Well, truthfully, it was a relatively short road trip in a rented Ford Focus. But I’m working on my Italian. With just two days of lead time (I found out my work schedule would permit it, after all), Sarah rented us a car and a place to sleep at Ca’ de Memi in mid-December in the Veneto, and we were off.
We’d been in the region before. Last year we came back from our Italian wine scavenger hunt up through the Veneto. We knew then that the region would be worth another look in, oh, about a year when we’d probably run out of wine and cheese and suitable rice for risotto. It turned out to be about thirteen months.
Admittedly, the weather was not really conducive to the standard tourism I imagine the region depends on in the high season. So we resolved to do our shopping on rainy days and try to save the sight-seeing for the days with the best weather. That worked out pretty well.
Our agriturismo bed-and-breakfast was located here, so after a somewhat stressful 7+ hour drive down through slushy Italian Alps (oddly, the German and Austrian Alps were perfectly welcoming with bright, clear skies and nice views), we started exploring here on foot. Good thing, too, because I would not have wanted to drive anywhere else in that fog. There’s not much claim to fame in Piombino Dese, save for the architecture buffs: this villa apparently became the model for others all over the world — even colonial America.
Sunday we set out on a roundtrip path suggested by our hostess at Ca’ de Memi — an easy drive in a roughly triangular pattern.
Castelfranco and the Radicchio Pageant
The first stop on our day trip around the area was Castelfranco. We’d sort of driven through the old town by mistake on our way to the Iper market the day before, and the walled city surrounded by the moat piqued our interest.
On Sunday, when we arrived, parking was a bit daunting. All the spots along the streets were marked with a sign indicating the use of a Parkscheibe (what ARE those things called in English?), and our rental car didn’t come equipped with one. But then we realized it was a Sunday and probably didn’t matter. We happened to park on the edge of a market square, where we found bundles of a leafy vegetable arranged in a semi-circle wearing numbers. Turns out this was the talent portion of the competition, and all bundles were trying to convince us how statue-like they could be. That particular variety of radicchio is native to the town of Castelfranco and derives its name from it.
Bassano del Grappa
This town was one of the turn-offs on the way down into Piombino Dese. At night, while the sloppy snow/rain mixture was making us cringe at every lane change, we couldn’t tell at all that the the town is nestled up against the mountains. It’s a much prettier scene during daylight, and if you follow your GPS to parking in Prato 1, there’s a mild slope up to the town. We arrived in late morning on a Sunday and that public parking lot was only half-full. By mid-afternoon, it was full to bursting. A nice perk in Bassano del Grappa is that there is free WiFi available from many hotspots around the town, thanks to the Diesel company founder, who is from there. It’s also the birthplace of that Italian liquor made from wine garbage: grappa. We didn’t partake in any of that, but we did enjoy a lovely pair of pizzas (one with radicchio on it) at restaurant for lunch and an espresso up on the hill overlooking the parking lot on our way out of town towards Asolo. And that beautiful bridge over the river? Designed by the villa guy, too.
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Driving into Asolo reminded us a little of the winding, narrow, single-lane ascent to Fiesole from last year’s trip. We found an unmanned underground parking garage several hundred meters outside the pedestrian zone and were stymied by the Italian and sorta-English instructions on the parking meter near the entrance until a kind soul passing by in snappy sunglasses, beemer and fabulous grey-mopped coiff told us not to pay on Sundays. I wonder how much money they make from foreign tourists (and native Italian-speakers — some of those were also scratching their capolini in front of the automat) who don’t know any better.
Walking up into the town from the parking garage, the placards embedded in the sidewalk eased us from the pre-Roman era up into the town’s twentieth-century history. When you’re strolling between ancient buildings along narrow cobblestone streets, or gazing out over a valley filled with olive trees and grape vines, it’s not hard to imagine retreating here to work on one’s manuscript or thespian or musical craft.
As in other cities in the region, we found dog owners particularly concerned for the comfort — or at least fashion — of their pets. The part that cracked me up: almost all of the little doggy sweaters and jackets had hoods. Some of the doggy coats appeared to match the
owner parent outfit.
Back to Piombino Dese
We’ve noticed that SR 308 is apparently not in the navigational databases yet. That fresh stretch of highway’s been there, according to Giulia at Ca’ de Memi, a few years, but neither the Navi in our rental car, nor our own Navigon (updated relatively recently) knew about this road. Felt a little weird and scary to be “driving blind” — and odd, that we’ve apparently become so utterly helpless without a device in the car to guide us. If you’re headed to Piombino Dese, and you find yourself on SR 308, take the Loreggia exit — in that roundabout there are signs pointing to Piombino Dese, and you’ll be back on roads that exist in your satnav’s virtual world.
Side note for car renters: we’ve started a car kit for when we rent. It includes:
- audio cable connectors for iPod/iPhone to the car stereo
- requisite safety vests for Austria/Italy
- a jug of windshield washer solvent
- our own satellite navigation device (a Navigon model)
It does not currently, but needs to include:
- our own Parkscheibe
- our own window scraper
What does your car kit contain? Leave your suggestions in the comments, please.