On a non-anachronistic note - if all has gone well, we are in London. Today we have lunch reservations at St. John's Restaurant in Smithfield Market, where we will toast the king of offal himself... though likely with water, because if you haven't heard, London is seriously expensive these days.
But... back to Italy, for the time being!
We left Torino early to catch the two-hour regional train to Aosta. Our hotel (Hotel Turin) had a great view of the old Roman city walls. And a huge breakfast buffet.
Of course, since it was lunchtime, we took the brief walk into town to search out somewhere to eat. Husbear happened upon a totally cute little Valle d'Aostan place, Le Pelerin Gourmand, and we settled ourselves in to see just what was up with the food of this little region, tucked into a corner of Italy just up against France.
Since we're predictable, we ordered the antipasto misto della casa. What came was anything but predictable.
This has to be the first time I've been served a selection of terrines and pates in an Italian restaurant. Again, proof positive that there is no such thing as "Italian Cuisine".
Since it's sort of difficult to tell what's going on here, I'll start at the salmon (raw) and work clockwise. We've got a pressed carpaccio of shrimp, a terrine of scallops, a country-style pork pate, a soft and crazydelicious cow cheese, and a terrine described as being "like foie gras". And a pepper stuffed with tuna.
Now, what the heck kind of Italian food is that? Delicious, that's what kind.
We were trying to keep things sort of lightish, so we ordered three pastas to split between the three of us.
The long dumplings are strozzapreti (priest stranglers!) in a slightly sour sausage sauce (yum), a not-so-awesome dish of tagliolini with crab sauce which tasted more fishy than anything else, and gnocchi in fonduta. These gnocchi weren't like other gnocchi we've had - more starchy and bouncy against the teeth, if that makes sense. They were all made in house, and the strozzapreti and gnocchi at least were totally delicious.
We stuck with coffee for dessert. Over coffee, we debated how a place charging prices this low for food this good and high-quality could stay in business.
When we got the bill, we understood - 3 euro bottles of water and 3 euro coffees! Other than that, though, their prices are crazy low for the quality. Highly recommended.
Time for a bit of sightseeing of the non-food-related variety!
We grabbed a bus to Courmayeur, from where we'd heard you can take a scenic cable-car ride up Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco, if you're Italian). That's the highest mountain in Europe, don'cha know.
Unfortunately, we got there too late and missed the last round-trip cable car ride. So we resigned ourselves to checking out the ski town. There were lots of great little food shops, selling lardo and fontina cheese (though usually not together). We saw an oddly-shaped wooden vessel in a store and Mama Bear asked what it was - a grolla, the proprietress said, for drinking caffe' valdostano.
Oh really? One of these had to be ordered at the first place we stopped.
Turns out, it's a hot coffee drink spiked with grappa and a local liqueur called genepy, floated with a slice of orange. That's sugar you see around the top - the bartender poured flaming liquor onto it, I guess to get the sugar to melt to help keep the top on?
It was perfect, warming in every way. But... when we went to pay...
20 euro! I've never had a $27 coffee before. Yay. (Further exploration showed that this was a bit crazy. The average going rate was closer to 7 euro so don't be put off.)
We really should have checked the price on that. Lesson learned for next weekend in Venice.
Courmayeur was otherwise a very nice little Alpine ski village, though it was most certainly out of our price range. Great window-shopping.
We rode back to Aosta considerably wiser.
After cleaning up a bit at the hotel, we walked to Taverna da Nando for dinner.
When we saw not only fonduta, but also bagna cauda, on their menu - we had to jump.
Fonduta is Valdostano fondue, while bagna cauda is actually from the Piedmont - a warm butter, cream, and anchovy dip into which you dunk raw veggies.
With homemade, actual, honest-to-goodness polenta! This is a harder commodity than you'd think to come by here in Italy.
We thought both of these were delicious, since we're both people who love strong flavors and dipping; Mama Bear was a fan of the fonduta, but not so much of the very anchovyish bagna cauda.
I think she liked our second course, more, camoscio e polenta. Chamois is a local game, that looks a lot like a small antelope, with a sweet flavor. The gravy was really good with the polenta, this time cooked a little softer.
You know, sometimes I hate looking at pictures of everything we ate on a particularly crazy day, because it tends to look more than a little excessive... I promise we don't always eat like this!
The dessert was bad. We ordered a creme caramel, over the waiter's strenuous recommendation of the tiramisu. Dumb move, us!
On the way home we saw a viper in grappa. I don't know if they actually drink snake grappa in these parts - it certainly felt like an early taste of Vietnam!
Big day. Good lord. Bigger day in the morning, so on to bed!
Le Pelerin Gourmand, Aosta, Via de Tillier. 0165.231850
Taverna da Nando, Aosta, pass follier de tillier 41, 0165.44455.
Continuation! Hey, I'm trying to cram an awful lot of blogging into just a few hours...
Next morning, up and at'em to the bus station to catch a bus to Breuil-Cervinia. (Don't ask me how to pronouce that. I studied Italian, not French.)
Anyone able to parse this sign for me, snapped out the window on the way? No littering, no flower picking, no fires, no...trees?
When we got to Breuil-Cervinia, we discovered that you can actually take cable cars to Switzerland. Then, if you're skiing-inclined, you can ski down into Zermatt! Not us, today, but it is possible. We decided on just the cable cars.
(Check out the Matterhorn! That's it all foggy on the left. Monte Cervino if for all you I-talions out there. -L.Pants)
It takes three to make it to the top. As you go up, it unsurprisingly gets progressively colder. And it started snowing!
Here's some proof that yes, Mama Bear did make it into Switzerland. In case any of you are doubters.
It was seriously snowing by this point. Mama Bear gave thanks that she had decided to buy a fleece at the bottom of the mountain, and I was equally thankful that she lent me her sweater. Everyone else was in full-on ski gear, and there we were in short sleeves and/or linen pants...
The highest up you can go with the cable cars is 3840 meters, or about 12,500 feet. That's a lot of units, any way you slice it. (Now Auntie, don't get jealous, but that is actually higher than the station at the top of the Jungfraujoch!)
And just so we could say we hopped over the border into Switzerland for lunch, we ate at the cafeteria at the top. Polenta and beef stew and soup - just right for an unexpectedly cold time.
Husbear got this great picture of the last cable car descending into the abyss.
Right about exactly then was when I got altitude sickness. The wine and coffee at lunch, combined with a brief struggle to the top of a small snowy hill, made my vision go almost completely white. I sat on the first leg of the cable car with my head between my knees, and when we made it to the first stop a nice family told me to go lay down on a bench with my feet up until I felt better. Fun.
Since it was snowing heavily on top of the mountain, it follows that it was raining pretty steadily in Breuil-Cervinia by the time we got back. We scooted into a bar for a significantly cheaper caffe' valdostano and waited for the bus back to Aosta.
Awesomely, in Aosta it wasn't raining! We ate dinner crepes and went for a walk around town.
Gelato, of course, followed.
Then lots of sleeping! Another long day of wonderfulness.
And Husbear, once again, packed a great picnic for us to take on the long train back to Florence the next day. This time, we had a couple of really strange sausages (a blood sausage and a beet and rice sausage) as well as goat cheese and fruit. We got some stares, but it was totally worth it.