the plastic tubes are maybe .60 more, and they are well worth the extra cost.
Lastly, you can get used ski equipment on Innsbruck’s version of craigslist: www.willhaben.at. Skills you will want to hone before contacting people from this site include: price negotiation (although most people have things priced reasonably), quality assessment from small blurry photos, stranger danger radar, and google translate. I got a pair of old beginner skis for 30€. Dr Husband assured me they should be at least as good as strapping my feet to logs (although those would be more expensive). I’m such a novice that I hope I don’t flatten any 4 year olds on the bunny slope so I wouldn’t know the difference between skis and logs on my feet anyway. The Green Circle is a distant goal for me.

Additionally, and I cannot stress this enough: Buy above the Budget brand when and if you can.