Thursday, May 04, 2006

Day 1: Pavia

The plane trip from Dulles with a stopover in London is relatively painless. After an amazingly quick check in at Virgin Atlantic for our London flight, there are a couple of hitches. Our pre-arranged seat assignments disappear when we check in and they give us two seats way in the back of the plane next to the bathrooms. Luckily, the plane is not full--a rare occurrence--and we are able to get two aisle seats--one a bulkhead with lots of legroom and one with an empty seat next to it--so the trip is relatively comfortable. In addition, the Virgin Atlantic ground staff don't want to let us take our carry-on luggage on the plane--they say it is too heavy--but we talk our way out of that one

We arrive in Milan slightly late (1:30 pm) and the Alitalia pilot makes one of the roughest landings I can remember. But the sun is shining and our bags arrive fairly promptly. We get our car--an Alfa Romeo 159--and head out for Pavia, our base for our first three nights. The trip to Pavia takes about an hour...mostly on the autostrada that skirts the west side of Milan...but the last part of the trip is on an heavily traveled local road that passes through some unattractive factory towns and some rice paddies. The road parallels one of the remaining canals that were important in the commerce of the area before railroads.

Arriving in Pavia--a busy city of about 75,000...we find our hotel, which is just out the historic center near the railroad station. After we check in, I go out to do some advance scouting in the town. My walk takes me along the Ticino River, where many of the locals are out sunbathing on the river edge park--it is around 75 degrees--and there are some people fishing and out on boats. One of the bridges that crosses the Ticino is called the Ponte Coperto--it is a covered bridge that dates to the 15th century but was rebuilt after it was bombed during World War II.

The mostly pedestrian-only center is very attractive....lots of people strolling and shopping or sitting in cafes drinking coffee or eating gelato. I cover about one-quarter of the center, walking past the large Duomo with its rough brick exterior and several large and busy squares. I am also checking out places for dinner tonight....and I pass several that I have read about plus I find one or two candidates that look appealing and have appetizing menus in the windows. I stop for my first gelato of the trip--disappointing cinnamon and very tasty chocolate chip--and head back to the hotel.

After checking e-mail and resting up, we head back to town for a stroll and dinner. There are lots of people on the streets until the shops begin to close and then it quiets down. We decide on one of the places I had seen earlier for dinner but when we pass there, it is closed and looks locked up tight. However, when I call, they answer immediately, say that they open at 8 pm and take our reservation. We have a pre-dinner prosecco at one of the bars looking out over the river and the Ponte Coperto and then head to La Torre degli Aquila (The Eagle's Tower) to eat.

The trattoria is small but very appealing--freshly painted walls with some patches of exposed brick and decorated with old family pictures and pieces of farming equipment. Wooden tables are set with butcher-paper placemats. It appears to be a family run operation--father is the cook and mother and daughter work the dining room--and we are welcomed warmly. We are very pleased with the meal...especially the first two courses. Diana has a plate of assorted hams--all delicious--and I have a version of steak tartare--individual rounds of raw chopped beef with five different toppings--onion, capers, anchovy, olive paste and a raw egg...very inventive and very tasty. For our primi, I have the parpardelle with a ragu made of rabbit which is terrific and Diana has a risotto made with carrot and rosemary...a little heavy on the rosemary but otherwise excellent. We get carried away and both order secondi--which are slightly anti-climactic; I have duck breast served with a sauce and lentils and carrots. Diana has sliced steak with overcooked asparagus....both okay but not up to the standard of the first two courses. We have the house wine--a pleasant local red. No dessert but they bring us a plate of very plain homemade cookies with raisins and nuts--simple and delicious.

The bill comes to Euro 67 (about $85.00 US) for a lot of excellent is a place that I would be happy to go back to.

We take a walk through the back streets of Pavia--at almost 10 pm, there are few people out--and are ready to go to bed immediately after our long flight and first day.


james said...

Funny, la Torre degli Aquila was the first place I tried on a recent three day trip to Pavia, after looking at all the menus. I loved the place. Been meaning to review it.

10:44 PM  

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