Monday, October 25, 2021

The Old World or Bust! (Part 3)

Thursday, October 21, 2021: Villa Ca' Driano
The view from the villa
On Thursday morning, we packed ourselves up and bid Venice arrivederci. Last time, we sailed out of Venice on board the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Rhapsody of the Seas; two years later, cruise ships are no longer permitted into the island's port, since their coming and going has inflicted considerable environmental damage to the city. The new restrictions are understandable yet sad, for seeing Venice from the deck of our ship as we slowly sailed past was a memory I will always treasure. This time, we rode a bus from the station at the north end of the island to Marco Polo International Airport, where we picked up a rental car, which Terry had reserved, to last us for the remainder of our trip. From there, we drove to the tiny town of Monteveglio, near Bologna, a couple of hours northward.
Ms. B. checks out the lemons growing
at Ca' Driana

Our home away-from-home here took my breath away. It's a roughly century-old villa called Ca' Driano (meaning House of Driano — presumably the founding family), which perches high on a mountaintop. From this vantage point, the villa offers staggering views of the surrounding countryside in every direction. The house itself is rustic, spacious, and comfortable, offering just about every amenity one could ask for. Our proprietors were a lovely, loquacious lady named Wilma and her somewhat more reserved husband, whom we called Fred (we didn't determine until our final day his actual name is Aristede). They live in the house next door and take care of the property as if it were their own. Fred doesn't speak English, so Wilma translates for him (their spirited interactions frequently had us rolling). They seemed to take us under their wings right away, and made us feel welcome and then some for our entire stay. (In fact, the more imaginative of our gang couldn't help but wonder if we were actually being fattened up for some unspeakable ritual to occur at some point during our stay. Well, we're still alive and kicking, don't you know... at least for now.)

During our conversations, we determined Fred was a hunter who loved to cook the game he hunted. And when he found out I possessed keen carnivorous tendencies, he brought us a pheasant that he had shot just a few days before. I promised that I would handle its preparation during our visit.

For our first night's dinner, Wilma recommended a wonderful restaurant: a place called Trattoria del Borgo at the site of an ancient abbey just outside of Monteveglio. An incredibly beautiful location — and what a fantastic dinner. We shared an amazing bottle of wine, locally made, and I had a wild boar stew that was probably the most delicious — and most memorable — meal of the entire trip. To top things off, there was a cache on the premises that I found after dinner, rounding out things on an even sweeter note.
Darkness falling over Casa Ca Driano
Ristorante Trattoria del Borgo at the old abbey outside of Monteveglio
Old dude signs the cache log
The one discomfort we suffered at Ca' Driano — a problem we've had to deal with throughout Italy, in fact — is mosquitoes. They're everywhere. And they're brutal. Since a number of windows at the villa didn't have screens, mosquitoes had gotten into the house, and they were apparently ravenous. I had the devil of a time sleeping on that first night, despite the comfortable bed, because of the constant whining, whirring, and biting of the nasty little bloodfuckers.

That wasn't enough to dampen any of our spirits, though, and by the end of the first night, our gang came to unanimous decision that Ca' Driano might be our favorite accommodations anywhere, anytime, ever.
Our hostess, Wilma, introducing our gang to Casa Ca' Driano
Friday, October 22, 2021: Flogging and a Bunch o' Bologna
Old dude lines up for a solid duff

Several weeks ago, with friend Terry, I played golf for the first time in about a decade. It was enjoyable enough, though "rusty" doesn't begin to describe my golfing prowess. In the photo above, you see Terry about to whack the living daylights out of a golf ball while playing at Golf Club Monteveglio. Somehow, he convinced me to join him in a round of golf, largely so we could claim to have played golf in Italy. The golf course was nearby, they had plenty of tee times available, and we could rent a bag of clubs (and a cart) once we got there. Being the gluttons for punishment we are, we headed on out, communicated with the pro using our best Italian (we didn't get pitched out the door on our heads, somewhat to our surprise), saddled up, and hit the links. I'll not say we didn't hit some mighty good golf shots; we did. But at the end of the round, we'd lost all ten balls we'd purchased and a couple of extra that came with the bag (it's a narrow course with lots of water hazards; I stand by that explanation). It was fun, but a  spectacularly unimpressive round for the both of us. In fact, at the end of it all, I felt obliged to offer an apology to the sport of golf and to Italy in general.

Once back at Ca' Driano, we got tidied up, grabbed the women, and set out for the city of Bologna, just a few miles up the road from Monteveglio. Ms. B. was particularly keen on visiting the old quarter in the city center, so we struggled through the considerable Bologna traffic and found ourselves a parking garage within reasonable walking distance of our destination.

Bologna was a madhouse. Even in the old quarter, where the majority of traffic is on foot, cars still zip back and forth and round and round at stunning speed. Numerous times while walking, we had to dodge vehicles driven by madfolk who weren't about to slow down for anything as paltry as pedestrians. Now, it's pretty much like this all over Europe, but at least on this day in Bologna, the nastiness reached daunting proportions. We did at least find some decent food and drink — Bistro Roberto was pretty nice, the Tagliatella con Ragu pleasing to the palate. I snagged a couple of caches while Ms. B. and the others went shopping. We didn't care to stay around very late, so after dinner we headed on back to the car.
Fun fact about Europe: oftentimes, little things — such as how you pay for parking your car in a public lot — differ just enough from what we're accustomed to, at least in our part of the US, that it can create small amounts of havoc. Sometimes slightly larger amounts. In this case, we had a gate ticket and didn't realize you pay for it in a separate area, not when you leave the garage, as we typically do back home. So, we ended up getting stuck in the garage for a while as we sorted out the proper procedure. The problem was that, once Terry inserted the ticket which would have opened the gate had we already paid, the machine ate the ticket and refused to let us out. This necessitated a call to an attendant, who resided lord knows how many miles (or perhaps I should say kilometers) away and whose grasp of English roughly equaled our grasp of Italian. There was considerable back and forth that got us nowhere, until finally, in exasperation, the kind signore opened the gate for us remotely, clearly to shut us up and get us the hell out of his hair.

Lesson learned. But at the end of the day, Bologna endeared itself to us less than most of the other places in Italy we visited. Or let us say all, rather than most of. Returning to Ca' Driano was a relief. Or would have been, except for Il Zanzara (The Mosquito). This second night wasn't as bad as the first, but it was clear the little bastard was still around by the number of bites I woke up with the next morning.

Saturday, October 23, 2021: No Wine for You!
The view from some hillside outside Monteveglio
The first thing I did upon waking on Saturday morning was pluck and prep the pheasant that Fred had given me, since at least a couple of us planned on having it for dinner. Now, I have never plucked and cleaned a whole bird before, so I did a quick look on YouTube for some tips, and then went to town. I've gotta tell you, it went swimmingly. I trussed up the bird; put it in a bath in wine, olive oil, butter, onions, and herbs; and stuck it in the fridge so it'd be ready for roasting later in the day.
The bird before
"Get that camera out of my face while I am cheffing!"
There are all kinds of wineries in the region, and we had figured it wouldn't be hard to track down at least a couple. We did, but as it turned out, the few we found were either not open at all or required appointments for tastings. So, we satisfied ourselves jaunting about some of the scenic backroads to see what we might see. One of the coolest spots we found was one of the many ancient castles throughout the countryside. This one was Castello di Serraville, where I did find a cool geocache. 
Castello di Serraville
The bird after

After a fairly lengthy sightseeing venture, our gang headed back to the villa. We enjoyed a few miscellaneous nibbles during the afternoon, and a bit later, I finished prepping the bird and got it roasting in the oven. Once again, not having prepared pheasant before, I trusted in intuition, long experience cooking critters in general, and a fair amount of hope that the experiment would not end in disaster.

Our very kind co-host, Fred, had not only given us a pheasant but a bottle of very old wine — a 2004 Rosso di Montalcino to go with the bird. It proved delicious. As did the pheasant. Kimberly and Beth, not much inclined to eat critter, opted for other vittles, but Terry and I quite enjoyed the bird. I also took Fred a sample, which he raved about. (According to Wilma's translation, he said, "You are not just a cook but a chef!" He did add that it could have used a little more salt.) I'm sure he was being overly kind, but I cannot speak well enough of both our hosts at the Villa, and his compliments likely turned my face redder than our vino rosso.

Our last night at Ca' Driano turned out to be pleasant and very relaxing — except for, once again, Il Zanzara, who pestered me for the entire night. Even building a tent out of the sheets that covered my body head to toe failed to hold the little fucker at bay. I probably should have picked up some bug repellent, but I'm not sure a bed reeking of DEET would have been much preferable. Regardless, I'd have to say that Ca' Driano rates as one of the best lodgings I've ever occupied, and I would dearly love to return to it someday, should circumstances permit.

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