Monday, May 08, 2006

Day 5: Reggio nell'Emilia

Our hotel--the Hotel Posta--is quite comfortable and attractive. Part of the hotel is in a 13th century building and the breakfast room has high ceilings and is elaborately decorated. After breakfast, we meet the hotel manager who is very accommodating and offers to help us design a "program" for our Reggio E. visit, including a trip to a parmigiano-reggiano cheese factory and a visit to his family's agriturismo for dinner and a tour of their balsamic vinegar production.

Our first order of business is to contact the Reggio Children office and try to arrange a school visit for Diana. Reggio Children is the organization that promotes the approach and philosophy of the early childhood system in Reggio and arranges workshops and study tours for educators and administrators. She had emailed them, but never gotten a response. When she calls, she explains what she wants and the person at Reggio Children tells her that she should come over to the center and speak directly to the person in charge. The Reggio Children office is just behind the train station--where we are meeting Ulf at 10:15--so we decide to park there and Diana will go to the office and I will go to the train station.

As often happens, the fact that the office and the station are five minutes apart on foot doesn't always translate to the same proximity if you are trying to drive. In fact, there is a pedestrian/bike path under the railroad tracks but to drive, you need to be able to cross the tracks twice so it take about 15 minutes to reach the office. While Diana waits for the "responsible person", I meet our Swedish friend Ulf who took the train from Faenza (about a 90 minute train trip). We have a nice reunion....he had also arranged an Italy trip last spring and we spent time together in Ravenna and Rimini...and walk back to the Reggio Children center to find Diana.

In fact, while the organization very much prefers to have visits arranged in advance as part of an organized study group, there is an international group of over 200--mostly Americans and Canadians--there for a week and they agree (for a fee) to let her go along for a couple of half days of their program. She will spend Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning visiting schools, which is exactly what she'd hoped for and which fits perfectly into our schedule.

We drive back to the hotel and take Ulf on a short stroll around the center of Reggio nell'Emilia......we stop at the theater to find out about buying tickets for the chamber music concert but the box office is only open in the afternoons. It begins to drizzle as we walk so we stop for a coffee at a bar--which keeps us dry and gives us a chance to catch up with each other. It is now almost time for lunch so I pick a place on the far side of the center and we begin to walk there. Since the rain has stopped, I suggest a brief stop to see the Reggio synagogue which is on the way. When we go the address that I had copied out of the guide book, there is nothing to indicate that there is a synagogue there so we suspect that it is just hidden away in a regular house.

It is a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant that I have chosen for lunch but when we arrive, it is closed. In fact, we learn later that they had just started being closed on Monday at the beginning of this year. [NOTE: No matter what you read, call and confirm hours of everything.] My second choice for lunch is on the other side of the historic district, so we agree that if we pass another place that looks interesting, we will stop there. But we reach the Ristorante Canossa and are glad to sit down and have lunch.

The Canossa is crowded and most everybody is having their specialty--bollito misto--meats, sausages, innards, chicken- served from a steam cart and garnished with sauces or mostarda (spicy preserved fruit). However, we are less adventurous today and settle for an antipasto of prosciutto, salami and coppa followed by capeletti in brodo (broth) for Diana--she likes the capeletti but her own broth is better--, tortelli with spinach and cheese for me (pretty good, but a let down after La Buca) and risotto with parmigiano-reggiano for Ulf, which he likes very much. I introduce him to the local red wine..the slightly fizzy Lambrusco...which he doesn't like that much-- and we all have strawberries for dessert. So the meal was okay but not outstanding and Canossa is one of the rare restaurants in Italy that has a noise level rivaling the (unwelcome) standard at home.

Ulf wants to buy some parmigiano-reggiano to take back to Sweden....the prices are lower here and buying it at the source has to be better. I had read about a producer in Faith Willinger's book Eating in Italy that is on the outskirts of Reggio E. so we retrieve the car to try and find it. After a few false starts and getting stuck in a small traffic jam at the entrance to the autostrada, we find the shop (on Via Abramo Lincoln). The cheese we get to taste is terrific so we both buy a kilo. A side benefit of this excursion is that we see the new bridge that is under construction designed by the Spanish architect whom we like very much, Santiago Calatrava. It is a very graceful arch with fine suspension wire.

Some Pics from Flickr

In fact, Calatrava has designed several bridges for Reggio nell'Emilia as well as a new train station and a toll plaza for the autostrada, yet to be built....all very striking from the pictures that we saw exhibited in town.

Before taking Ulf to the train station, we buy tickets for the concert tomorrow night at the municipal theater and head back to the hotel to rest, read and write. We had hoped to visit the balsamic vinegar producer and have dinner there but it turns out that the restaurant is booked for a private party so we'll have to do it on our next visit to Reggio E. The manager shows me the conference room in the hotel which dates back to the 13th century and has been restored very beautifully and he suggests a restaurant for us to have dinner. I go out for a walk---I go back to the street where the synagogue is supposed to be located and find that the guidebook had the wrong is located several steps further down and on the other side of the street. It is hard to make arrangements to get inside the synagogue; the Jewish community in Reggio is almost non-existent and it is rarely open. We read that the ark has been sent to Haifa. I also do some browsing in a wonderful bookstore--L'Arco--and then take a long walk in the southeastern part of town (as yet unexplored) before coming back to the hotel.

We walk to dinner at La Zucca and we are shown into a small room where there is a party of six Americans already seated. The only other patrons in the restaurant are also Americans and we begin to have a bad feeling.....but since it had been recommended by the hotel manager, we decide to stay. But after a grueling fifteen minutes listening to the waiter run through the menu for the table of six and listening to these very loud and clueless tourists trying to decide what to eat and drink (seemingly without any idea about the procedure for eating in an Italian restaurant), we decide to flee. We stop at the very first place we come to--a hip looking wine bar/restaurant called Canale Maestro. We look at the menu and ask to sit outside in the very attractive outdoor seating area under the arches of the building. The evening is pleasant, we are surrounded by Italians and we get to watch the people passing by.

As a bonus, the food is also very good.....I have a tart made with greens and served with slices of prosciutto--the spinach souffle is delicious as is the prosciutto. Diana has a plate of cheese served with various fruit jams which she likes very much. Her risotto is very nicely done and I have a the nightly special--sauteed fresh tuna. The blueberry tart (sort of a cheesecake) is good and the wine--a Rosso di Montalcino--is exceptionally good. We are very happy to have made our escape from the first restaurant (we had a similar experience a few years ago) and really enjoyed our second chance.

Tomorrow we get to see the production of the "king of cheeses"--parmigiano-reggiano.


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