Sunday, September 6, 2015

Veneto Hill Towns: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

As I began this post this morning, we were sitting in the living room of our apartment. The rain from the previous evening and during the night had ended and the clouds had dispersed. When I stepped out onto the patio, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the morning air was cool. One last time, I looked up at the facade of the Madonna dell'Orto church next door. Later, when we came to the water bus stop and looked across the water, we had a crystal clear view of the Dolomites to the north and west.

If you look carefully, you can see the peaks of the Dolomites in the distance.

Now, we are sitting on high-speed train that just left the Venezia Santa Lucia train station and is heading across the causeway to the mainland. The tops of the same mountains I saw so clearly this morning are now wreathed in white puffy clouds. We are on our way to Rome. It is now 1:08 p.m.  on Sunday afternoon. We look forward to having cocktails on our terrace at our hotel in the Monti District shortly after 5:00.


We took another small group tour yesterday, this time up into some hill towns northwest of Venice. Our group was considerably livelier this time, consisting besides us of a couple from New York and their adult daughter and a South African woman who lives in New York and her mother-in-law who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. Given that wine-tasting was on the itinerary, we weren't surprised that the group was more sociable than the one we had traveled with on Friday.

On the way to the water bus stop we discovered a pastry/coffee shop, so we ducked in for an Italian version of a pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant) and a cappuccino. The pastry was delicious, as good or better than the best I've ever tasted of its French cousin. It was so good that I bought another one for the road. 

Not for the first time, we marveled at how inexpensive coffee and pastries are in Venice. Two cappuccinos and two pastries cost us less than 5 Euro. If we'd bought the same thing - as our guide had pointed out to us on Friday - in Austria, Germany or France, the cost would have been twice as much.

Once we were under way, our first stop was the first walled city I've every seen, Marostica, just outside Bassano del Grappa. It had been raining a bit as we approached the town, but within a couple of minutes of getting out of the van, the rain stopped and the skies started clearing. We marveled at our luck as we sat at a cafe on the square pictured below and had an espresso and pastry. (Yes, another one.)



From Marostica, we drove a short distance to Bassano del Grappa. Along the way, Giovanni, our driver/guide (the same one on the Dolomite trip on Friday), explained to us ("I explain you") about Asiago cheese - which is produced in a mountainous area about 40 kilometers from Bassano - as well as grappa, a liqueur made from grape skins. 

While in Bassano, we took the opportunity to purchase some Asiago cheese. We could have purchased soft, newer cheese that is used in panini or sandwiches, but we opted for the aged. We also had the opportunity to taste various kinds of grappa, but it didn't appeal to me at all.

Ponte Vecchio bridge over the River Brenta, designed by Palladio in 1569.

The River Brenta in Bassano del Grappo.

The main square in Bassano.

Purchasing cheese

From Bassano, we drove to Asolo for lunch at a restaurant that specializes in hand-made pasta and regional dishes. I had my first dish of gnocchi, with butter and sage sauce, as my first course, and Mark and I both had omelettes with cheese and ham as our second course. Despite the caloric intake (and this was after three pastries in the morning), I still somehow managed to lose a pound yesterday. (I'll probably make it up today after the carbonara feast we intend to have tonight in a little restaurant down the street from our hotel.)

Asolo. Our restaurant was just up the street on the left.


Asolo. Campanile (stand alone bell towers) are ubiquitous throughout the Veneto region and in Venice.


Throughout the day, we saw old buildings with painting on the stucco/plaster. This was in Asolo.

Stuffed following lunch, our next stop was at Villa Barbaro (also known as Villa di Maser), designed by Palladio, a famous Venetian architect of the 16th century who is considered one of the most influential architects in Western civilization. His designs had a marked effect on English architecture and, by extension, colonial American architecture. The following pictures were taken from the grounds of the villa.

Our last stop was at a winery not far from the villa where we did some Prosecco tasting. I guess my palate isn't very educated because I preferred the stuff we buy at home. Maybe it was just the winery. The scenery was beautiful, however.

The village of Santa Stefano. Taken from the winery.

Giovanni invited us to taste some grapes (they started harvesting the lower slopes a week ago.) Mark was only too happy to take him up on it.

We all dozed on the way back to Venice in the early evening. It had been another fun day. Different from the one before, but interesting and rewarding. It started pouring with rain on the way, but, almost miraculously, as we started across the causeway to the city, a brilliant rainbow appeared, then a second one. By the time we had unloaded and started walking towards our apartment, the rain stopped. As we approached the train station, I joined dozens of others who were taking pictures with their cell phones of the magnificent sight before us. Truly, Venice is somewhere over the rainbow.

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