Hooray, wine tour day! Linda had arranged for a wine tour with Gusto, a tour outfit that specializes in Umbria Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG wineries. Our house was on the border of Tuscany and Umbria, so we were picked up by Carlo to drive us further into Umbria to meet up with our tour guide Mark (are you still with me?). Carlo was a very good, fast driver who, quite honestly, looked more like a Bruno to me. I would not want to be on the receiving end of a punch by that guy! Not that he was menacing- in fact, he was quite nice. He just looked like a bruiser!
Mark was our British tour guide/driver who has lived in the area for quite awhile. Honestly, he seemed to be in a bit of a mood when he first picked us up but things improved as the day went on. I thought he was more caustic than funny. Fortunately, the wineries were quite nice and the tour overall was quite good.
So, yes, we went to three wineries highlighting the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG. We went to Terre Dei Nappi, Fongoli and Romanelli. Lunch was offered at an old farmhouse dating back to the 14th century and owned by the same family!
Terre Dei Nappi featured a talk and a tasting with the owner/winemaker. They had lovely wines and paired nicely with a cheese and salami platter. We walked in the vineyard and saw their wine making apparatus. It was pretty amazing to see a professional winery but on a family farm-scale rather than a Napa or Sonoma-sized place. I feel that family farms are easy to romanticize but it’s clear that a lot of hard work goes into staying open while producing a quality product.
Fongoli was my favorite because I enjoyed the method tinkering that the winemaker employed. He experimented with different barrels and even aged some wine in huge Terra Cotta amphora. The wine there was delicious and they had a beautiful view from their farm.
Then we had lunch followed by our last stop at Romanelli where I met my new Italian boyfriend. It was Neroni, my new favorite doggie in the entire world! I really, really wished that Neroni could be my dog but alas, he already had loving owners. He was such a cute, energetic dog with a touch of rakish daredevil (stupidity?) in how he liked to chase cars. I would like to find a Neroni in the US- fingers crossed!
After Romanelli, we met back up with Carlo and drove back to the house. I took a nap and then walked the 5 km loop, coming back after dark. It was a great day and a wonderful tour to take.
After an amazing dinner the night before, I slept pretty well. SMS and I were in the third floor bedroom with a beautiful view over the valley. The entire family woke up early because we thought we were going on a wine tour that day. It turned out that it was the next day, which made a lot more sense since it was planned to give us a day to settle in. Since we were all awake, we decided to go to the nearby Citta d’Castello.
We took two cars and took a few minutes to meet up. Then we walked along the town streets. It was pretty quiet, but we found a coffee bar that was open. Success! The coffee (aka, espresso and cappachino) was delicious and amazingly inexpensive.
Then we walked around some of the older buildings. We browsed through an indoor farmers market and bought some nice produce. On another street, we found a cute gourmet market filled with delicious items. There were some other nice stores but it seemed that many were closed on Mondays.
We headed back to the house, where we had a mellow afternoon. Lunch and dinner consisted of leftovers from the night before. I took a nap, which was delightful. I also ran the recommended walking loop that was a hilly 5 km jog- my heart rate was definitely high on those hills. There was a reward though- the beautiful view!
SMS and I woke up and even though I was feeling slightly down about yesterday’s driving misadventures, SMS convinced me to make the most of being on the Cinque Terre trail. So, we hiked down to Veracazza and grabbed a coffee. It was a nice walk and beautiful in the early morning. We saw the train tracks running right along the water and I’m sure that is a beautiful ride through the five towns.
We hit the road and stopped at Bar Sbarbaro for breakfast. It was near Sarzana, slightly past Le Spezia. They had delicious pastries, small sandwiches and a cute candy counter in the back. We sat on the patio and celebrated SMS’ amazing driving through the back roads of Cinque Terre!
Check in at the villa was at 4 so we decided to stop in Lucca for the late morning/early afternoon. What a beautiful city with a beautifully preserved old town. We parked outside the old city walls and walked through the gate and stopped in the tourist office. We walked through the streets without a specific destination- just wandering and taking in the sights. Until our stomachs told us to get lunch. SMS was craving pizza so we went to Pizzeria Mara Meo, which totally hit the spot. We split a pizza and salad. I was so hungry that I had a few pieces of pizza bread that was served after ordering- it was so good.
After lunch, we walked up onto the city walls and sat on one of the wider, park-like areas. It was such a pretty day with a moderate wind. I was so happy- full belly, beautiful place, being with SMS- all great things!
On our way back through town, we walked through the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a circular open area surrounded by a ring of buildings, mostly restaurants and cafes. It was interesting architecturally but since we weren’t eating there, it wasn’t really a place to linger. I think we were spoiled by our time on the castle wall!
The nose knows…
We got back in our car and headed to La Buia Villa, our home for the next week. We arrived at 5:50. SMS’ family was already there and it was so great to be all together. SMS’ Mom had arranged for a welcome meal to be cooked by visiting chefs. It was a multi-course meal that started at 7:30. It included bruschetta, pasta, carpaccio, carbonara, ribs and pork fillets. Dessert was a delicious torte that the ants found the next day, boo hoo! It was so much food and we had leftovers for the next few days. It was an excellent way to start our family Italian vacation!
Day 4 was another big driving day. A few weeks earlier, we figured out there was an “extra” day before we were expected at the villa. I thought the check-in was Saturday but it was Sunday. I thought that it would be cool to check out Cinque Terre so I booked an Airbnb without doing the level of research I had done for the other places. All I knew is that the total drive time to Umbria would be about the same and, in fact, a stop in Cinque Terre would be a nice way to break up the trip.
On the way down, we decided to stop in Bellinzona. I love Bellinzona or rather, I love the Amerena gelato at Gelateria Venata in Bellinzona! SMS drove over a mountain pass from Trun- there was even a brief snow flurry! We arrived a little early so we walked around Bellinzona. We thought we would be gone before the gelateria opened but we came across a farmer’s market (with a delicious risotto and polenta “samosa”). We also walked around the Castelgrande. It was a great morning and finished with ice cream!
So, look at the following map. Doesn’t it look easy?
Such cute, squiggly Microsoft Paint lines. What could be more simple, more cute? OMG. It was a pretty nightmare drive on backroads that ranged from 1.5-1 lanes but with two-way traffic the entire way. What I thought would be a quick drive off the road was a 45 minute slog in the best conditions, about 75 minutes due to poor directions. I realized later that the map was made by a guy who lived and drove there all the time and was not very helpful to someone unfamiliar to the area. There were a LOT more turns than indicated on the map and it was a really stressful drive. SMS was a living saint and didn’t snap at any point, which is really admirable. I am almost certain that I would not have been as understanding.
Once we got to Cinque Terre, the place was beautiful but very basic. There was nowhere to eat or drink nearby and I hadn’t thought to stock up or bring a picnic-style dinner. Ugh, this was such a bomb of a side trip.
Other than the fact that we were in a beautiful place. That made me feel a little better. We drove down to Corniglia and ate at a restaurant overlooking the little cove and larger Ligurian Sea. The food was fine but the view was spectacular.
We went back to the AirBnb and went to bed. Would I recommend it? Sort of. As SMS said, it was more of a stay-a-few-nights type of place rather than a one night. Plus, compared to some other places we went on the trip, I preferred those to the super-touristy Cinque Terre. The towns were pretty much only tourist-driven (it seemed). Although we went to some other places that attracted tourists, it always seemed that tourism was part of the city’s lifeblood, not the entire existence. I’m sure there would be plenty of people who disagree and don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful place- I just have other places higher on my favorites list. In fairness, I think the drive really took a lot out of my enjoyment and if we had taken the train in and actually been in a town rather than between two, it may have been a lot better experience.
SMS had wanted to visit Lichtenstein so I booked an overnight there on our drive from Germany to Italy. We had a delicious breakfast buffet, which we added to our bill. I am sort of in love with a breakfast of muesli, cheese and whole-grain bread.
I wanted to do more than just pass through Lichtenstein so we decided to do the Prince’s Way Hike. We drove through Vanduz, with its pretty terraced streets. We drove up to Gaflei where there was a small paved parking lot and little (clean!) bathroom hut at the start of the trail.
The views were very beautiful but there was a lot of loose rock. The trail was well-formed, but there was evidence of prior rock slides. Some of the trail hugged the cliff with some pretty steep drops. We were doing pretty well until we came to an area where the path had slid away. People braver (more fool-hardy) than ourselves picked their way across but we decided to turn back. SMS and I have done some stupid outdoor adventures in our time but neither one of us felt good about continuing the hike. SMS didn’t want to die and I didn’t want to have a panic attack halfway across the gravel-strewn “path.” I guess I didn’t want to die either.
So, that was that! Next up was heading into the Romansch-area of Switzerland. SMS had wanted to visit last Summer but we were unable to make it, mostly due to an episode called SMS and the Whole Wheel of Raw Cheese, where our valiant hero ate a lot of unpasteurized cheese at a grotto with unexpected (expected?) consequences.
Romansch is a language with several dialects across the region that largely developed due to the isolation of these valley towns. We drove to Vrin, a town where over 85% of people speak Romansch according to SMS’ research. We went to a coffee shop and had a delicious pastry roll with nut filling (yum!) along with our coffee. We heard a little bit of Romansch and SMS was a happy man. We walked around the village and then headed over to Trun, where we would spend the night and have an epic meal at Restaurant Todi.
We checked into the Casa Todi, took a nap and then walked around town. Our dinner reservation was at 7:30. We were one of two couples in the restaurant. We had an excellent waiter who spoke English with us and German with the other couple. Amazing. We ordered wine pairings with our meal based on his recommendations. It wasn’t a formal pairing but what he suggested by the glass based on what we ordered.
Before dinner, we each had a glass of local Riesling and a tiny chick pea chip for amuse bouche. For an appetizer, SMS had a tradition tattas dish, which were chard wrapped sausage and potato meatballs, for lack of better descriptor. The chef Manuel Reichenbach, who came out later in the dinner, explained that it was a traditional dish that was developed during wartime to stretch the food supply by adding the cheaper potato to create more of the filling. He said that you could tell a family’s wealth by the sausage to potato ratio. I had the steak tartare, which was absolutely amazing and intriguingly presented on a rectangle serving dish that resembled a shadow box so underneath the food, there were pine needles and small flowers. Wine for that course was a local Pinot Noir.
For dinner, we both got the trout paired with a white wine with a local grape and chardonnay. For dessert, we ordered a dish with a small creme brule, cake and scoop of sorbet. I ordered some grappa, which was an excellent nightcap.
Today was the day! We were going to have the Porsche Pick-up Experience! We started our day with a delicious breakfast buffet at our hotel. I went for a fair bit of cheese, bread and fruit. SMS liked the mocha/coffee shots that started our meal. We aren’t exactly sure what it was, other than delicious.
We didn’t give ourselves a ton of time for breakfast so we ate fairly quickly and then headed to the lobby to meet our shuttle. There were three other American pairs, all from the West Coast. Two guys were from the Marin-area, one couple was from Oregon and another from Northern California. The woman from Northern California was very jet-lagged and didn’t say a whole lot, but everyone else was very nice and we talked a bit throughout the day.
The factory was about 20 minutes from center Leipzig. We arrived and met Derrick, an American who had come to Germany 12 years earlier to play American-style football and, almost from day 1, decided to stay. After a coffee break, we were introduced to Julia, our factory tour guide.
The factory tour was amazing. While the Porsche cars are incredible machines, I was even more impressed by the incredibly intricate coordination and precision of the assembly line. The factory produces 650 cars a day, all of which are tested on a dedicated race track for quality assurance. There are over 100 stations for assembly, most of which are done by human workers. There are four robots for windshield and sunroof application. The “marriage” step of uniting the body with the engine chassis is partially automated, with the machine securing the underside screws and humans securing the topside screws.
Although there were so many amazing things about the assembly line and factory, a few things stood out. The logistics supply line is so finely tuned that, on site, there is only a 0.6 day inventory. There is an on-site DHL center along with a train station and airport next door. In order to allow workers to move within the vehicle efficiently, the vehicle doors are removed after preassembly/paint and then put back on near the end. Each car is customized so all parts are collected and delivered specifically for each car. Items are tracked by a pick-light supply system, QR codes and a lot of computer coordination.
The consideration for the worker is pretty amazing. For ergonomically-challenging stations, the team works for 20 minutes and then has a break. All other stations have a break every hour to help maintain concentration. The assembly line also can turn the cars in order to make areas more accessible; eg, the body is turned 90 degrees to allow for undercarriage work rather than have workers strain their necks and arms upward. Another amazing thing about the factory is how quiet it is. Despite all the machinery, the ambient noise is so low that hearing protection isn’t required! I would guess the noise level was about 75-80 dB. Very impressive.
After the factory tour, which was definitely the highlight for me, it was time for the track. David was the Porsche instructor and took SMS out to drive a factory-owned Cayman. After 1/2 hour, the three of us hopped into a Macan and went on the off-road course. I drove part of the time and got stuck in a big divot. I was trying to challenge the car but David merely shook his head and said it wasn’t possible to drive on three wheels because, “Physics.”
After driving, we had a really nice lunch in the Porsche dining room. We felt very posh. I ordered the beef because Julia said the beef was from cows that roamed on the grounds of the off-road course. Specifically, she said, “You might meet the cows you see out there later in the dining room.” So, I don’t know if I actually ate Porsche beef but I am going to tell myself yes!
After lunch, it was time for the car pick-up! So yes, we bought a 718 Cayman. SMS owned a Porsche several years ago and has been thinking about it for awhile. I have wanted to do an European car delivery trip ever since I read about it in high school (random!), so we decided to make this vacation an epic one and go all out. SMS picked out the specs, told me about them and then purchased the car about 4 months prior. It was a really fun experience and definitely built up more anticipation about getting the car. I’ll write more about European Delivery in a later post.
Our first drive was not very exciting because we were caught in traffic. Maybe it was a shift change at the factory? We drove for a couple of hours and SMS said he was hungry. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to eat so I suggested Greek food (hey, it sounded light). SMS responded, “Greek food?!?!” and even though he had said he didn’t care, I figured out, when in Germany, eat German food.
We stopped at Gutmann am Dutzendteich, a cute restaurant on the outskirts of Nuremberg. It was on a little lake and the outside area would have been amazing on a nice day. Since it was cloudy and cool, we went inside. The waitress spoke a little bit of English. The menu was in German but we partially interpreted it. I picked a dish with “kraut” which I thought would be something with sauerkraut. It was actually meat-stuff cabbage rolls and absolutely delicious. Win! I took a picture of the menu and the actual name of the dish is Krautwickel mit Bier-Specksoße und Kartoffelpuree. Say that four times fast!
We finished our evening with the drive to Lichtenstein. We arrived at our hotel at 10 and went straight to bed. It was a little ambitious for our first full day with a huge time change but we made it!
Our European Delivery experience started early on the 14th, so we had to arrive by the afternoon of the 13th. SMS and I traveled separately, which led to a pretty long travel day since his flight was rebooked with an arrival 3 hours after mine in Berlin. Yuck! Since I had gotten a Business Class points upgrade, I hung out in the First Class Lounge. This was great for the showers (@ Frankfurt- huge perk), free food/drink, and the comfortable chairs.
SMS and I reunited and headed towards the main Berlin train station on the TXL JetExpress bus. We bought our tickets but didn’t validate, which would have been a problem if we were caught. There was only one validation box on the bus and we couldn’t reach it through the crush of people. Later, I realized there was probably curbside one that we could have used.
We got to the train station and realized the train was leaving right.then. So we bought tickets for the next train and took a walk outside the train station. Outside, we walked towards the Spree River and admired the Reichstag building in the twilight. There was also a small Octoberfest going on outside the station but we gave it a pass.
After waiting on the platform for our delayed train, we got on the train to Leipzig where we walked through beautiful cobblestone streets to our hotel. Other than that brief walk, we didn’t get to see the city but it was quite pretty. We stayed at the Steigenberger Grandhotel Handelshof, which was quite beautiful. Most importantly, it had a really comfortable bed although I still had a little jet lag issue in the middle of the night.
Ok, speaking of sleep, this wasn’t the most exciting entry as it was pretty much a listing of our long travel day. But we saw a few things and most importantly, we had arrived and were ready for the start of our amazing vacation!