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ITALY
WINTER 2005

Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma |
Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma

Parma

Our train to Parma via Bologna was at 12:30 so we had time to join the throngs around Piazza della Erbe enjoying the sights and smells of the fresh fruits vegetables, cheeses, and breads. The only difference is that the others walked away with full bags and we left with fond memories.

The day was bright and sunny and it was an enjoyable 15 minute walk through the center of Padova to the train station. We arrived in Parma at 16:00. It was a 5 minute walk along Via Verdi to Via Bononi 3 and the Jolly Hotel Stendhal. We have stayed in Jolly Hotels previously and although it’s a large chain, we have found each property to have its own design and character.

This one is located in the heart of Parma in part of a courtyard of the Palazzo Pilotta overlooking the green lawns of the Piazzale dell Pace. We were welcomed by the striking contemporary European designed lobby. Crimson walls, marble floors, graceful crystal chandeliers, and attractive furnishings are conducive to leisurely relaxation or intimate discussion. The reception desk is attractively framed by pillars and manned by polite, friendly and extremely helpful staff. The adjoining bar is equally refreshing with a bit more sedate atmosphere.

There are 62 spacious rooms each in a different style. Our twin-bedded room was beautifully furnished with all the comforts and lots of room to wander. There was a roomy built-in closet in the entryway. The large bathroom with a bath/shower was stocked with quality products.

When one thinks of Parma one immediately thinks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham. The Emilia-Romagna region is Italy's agricultural heartland and food enjoys a special cultural status. It is said that the people of Parma are certain that their recipes for the regional cuisine are more innovative and refined than their counterparts. We don't want to take sides, but we did have two fabulous dinners in Parma. Competition is good! Parma - monumental architecture

Parma has a rich art and cultural heritage along with some monumental architecture. Think Verdi, Toscanini, Carreggio and Parmigianino. There is a lot packed into this rather small city.

Torrente Parma runs through the center of the city. The heart of commerce and culture is on the right bank, with Piazza Garibaldi at the geographic center. The Parco Ducale dominates the north part of the left bank.

Lovely and colorful residential streets comprise most of the rest of the city which are a delight to navigate after visiting the historic monuments. After a few hours of walking with map in hand, getting a lay of the land, it was time to put this "food thing” to the test.
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Osteria del 36, via A. Saffi 26/A, telephone-0521-287061, call for reservation, the two small rooms fill up quickly, is a neat cozy osteria with wood ceilings and yellow walls decorated with wine bottles. The owner and waiter warmly welcomed us and made us feel right at home. We were having a difficult time deciding our choices because everything on the menu sounded tempting and we have learned that it is very easy to over-order when this is the case. So while we were nibbling on the marvelous house appetizer of salami and grana and sipping the local amazingly fruity Lambrusco we asked our wonderful waiter for suggestions and to bear in mind the size of the portions. He assured us the portions were plentiful (oye!) but that shouldn't deter us from having a nice variety because everything is fabulous. Thankfully we followed his suggestions.

We shared two spectacular pasta preparations. The gnocchi were extremely plump, light and the perfect texture and topped with a house made sausage ragu that was awesome. The tortelli were extra large pouches filled with ricotta and spinach with a butter and Parmigiano sauce. We were totally thrilled that the portions were as large as they were.

Linda had contrafiletto di manzo alle erbe fine e olive taggiasche, thick slices of very tender filet of beef with a sauce of fine herbs, garnished with olives. My stinco di maiale al forno, a large roasted pork shank smothered in sautéed onions, was accompanied by divine pan fried potatoes. The quality of the product and preparation of both was as good as it can get.

It was necessary to find out if the dolce could measure up. Both the apple pie, with a touch of almond, and the rich creamy vanilla ice cream were home made. We were disappointed that we shared one and didn't have one each. The prices were very reasonable which added up to exceptional value.
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Parma - Partisan monumentWe started the next morning at nearby Palazzo della Pilotta. In the green area in front of the palace known as the Piazzale dell Pace are a sculpture paying tribute to Verdi and also a grand monument to the Partisan contribution during WWII. Everything is massive about this building particularly in proportion to the size of the city. It was not built as a residence but as the headquarters for court and state services. It now houses some of the town’s major institutions. A huge double staircase topped by an enormous octagonal dome leads up to the amazing Teatro Farnese. Made entirely of wood it is one of the world's most innovative theatre designs. The stage was equipped with a series of ingenious devices as movable scenery and waterproof cavity that could be purposely flooded to recreate sea battles. It was almost completely destroyed during the war and was rebuilt in the 1950’s except for the painted trompe l'oeil effects.

A not-so-secret passageway from Teatro Farnese's backstage leads to the Galleria Nazionale, which is one of Italy's most important and largest art galleries. The collection represents works by some of Europe's finest artists comprising paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries and a section on Parma and Emilian painting from the 15th to 18th centuries. It was here that we met Marie-Louise (portrait), the second wife of Napoleon, who became a Duchess, moved to Parma, and contributed significantly to the art, culture and social well being of the town. She was beloved by all the people. Parma - Baptistery

The magnificent octagonal Baptistery made of Verona marble is one of Parma's most notable architectural gems. Started in 1196 it was finished in 1307. The bright sun highlighted the soft pink exterior which features four tiers of open straight-headed loggias topped by a row of blind arches and glorious decorative sculptures with theological references and medieval iconography. The interior is a wide, tall 16-sided polygon. The lower part of the wall has sixteen niches above which are two tiers of loggias with slender columns and graceful ribs that support the pointed umbrella vault. On the floor in the center is a pool that is still used for baptism. The upper frescoes are still original, but the lower ones, which are easy to reach and touch, have been repainted. The only original one at the lower level is behind the altar.
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The Duomo across the way in Piazza Duomo was under renovation and almost completely covered. The wooden doors are preceded by a porch supported by stone lions. Above the doorway are sculptures representing the months of the year. The interior is in the shape of a Latin cross. The ceilings and walls are covered by frescoes, which add warmth to the sober medieval design. Huge pillars and archways define the large and attractive side chapels. A 16th century red Verona marble staircase leads up to the transepts. Above the marble alter is the enormous void of the dome which was frescoed by Correggio between 1526 and 1530 with the "Assumption of the Virgin". The impression of a swirling heavenward movement up through concentric circles of clouds and heavenly hosts was Carreggio's finest achievement of his illusionist work. This masterpiece was so far ahead of its time that it did not receive the approval of his clients, the clergy. Carreggio quit the project before finishing the decoration of the apse. It wasn't until fifteen years later that the work was recognized as being very special. It is truly spectacular!

Next door is the ancient church, San Giovanni Evangelista, founded in the 10th century and rebuilt for the Benedictine order between 1498 and 1510. The intricate white marble Baroque facade contrasts with the Renaissance architecture of the complex. The interior of the church is well known for its cycle of frescoes by Correggio. The twelve side chapels are decorated with frescoes by other well known Emilian artists.

The entrance to the Benedictine monastery is to the left of the church. The enormous complex has three magnificent and elegant cloisters each with attractive architecture and art. There are now sixteen monks living and working in the monastery. There is a shop where they display artifacts from the original apothecary and sell herbs, lotions, shampoos, remedies, etc. still made from ancient (some updated) formulae.

Parma is synonymous with opera and the great yellow Teatro Regio on Via Garibaldi 16 is the 1400 seat theatre in which it comes to life. It was built between 1821 and 1829 by order of Marie Louise. Its neoclassical front has an Ionic portico. The first performance was on 16th May 1829 featuring Vincenzo Bellini's Zaira, which he composed just for the occasion. The theatre is used for other musical events outside of the opera season.

Parma - Palazoo dei GovernatoreThe bustling Piazza Garibaldi is not only the geographic city center but is also the municipal government center. The square is defined by several imposing buildings. On the north side is the yellow (this color dominates the buildings in Parma) Palazzo dei Governatore with a long classical facade uniting two 13th century buildings. There's a 17th century tower in the middle with an 1829 sundial and a 1762 statue of the Madonna and Child. There are popular cafes in front and a bronze monument to Garibaldi.

Across the way is the imposing brick Palazzo dei Comune. Alongside is a monument to Correggio and opposite a 19th century fountain surmounted by a 16th century bronze grouping with the figures of Heracles and Antaeus. The municipal complex includes other buildings of medieval origin.
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The design of the Church of San Pietro on the west side has a yellow facade with tall white columns, a very unusual design for a church in Italy.

Just off of Piazza Garibaldi on strada della Republica is the quaint "Color Viola”, one of Parma's oldest perfume shops. Featured here is the essence of Parma called "Viola". It was the favorite of Duchess Marie-Louise.

We stopped at Pizzeria il Poeta, Via Garibaldi 21/A for a bit of lunch. This tiny take-away was packed and with good reason. They offer pizza and focaccia by weight plus various sandwiches. We chose focaccia topped with melted cheese and Parma ham. The dough, cheese and ham were individually outstanding and the sum - yum!

The Palazzo della Pilotta is just opposite the pizzeria and we passed through the grounds to cross the river on Ponte G. Verdi to the twenty-hectare Parco Ducale. The park was originally built for the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Ottavio Farnese. When he moved into the Palazzo Ducale he wanted the green space for the comfort of his court. Fortunately it was a glorious day for us to take advantage of the Duke's wishes. Pathways are designed to create various gardens each with different trees and architectural elements such as fountains, vases and statues.

Parma - Palazzo DucaleThe Palazzo Ducale is at the immediate right of the entrance. It is fronted by 18th century statues of divinities. The original center block was transformed and enlarged by the addition of the four corner pavilions. Today it is used by the Carabiniere. By the way, it is yellow. Near the palace is the Teatro al Parco, a 1930s design that was originally built for trade fairs but later adapted to be a theatre. On the other side of the park, opposite the Palace is the pretty Palazzetto Eucherio Sanvitale. It is an H shaped building with four corner towers connected by loggias and windows decorated with sandstone candlesticks. The interior has remains of lovely frescoes.

Leaving the park we entered the Oltretorrente area which history dates back to the llth century. It had always been home to the working class. It grew during the 12th and 13th centuries characterized by hospices, monasteries and the first factories along its banks. Those days seem to be long gone as it now appears to be a thriving middle class neighborhood. The strada Massimo D'Azeglio from Piazza F. Corridoni to Piazzale S. Croce traces the religious history of the city.

Parma - Chiese della SS AnnunciataThe big, bold Chiesa della SS Annunciata is at the start of the street marked by a tall tripartite vestibule in the front. The large interior is oval-shaped with high fluted pillars supporting the barrel vault which is separated from the choir by a triumphal arch. One of the side chapels presents a stunning model of a nativity scene entitled Il Presepio di Padre Lino.
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Ospedale Vecchio's partly porticoed front stretches along strada M. D'Azeglio. This enormous complex served as the city hospital until 1926. It now hosts some public institutions as well as social and commercial activities including antique shows on Thursdays. In the middle of this huge building is the tiny Oratorio di Sant'Ilario built in 1663. The wall and ceiling are covered with pictorial decoration with lunettes bearing the images of saints and blessed citizens.

At the end of the street are two exquisite bell towers known as the Paolotti towers. Across the way is Chiese Santa Croce, which faces the huge Piazzale Santa. A funeral had just ended so we were able to go inside to appreciate the lovely stone work, frescoes and soft, relaxing colors.

We stopped at the branch of Lino's Coffee Shop at strade M. D'Azegio 26 for what turned out to be excellent coffee with the added advantage of happy and friendly staff.

We crossed back to the city center on Ponte di Mezzo and proceeded to our hotel to take advantage of the Internet point and to freshen up before dinner.

La Gatta Matta, Borgo degli Studj 9/A, telephone - 0521-231475 is cute, unpretentious osteria of two rooms with a combination of wood paneling and yellow (again) walls adorned with attractive posters. The smiling owner seated us and introduced us to our English-speaking waitress who turned out to be a sweetheart.

Lambrusco with a tart grape flavor was a delicious way to start the meal. Our pastas were outstanding. Cappelletti con brodo di cappone for me and tortelli di radicchio Trevisano con salsa al gorgonzola for Linda. Linda's costolette di agnello con riso basmati e carciofi surpassed her high standards. The lamb chops were well trimmed, beautifully grilled and tasted like fresh from the farm. The rabbit guy had coniglio con olive taggiasche and patate, chunks of tender rabbit stewed with tomato, olives and herbs, an awesome preparation.

This wonderful meal was unfortunately interrupted by a group of four young women who got progressively louder as the wine took effect. When we thought it was unbearable a group of fourteen more were seated next to us. It was deafening but it did not deter us from enjoying a luscious torta di ricotta with raspberry sauce. Once again we ate extremely well at very fair prices.

Parma is compact but overflowing with worthwhile experiences. Tomorrow we leave for Lucca.

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Rivarotta di Pasiano
Vicenza | Padova
Parma |
Lucca | Firenze
Lucignano | Spello
Bevagna | Spoleto | Roma

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