Italian Road Trip: Part Six, Roncade and the drive back

This is the sixth and final part of our road trip through northern and central Italy in mid-November, 2011. See Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five to catch up from the beginning.

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Arriving at Castello di Roncade was, thankfully, much easier than all the rest of the places we stayed combined, and multiplied by ten. Look how easy it was to park!

Sarah picked this place for us to stay because it was an apartment — not just a hotel room — in the right price range and the right part of the country. We’d changed plans with not much notice; the last leg of the trip was intended for the Cinque Terre region, but the floods there put us off that idea and so we ended up in Ravenna and Veneto on our last two days. Thus we didn’t know anything about this place upon arrival. For example, that

  • It’s a castle.
  • And a winery.
  • Owned by nobility.
  • It’s so darn pretty there.

When knocked on the door to the office to announce our presence, an older gentleman kind of abruptly showed us to our apartment, insisted we’d be staying more than just one night, until he asked us our name and checked his records and realized he’d confused us with someone else. Then he instructed us to go visit his wine shop. We started unpacking the car and saw him pedal off on a tiny bicycle in the direction of town.

Our curiosity piqued, we moseyed across the grounds from the apartments to the wine shop and learned a little about the history of the noble family, the castle, the vines from the salesman and suddenly realized that we’d been dealing with the Baron. Taking advantage of the slow season, we got as many details about the cultivation and production process of the wine as we wanted, all while sampling away. We resolved to purchase 3 different sorts of reds:

And our helpful, friendly wine guy then offered an impromptu (and free!) tour of the wine production center — the vineyards, fermentation vats, oak aging barrels, bottling machines, the works. We were wowed by the process, equipment, and history, and that put us in a hungry mood for our last evening meal in Italy on this trip.

Next time, I’d like to develop more language chops before we head off on a week’s journey through a region. We needed mostly no help, restaurant-wise, but even those situations weren’t fool Cliff-proof. On our last evening in Italy, we followed the our host the Baron’s recommendation for a stroll into Roncade’s center to eat at La Rocca. I decided, since I was hungry and it was our last night, to follow the Primi/Secondi dinner courses, and I saw an offering for local-style sausage and polenta…and [Italian word outside my limited vocabulary]. “Hmm,” I thought, “I don’t know what those are, but I know I’ll like the sausage and polenta, so why not? It’s probably some kind of grilled vegetable nicely complimenting the sausage, which is nice, because you don’t get a whole lot of vegetables when you order just primi (starches like pasta and rice) and secondi (meats).”

Those unknown menu items? They were ribs. I seem to recall from our road trip to Croatia and back through Udine that our pals at This International Life have a book specifically about Italian regional cuisine terms — would you guys care to share the title/author with us in the comments?

After a pleasant breakfast in the Castello’s kitchen the next morning, we bid the Baron and the winery staff arrivederci and set out on the road back to Regensburg. We were driving the toll roads, mostly, in order to get our rental car back on time. However, a secondary (secondo?!) objective (obiettivo?!) was to stop at an Iper or IperCoop or perhaps a CarreFour and stock up on groceries. But from the toll roads, this is not easy. You see a suitable market from the highway and then have to figure out how to get there on your own. Our GPS was worthless for seeking out supermarkets on the fly. After a couple attempts in different cities along route home, we nearly gave up, but the third time (near Vicenza) was a charm, and we put our cooler and ice packs (thanks to Castello’s apartment freezer) to good use keeping our newly acquired cheeses and a few meats cool until ready for our deep freezer. Those supermarkets also offer excellent, cheap lunch items: arancini, pizza, grilled vegetables and plenty of other prepared dishes to go or for consumption on premises.

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So, that was our Italian road trip. I’d say we enjoyed it much more than previous experiences would have led us to believe. Some bullet points:

    Favorite parts of the trip:

  • Driving through Chianti
  • Impromptu wine tasting (good thing we were done driving for the day…)
  • How kind and accommodating people were with our attempts at Italian
    Lessons learned:

  • Try not to blow fuses, but if you’re going to do it, do it where the staff is energetically helpful, like at La Reunion in Ravenna, and have that travel flashlight handy
  • the street signs don’t agree with directions don’t agree with maps — be prepared
  • ask hotels where to park before you get there, and don’t forget to bring all that helpful info you printed out to paper with you
    Stuff we’d do differently / on the list for next time:

  • Keep going further south, or maybe start with a flight in and drive from there (if we can bear to not schlep home a carfull of groceries, that is)
  • Bring friends
  • Make a mix CD, or make sure the rental car’ll take audio in out of an iPod