Monday, March 6, 2006

Viva Veneto! Karina's Italian Adventure, parts 2 & 3

Day 2 - Nove (March 1)

Nove is a small town outside of Vicenza, in fact, you go through Padua to get there. Unfortunately, I was unable to see much of Padua, which looks like another amazing place to sightsee.

Anyway, we started our morning with breakfast at the hotel. There is nothing like a fresh baked croissant with cream cheese and jam. They had other things too, but if I see that on the breakfast buffet, that's the only thing I want.

After breakfast, we called a cab to take us to the Army base. There is a small military installation in Vicenza. I shouldn't really say that it's small - it's larger than the Army garrison we have here. This seemed quite large by comparison. But it's considered small.

Anyway, we needed to pick up a rental car, so we asked around and finally got directions to the Europcar office on base. The cars were parked on a lot about 7 km outside of the base though, so we couldn't pick up the car right away. We had a little over an hour until the shuttle would come get us to take us to the lot, so we stopped at the commissary and bought some more snacks and water and we stopped a few other places in an effort to kill time.

At 11, this blue school bus came and got us. The guy spoke no English, so he had trouble understanding where we were trying to go. Finally, he picked up another passenger and that person explained to him where we were trying to go. So he dropped us off there and we located the Mercedes that we reserved. That was the one thing we spared no expense on during this trip. We wanted a good sized car with a roomy trunk and an automatic transmission. Split 4 ways, the cost per day wasn't bad.

After figuring out all the bells and whistles and plugging our destination into Emily's GPS system, we were on our way to Nove. It didn't take us too long to get there…maybe half an hour, slightly longer. Nove isn't a spectacular town or anything. They have a nice bell tower in the center of town and a pretty impressive school building, but there is nothing striking beyond that. You can see the mountains in the distance though, which is cool. Nove's claim to fame is its dozens of ceramics shops, and ceramic shopping was our order for the day.

Well, I should say it was THEIR order for the day. I didn't particularly care to go shopping, but since I'm writing an article about Nove ceramics for a magazine, I had to go. If I didn't have to go, I would've gone off to Verona for the day.

I bought a few things. The mosaic pottery was beautiful, so I bought a piece for myself. I got some gifts. The pottery is really cheap. You can get Lenox or Tiffany china there for a fraction of what you pay in the States. But it was mostly white stuff, and all white stuff bores me. I like color. And the pottery I bought was colorful.

So the entire day was spent shopping. My companions bought A LOT of pottery. I was mostly interested in getting pictures for the magazine. We visited some shops that had pretty handpainted things, but as I was not in the market for any pottery, I didn't see the point in buying it.

Nove is so small that there weren't many places to eat. We stopped at a place that had sandwiches, and I got some kind of wrap with thin sliced beef and cheese. Also, Nove is off the tourist radar enough that they still have squat toilets in most public restrooms. We only found one regular toilet the entire time we were there. Believe me, I was thrilled.

While we were shopping, we ran into two people from here at our base. Small world, after all. And we ran into a lady who is trying to start her own business selling Italian pottery. I think she spent about 15,000 euros...she spent 8,000 just in one store. Anyway, she seemed really nice, and her name was Karen. She is the one who called me "Karina" and told me that it means pretty in Italian.

Once everyone was satisfied with the shopping (actually, it was time for the shops to close), we headed back to Vicenza, stopping at the base to get some cash out of the ATM machine. We asked a nice couple to recommend a restaurant for us, and they told us about this place called Giada's and gave us directions to it.

So, bellies grumbling, we set off for Giada's. The restaurant is located inside an elegant looking 3 star hotel. We ordered 2 appetizers to share: fried stuffed olives and fried mozzarella. I had a nice fruity white wine which reminded me of Riesling. We had a basket of mixed breads AND bruschetta brought to our table. The bruschetta was delicious, as were the appetizers. For the main course, I ordered angel hair pasta with crab legs. They didn't bring me a little fork to get the meat out, so I had some trouble, but what I was able to eat was excellent. Finally, we ordered dessert. I got a lemon sponge cake that was absolutely delicious. Total cost for 2 appetizers, 4 main courses, a side dish, 1 liter of wine, a Diet Coke, and 4 desserts - 69 euros. Astonishingly cheap. We were very pleased and it was the best meal we had on the entire trip.

After our wonderful meal, we headed back to the hotel for night #2.

Day 3 - Vicenza (March 2, if you're not keeping track)

After breakfast, we headed back to the base. We had an appointment with the post office to ship all the pottery. The pottery shop where we purchased the most stuff was delivering it to the base for us. We had to wait awhile for them to show up, but they finally did, we helped unload the boxes, and then we labeled everything and slapped on the customs forms and shipped them back here. (And in case you were wondering, the shipping doesn't cost us anything).

After that was done, we drove into Vicenza for a day of sightseeing there. We found a place to park next to a really pretty park with a beautiful church. So we walked through there first and then headed toward the market square, where a flea market takes place every Thursday.

We got there and perused the flea market for a bit. There was nothing different there from what we usually see in the local markets here. So we gave up on that. We stopped at a place for lunch and ordered pizzas. Mine was vegetarian and came with giant strips of zucchini on it and large pieces of pepper and eggplant. It was a very odd looking pizza and honestly, it wasn't very good. I had a nice rose wine with it though. I don't know what it's called, but it was good. As we left the restaurant, I saw a small dog walking around inside, collecting sugar packets off the floor. His owner, an elderly gentleman, seemed pretty distressed about it, so I called the dog over to me and plucked the sugar packets out of his mouth. As I was leaving, the man stopped me and said "Thank you" in English and then wished me goodbye.

Our car was paid up to park until 2, so after walking around a bit and exploring various streets and alleys, we headed toward the car so we wouldn't get a parking ticket. Tracey was getting tired and wanted to go back to the hotel to nap. So we dropped her off and then drove to a better parking spot closer to what we wanted to see: the Teatro Olimpico, Europe's oldest operating theatre, built by the famous Italian architect Palladio in 1580. The theatre was breathtaking. And we found out that they were performing Romeo and Juliet there only 2 days later - the day after we left Italy. Oh, the heartbreak! Especially since Vicenza is Romeo and Giulietta country (so is Verona, but the original author is buried in Vicenza).

There was an art museum across the street, and our Teatro Olimpico tickets admitted us into that museum as well, so we decided to check it out. We didn't spend much time there. It was mostly religious art, but nothing really famous. Some of it looked familiar though.

After the art museum, we wanted to stop and sit awhile, so we found a coffee shop and got some ciacolatta calda (hot chocolate).

The church were Luigi Da Porto is buried (the aforementioned author of the original Romeo and Juliet) was close by, so we decided to go there to see if we could find his grave. Supposedly, the church also houses a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. We saw neither. The church was pretty though. It's the Church of Santa Corona.

After the church, we pretty much had enough sightseeing. We were near a pastry/gelato shop that I had seen earlier in the day that had really cute heart-shaped pastries and other lovely delights, so I wanted to take Emily and Stephanie there to show them. We decided to have some gelato, since how can you go to Italy and not have some? So we went inside and they ordered tiramisu and chocolate, I ordered strawberry.

After our treat, we headed back toward the car, but not before a cosmetics/candle store caught my eye. I went in and bought some bath stuff and then hopped in the car and we went back to the hotel.

Stephanie and Emily decided to return the rental car. They left me with the task of picking up something for dinner. So they took off to get rid of the Mercedes and I stayed in the hotel room for awhile to read, since I knew they would take awhile. Tracey was also in the room with me, working on puzzles. It was the first real moment of quiet I had the entire trip, other than when we slept.

An hour after they left, I figured it was time to pick up dinner. We actually wanted to avoid Italian this time…Chinese sounded good to all of us. But when I asked at the front desk, they indicated that the nearest Chinese place was quite a distance from the hotel. I wasn't comfortable being out after dark, alone, in a strange city. So I decided to just get food at the closest place I could find, which ended up being a gelato/snack shop about half a block from the hotel. The guy working there spoke no English at all, so with my very limited Italian, I was able to order 2 pizziola sandwiches and 2 ham and fontina cheese on foccacia. While he was toasting my sandwiches, he was talking with a guy who had a beagle. The beagle kept looking at me and then jumping up to hump the guy's leg. It was hilarious. But I pretended not to see. After what seemed like ages, my sandwiches were toasted, he wrapped them up to go, and I went back to the hotel. I divided each sandwich in half so we could each try a bit of both. They were delicious.

After the sandwiches had gone cold, Stephanie and Emily returned. They had some problems with the car rental return, but it got sorted out, and they came up to the room with 2 glasses of red wine for themselves and a glass of champagne for me (they had no white wine at the bar). They ate and told us about their car rental return adventure. Since Emily's birthday was the next day, we surprised her with a card and a tiny gift - a silver violin that was purchased earlier that day. Emily is an accomplished violinist.

And thus ended day 3. One more day to go.

I published an article about Nove in the
Stars & Stripes, European Edition in October 2006. My photos are included too.

Days 2 & 3 photos

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