Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"


Lidia’s Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Website: lidias-kc.com
Prices: $$$$

 
We have been going to Lidia’s since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.
 
Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like “frico” (cheese crisp – $12.50), “cozze” (mussels – $12.00), “arancini” (deep fried risotto balls – $12.00), and “pappa al pomodoro” ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup – $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.
 
Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not “meal size” as you will find in the United States. At Lidia’s they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad – one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia’s unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, which are quite filling.
 
Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their “primi” (first courses – pastas) are Lidia’s “Best Value”, especially their “pasta trio” which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This “all you can eat” medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different pastas (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can instead.
 
The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed … but you will be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia’s, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by “contorni” (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their “involtini di manzo”, rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.
 
Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the “Value List” has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a “decent” value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.
 
We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $29.50. Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from a wide variety on main courses, including the “Pasta Tasting Menu”, frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.
 
We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 
 
Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.
 

CombatCritic Gives Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A “Decent Value”

Key Words: Lidia’s Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia’s, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, crossroads, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

"Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville


Café Italia
160 English Landing Dr
Parkville, MO 64152
Phone: (816) 584-0607
Prices: $$$$
 
With a shortage of non-chain Italian restaurants in the Northland, Cafe Italia in Parkville did not let us down. The atmosphere is sparse, but modern with a touch of elegance as opposed to their old location on North Oak. The menu was missing one of my favorites from the old location, vitello (veal) saltimbocca. We started with wine, Canyon Road Cabernet ($22/bottle) from the limited wine list. Prices by the glass are reasonable, from $6-$7.50/glass.
 
We ordered a stuffed artichoke, while tasty, and hot, was too “cheesy” and drenched in olive oil. It was a bit disappointing, but my standards are very high because I learned an excellent stuffed artichoke recipe form my grandmother who was born in the Irpino region of Italy. We both had the caesar salad which was excellent, the only problem being the very large (but delicious) croutons that had to be eaten by hand because they were too hard to cut into pieces. My wife, a native Italian, had ravioli con funghi, stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, and capocollo in a mushroom sauce. The taste was excellent, but the pasta was too “al dente” (undercooked). Being Italian, my wife is hard to please when it comes to Italian food, but she enjoyed her meal very much. I had the vitello alla parmigiana which was tasty, but a little tough for “milk-fed veal” which was advertised on the menu. The color and texture seemed more like sliced beef to me, but it was tasty and reasonably priced, veal or beef.
 
The size of the portions were overly generous, so we had to pass on dessert. The owners stopped by to talk and one had family from the same area of Sicily where my wife was born, so they were able to speak in Italian about their shared heritage. Overall, we had a nice meal, the service was very good, and we will return soon to see if any of the problems noted above have been taken care of.
 
CombatCritic Gives Cafe Italia 6 out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
 
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Title: “Fair” Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

 
Key Words: Cafe Italia, cafe, café, Italia, pasta, wine, Parkville, Missouri, MO, Kansas, City, restaurant, Italian, Italy, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, definitive, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of “The Prato You Do Not Expect”


That’s Prato

Phone: +39 328 00 21 009

Web: ThatsPrato.com

Prices: € € € € 

Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano

Across the piazza from Chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.

Monastery of St. Nicholas -Courtyard

The Province of Prato has organized these free weekly tours available on ten consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:

  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS

I emailed That’s Prato, asking for a reservation for the Path of the Pilgrims tour which was quickly accommodated with a reply the following day for the next Sunday. When we arrived at the train station on Sunday morning, the group was in front of McDonald’s next to Track #1 as promised. We gave them our name, waited until everyone arrived, then made our way to the other end of the station where the bus was waiting.

Monastery of St. Nicholas – Fresco

In a modern tour bus with air conditioning and comfortable seats, we were quickly on our way to Prato, a historic city (comune) and one of Italy’s newest provinces (Provincia di Prato), established in 1992 from the Province of Florence. There were about 30 tourists on the bus for The Pilgrim’s Walk tour, mostly Italians and, oddly enough, from the Florence area no less.

“THE PILGRIM’S WALK:

The Prato area has a long history associated with monasteries and holy places as well as Marian devotion, Which dates to the Early Middle Ages. This tour retraces some of the stops made ​​by pilgrims as they journeyed through the Apennines.”

Our first stop was the Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas (admission € 5) in the city of Prato. Established in the 13th Century, the monastery has beautifully decorated chapels, a pharmacy, dining hall, and many other rooms with fabulous frescoes and antique furniture. One of the resident nuns accompanied us on the tour, providing details of the history and tales of the ancient building.

Small Lake – Montepiano

We then took a route through the city streets and squares of the old town, then up the winding mountain road to the top of the mountain for lunch in Montepiano, a small town in the Bisenzio Valley. After a reasonably priced (€10) two course lunch on the small lake, we hiked up the hill to Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano, a small church also from the 13th Century with a fresco of Saint Christopher which sits on what used to be the main road from Florence to Bologna for hundreds of years.

Fresco of St. Christopher – Santa Maria of Montepiano

We then made our way down the mountain to Vaiano and the Abbey of San Salvatore with its small, but very interesting museum. This quaint complex dates back to the 11th Century and has a serene courtyard with fountain and bell tower, halls with ancient frescoes, and a museum with historic artifacts, the abbey’s original kitchen, a small chapel, and trap door that leads to a 1,000 year-old lavatory. 

Abbey of San Salvatore – Paiano

Our bus driver then took us on the 40-minute ride back to Florence by the appointed hour of 6pm as promised, leaving us at the Santa Maria Novella train station where we had started our journey.

Kitchen (Fireplace) – Abbey of San Salvatore

That’s Prato recently added free tours on eight consecutive Sundays in September and October with the following itineraries:

  • ART AT THE TABLE IN THE RENAISSANCE / ART AND FOOD IN THE RENAISSANCE
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS / THE PILGRIM’S WALK
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES

A trip by train to Arezzo or Siena, for example, will cost you €16 per person for train tickets alone, so for just €15 including lunch and museum entry (both optional), you will not find a better value when visiting Florence in terms of day trips.

You can email thatsprato@po.camcom.it, visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/, or call them at +39 328 00 21 009 to request your spot on the tour.

CombatCritic Gives 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better! 


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of “The Prato You Do Not Expect”

Key Words: Prato, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, Santa Maria Novella, Montepiano, Vaiano, abbey, monastery, fresco, church, antique, travel, value, Firenze, Florence, Italy, free

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort


Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 

Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant’Ambrogio (Far Right)

We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant’Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.

Living Room

We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!

Main Bedroom

This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?

Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


Kitchen

The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area’s temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.

Entry and Kitchen

The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (open 7:30am – 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.

Bathroom


The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!

Bedroom 2


At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.

 
CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic’s “Definitive Florence (Italy)” …

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing
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Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
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Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A “Little Florentine Retreat” For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant’Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide, 

Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Il Pizzaiuolo
Via dei Macci 113R
50122 Florence, Italy
Near Mercato San’Ambrogio
Phone: +39 055 241171
 

I wrote an extensive review in 2012 on Il Pizzaiuolo, so I will not bore you with too many details or flowery prose. Leave it to say that in parts of Italy, Rome and northward, good pizza is hard to come by. Most visitors do not realize that this is authentic pizza napoletana (not “Napolean”, he was the squirt of a French dictator), equaling some of the best pizzerias in Naples (Napoli), the home of pizza and the best in the world.

Just around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and a five minute walk from Santa Croce, Il Pizzaiuolo has only around 15 tables, so the place is small and hard to find a seat after 8pm. Beside pizza, they have starters, pasta, meat, and fish dishes, but pizza is their specialty. On this visit, one of many in the past, we decided to try their frittura (€8 – fried things), including arancini di riso (rice balls), croquette di patate (potato corquettes), and montanare (fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce). Their were just two of each (six pieces total) and a disappointment compared to what you would get in a Naples pizzeria for the same price (€8 gets you 25 pieces of the same). They were good, but there should have been more or it should have been much cheaper (€3 to €4).
I had a Neapolitan classic, pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte cheese, sausage, and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic – €10) and it was wonderful. My wife’s pizza quattro formaggio (four cheeses – €8) was also excellent with loads of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta, and provola cheese. As is usual in pizza napoletana, the dough was thin and chewy, only crisp enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy and with little splotches of burnt crust from the fiery wood-fired oven. Perfetto!
 

My only complaints, other than the women’s toilet being rather filthy on this visit (my wife told me, I did not see for myself) are the fact that you can only get wine by the glass or bottle, no liters or half-liters and that the prices are a little steep compared to Naples, but those are small discrepancies when you are eating un’oltima pizza napoletana (excellent Neapolitan pizza) in Northern Italy!

CombatCritic Il Pizzaiuolo 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!

 

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TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)”
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Title: Il Pizzaiuolo: This “Pizza Maker” Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Key Words: Il Pizzaiuolo, pizzaiuolo, pizza, pizzeria, Naples, napoletana, Neopolitan, Florence, Italy, Firenze, restaurant, ristorante, menu, Sant’Ambrogio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, guide

Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options


Da Franco
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Elea 213
84046 Marina, Italy
Phone: +39 0974 972979
Prices: $$$$
 
For a tourist/beach town, Ascea is noticeably lacking in a selection of decent restaurants, particularly on “the Corso” or main street. We went to Pizzeria and Ristorante Da Franco with a friend who lives in Ascea. The restaurant is at the far end of Corso from the town center and they have a reasonable €15 menu del giorno (tourist menu; primo, secondo, contorno, coperto, servizio) for dinner. It is quite big inside, but being a nice evening we sat on the small terrace in front on the street. The service was very attentive and good. 
 
I went with the menu del giorno and a primo of penne boscaiola (meat, mushrooms, and peas) with scallopina ai funghi (meat scallops in mushroom sauce) as my secondo and patatine (french fries) for a contorno. The boscaiola was creamy, earthy and robust, the scallopine light and savory, and the fries crispy and hot. An excellent meal at just €15.
 
My wife and her friend had pizza which was as good as expected in Southern Italy, particularly anywhere within 100 miles of Naples. The crusts thin, yet sturdy enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy with just the right amount of tomato and other ingredients, not too many and not too few.
 
Da Franco was quite a good value in a beach town with remarkably few options, particularly for those on a budget and is recommended when visiting Ascea.
 
CombatCritic Gives Da Franco 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
 
 
 
 
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Title: Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options

 
Key Words: Da Franco, franco, Ascea, restaurant, ristorante, pizzeria, pizza, menu del giorno, menu, giorno, review, travel, value, Campania, Italy, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue
 

Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations


Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Web: bencista.com
Prices: €€€
This review is on the restaurant only.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá’s restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7’s stop “Regresso” following the signs.

The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak – €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).

The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife’s pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother’s house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife’s dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.

While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.


When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.

The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.

For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.

For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.

Recommendations for a better experience:
1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question

Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert – pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro’s superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …
CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

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C.T. Sorrentino, aka CombatCritic, is a world traveler, having visited 41 countries and counting. An amateur chef, he studied for 3 years in Pozzuoli, Italy and is a published author of reviews, editorials, articles, a popular blog, and is the producer of a successful YouTube channel. 

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CombatCritic is Yelp ELITE ’14 and ’15, TripAdvisor “TOP CONTRIBUTOR”, Booking.com “GENIUS” and Foursquare “INSIDER”

Title: The “Value” Leader In Travel … Follow Me To TravelValue!

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A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII


Pastificio Chelucci
Food Tours, Pasta Factory
Via di Valente, 7
51100 Pistoia, Italy
Phone: +39 0573 42011
Prices: € € € € 
 
 
Hand-crafted pasta since 1912, the owner Giuseppe has been in the family business since 1950, is extremely friendly and informative, and made us feel welcome for our free, private tour.
 
During World War II, the Nazis took over the building, a villa, making it their headquarters in 1942. The family had to walk for two days to Florence while the Germans occupied their home. Once the Nazis fled from Allied Forces in December 1942, they returned home to Pistoia and were the first pastificio (pasta factory) of 36 in the area to resume operations after the war. They are the only remaining pastificio of the original 36 in Pistoia.
 
 
The factory has been automated since 1950, but the pastas are still dried the old fashion way and hand packed. In fact, Giuseppe’s sweet 94-year-old mother Dina still processes and packs the maccheroni by hand from time to time. The same machine from 1950 is still being used today. They have numerous varieties of pasta, including their signature pastas like “Quasimodi”, made with only Tuscan flour from the Pisa area and their secret ingredient, pure local spring water. They recently unveiled a pasta in the shape of Pinocchio characters called “Le Bugie” (“the lies”), the result of a scholarship competition in the local schools.
 
 
The factory employs only six people, but they produce a wide variety of pastas using old family recipes and processes. The small river behind the factory once spun the turbines beneath the building which allowed them to resume operations so quickly after the war. Special drying units maintain constant temperatures between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius (90-95 Fahrenheit), ensuring that the pasta does not break, reducing waste, and resulting in quality products. Pastas take from 24 hours to six days to dry depending on the shape (versus two hours for mass produced brands).
 
 
The bronze pasta forms used to give the pastas their various shapes result in a special consistency not found in mass produced brands (De Cecco, Barilla). Their pastas take much less time to cook (5 minutes versus 12-15 minutes for comparable mass produced pasta) because the pasta from the brass forms allow the boiling water to saturate the pasta instead of cooking it from the outside. The water they are boiled in also has much more starch then that of the mass produced brands, allowing the water to be used to better thicken sauces before serving.
 
The valley in which the villa sits is quiet, green, lush, and much cooler than smoldering Florence, so it was a breath of fresh air, literally, after a month in 100 degree Florence and its wall-to-wall tourists. The temperature and humidity in the protected valley setting creates the perfect environment for making top-quality pastas. Giuseppe is working on adding a small gift shop and cafe, culinary demonstrations, and possibly pasta making and cooking classes in the near future, but in the meantime a tour of their operation is a must if visiting Tuscany (I have also included it in my article: Top 19 FREE THINGS TO DO In And Around Florence) and tell him CombatCritic sent you!
 
CombatCritic Gives Pastaficio Chelucci Tour The Coveted 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … IT’S THE BOMB … More Bombs Are Better!
 
 
 
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: A Wonderful Pasta Factory Tour In A Historic Villa Seized By The Nazis During WWII
 
Key Words: Pastificio Chelucci, pastificio, Giuseppe, Chelucci, Pistoia, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Toscana, Tuscany, pasta, factory, tour, travel, value, review, guide, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Caffetteria delle Oblate: It’s The Bomb!


You will not find an air conditioned bar with better prices and a better view in Florence!

Located on the top floor of the Bilblioteca Oblate (Library), kitty-corner from the entrance, you will find this small caffetteria with cheap drinks and snacks. Catering to the many students hanging around outside, you pay a little more to sit inside, but it is well worth it.

We had a caffé macchiato, bottle of water, and a peach iced tea, coming to just €4.50, the price of a tea at most places with a view like this.

The inside is simple with Formica-topped tables, colorful 80s-style chairs, and a wooden plank floor, but the view of the Duomo’s dome is imposing and spectacular.

A great place to rest and have an inexpensive snack after a day of walking around Florence …

CombatCritic Gives Caffetteria delle Oblate 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!  

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

MENU

Title: Caffetteria delle Oblate: It’s The Bomb!

Key Words: caffetteria delle Oblate, caffetteria, Oblate, caffé, coffee, snacks, Duomo, view, cheap, value, travel, menu, water, library, Biblioteca 

18 FREE THINGS TO DO In Florence, Italy (Firenze) … That’s TravelValue!


There are the “must see” places in Florence like the Uffizi Gallery where you can see famous works of art by Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, and many, many more or the Galleria dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s “David”, one of the most incredible statues you will see anywhere in the world, is located. But most museums and even the churches charge heavily to enter, so you must purchase a FirenzeCard for €72 (valid for 72 hours, allowing free entry into many of Florence’s museums), choose very wisely, visit during FREE ENTRY DAYS (normally the first Sunday of the month), or visit the many free venues in the city …

1) SANTA MARIA NOVELLA AND PHARMACY

Florence is very rich in churches and most of them are free to enter. These include the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most beautiful churches in the city which houses works by Giotto, Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. Unfortunately, the church now charges €5 to enter, but a visit to the pharmacy, founded by Dominican friars in 1221, is free. In their gardens they cultivated medicinal herbs that were used to prepare medications, balms and ointments for the small monastery. They follow the same formulas for preparation of spices, liquor, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to this day.

Pharmacy website: www.smnovella.it

2) THE “DUOMO” (THE CATHEDRAL OF FLORENCE”)

Built in the 15th Century, admission is free to Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral or “Duomo”), Italy’s second largest church (after St. Peter’s in Rome) and the third largest in the world (St. Paul’s in London is the other). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open from 10AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday and 1:30PM to 4:45PM on Sunday. The dome, bell tower, museum, and baptistery all charge to enter or you can buy a consolidated ticket on their website. The Museo dell’Opera is closed until November 2015 for renovations.
The facade and dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is imposing and awe-inspiring, dominating the large piazza in which it stands it is so large that it is impossible to photograph the entire structure without a special lens. Its beautiful marble polychrome facade of greens, pinks, and whites is unlike any other I have seen. The interior is massive and spectacular, my favorite part being the massive dome completed in the 1460s with a fresco of the apostles who appear to be sitting on the edges with their legs dangling over the sides.
This is one of the most impressive structures I have seen anywhere in the world and is a MUST SEE if visiting Italy.

3) BAPTISTERY OF ST. JOHN

Across from the Duomo entrance is the Baptistery of St. John. Until the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here. The octagonal monument is distinguished by its geometric, colored-marble exterior and detailed interior mosaics. Admission is €5, but admiring the famous bronze doors (with replica panels) carved with scenes from the Bible is free.

4) OBLATE CAFETERIA

On the second floor of the famous Oblate Library and not far from the Duomo, their Cafeteria has been open to the public since May 2009 and has already become an important place of the city’s social and cultural life. The interior decoration is modern with every detail chosen carefully, allowing you to spend time at the library in a relaxed, safe and unique atmosphere.

Almost every evening there is a themed musical event with free admission and optional drinks (unless you sit at a table of course).

CLICK HERE for more details.

5) SANTA CROCE NEIGHBORHOOD

Just to the east of the historical center is the Santa Croce Neighborhood. Stop in Piazza Santa Croce, the neighborhood’s lively main square, to admire the facade of the medieval Santa Croce Basilica, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Many famous Italians are entombed inside, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Marconi, but entrance to the church costs €5 (Open Weekdays: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm). Near the church is the Leather School of Santa Croce, Scuola del Cuoio, where you can see artisans making leather products and a display of leather-working tools.

6) STROZZI PALACE

Strozzi Palace is the perfect example of a Renaissance mansion, appearing like a fortress in the heart of the historic center of Florence. Every Thursday evening from 6PM to 10PM free entry is allowed to the “Strozzina” and its Exhibition of Contemporary Art in the palace’s Center for Contemporary Culture.

More details on www.palazzostrozzi.org

7) FREE WALKING TOURS

These tour are the original walking tours of Florence, they are FREE. Arranged by local professional guides working on a tip-only basis, your generosity will allow them to continue this service.

They offer two daily tours beginning at the Central Railway Station (Santa Maria Novella). You will can choose between the Renaissance Tour (11AM), Medici Family Tour (2PM), or take both.

Find more details here: www.florencefreetour.com

8) PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Looking for the perfect photo opp while in Florence? Do not miss this large plaza located at the top of a hill above Piazza Poggi on the south side of the river Arno. The centerpiece of the piazzale is its terrace, the perfect place to spend some time taking in the beautiful city below. You can reach this lookout by bus if you are not up to the climb or, like me, have knees that have seen better days.

View From Piazzale Michelangelo

9) ABBEY OF SAN MINIATO AL MONTE

Follow the main street from Piazzale Michelangelo to the steps of the Abbey San Miniato al Monte, one of the highest points in Florence. Michelozzo’s Cappella del Crocifisso (built in 1448) is the centerpiece of the Romanesque basilica and frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi decorate the crypt behind it. 

Wander the abbey’s cemetery where Carlo Collodi, author of Pinocchio, is buried and stay until sunset when the golden light reflects off the Arno and terra-cotta roofs of the majestic city below. 

Admission is free (open from 7AM to 1PM, 3:30PM to 7PM on weekdays in winter, and 7AM to sunset in summer). Masses are held throughout the day on Sunday and holidays; and the 10AM and 5:30PM masses are performed in Gregorian chant in the crypt, an incredible experience.

10) DANTE’S CHURCH

You must pay to enter Dante’s house down the street, but entry to Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, dating back to 1032 and known primarily as the “Church of Dante”, is free.
It has been said that Dante met his muse, Beatrice, here for the first time and fell in love with her. Beatrice’s family had tombs are there where her father, Folco Portinari, is buried. Many visitors like to think that Beatrice is buried in the church and in front of what tradition has identified as Beatrice’s tomb, you can find a chest full of messages lovers leave to Beatrice asking her to protect their love. Beatrice, however, was married to a member of the Bardi family and was likely buried in the tomb of her husband’s family in the cloister of Santa Croce Church.

Address: Piazza dei Giuochi, 50122 Florence, Italy

11) PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Florence’s most famous square, Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit. The imposing Loggia dei Lanza, also known as Loggia della Signoria, holds important statues, including those by Cellini, Giambologna and Fedi and a proportionally smaller copy of Michelangelo’s David stands in front of the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. The piazza has been Florence’s political center since the middle ages and Florence’s town hall, the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, literally towers over the piazza. You’ll also want to admire the beautiful fountain in the square or have a seat in front of or under the Loggia della Lanza to relax or watch the multitude of tourists wander past.

12) LOGGIA DEL MERCATO NUOVO

Not far from the Piazza della Signoria you will find the new market or “Loggia del Porcellino”, the name of the fountain portrayed by a wild boar sculpted in bronze and created in the 7th Century by “Pietro Tacca” (the original is kept in Palazzo Pitti). It would be worth your while to spend some time in the area as there is a tradition of placing a coin in the boars mouth. If it falls out and rolls over the water drain, you then rub its nose to bring good luck. Remember the coin must travel to the other side of the drain for it to work!

At the centre of the loggia you can also see the “scandalous stone” (Pietra dello Scandalo), the place place where debtors would be punished in Renaissance Florence. The punishment consisted of chaining the prisoners and whipping their legs, repeatedly falling down onto their behinds.

13) THE MARKETS OF FLORENCE

A stroll through the local markets does not cost anything unless you indulge yourself, but is an excellent way to enjoy a morning, afternoon, or an entire day. Here is a selection of  Florentine markets:

• SAN LORENZO MARKET: Extends from Piazza S. Lorenzo to Ariento Street around the Basilica of San Lorenzo (in the historic center of Florence). It is the most important market in the city and you will find clothing, leather goods, souvenirs, local food products and much more. It is a great place for a quick, inexpensive lunch to eat there or take withg you for a picnic elsewhere in town. It is open Monday to Friday from 7AM to 2PM and on Saturdays from 7:00 to 17:00 (except from mid-June to September when it is closed on Saturdays).

• SANT’AMBROGIO MARKET: Near Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio has outdoor spaces where you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, clothing, flowers, shoes and appliance stalls. If you are looking for food, enter the building where you will find meat or fresh fish, pasta, general groceries, cheeses, and bread. If you get hungry, there is also a restaurant inside the market with good, cheap meals. The market is open every day (except Sunday) from 7AM to 2PM.

• MERCATO DELLE PULCI: The ‘flea market’ is located in Piazza dei Ciompi and is open daily from 9AM to 7:30PM. On the last Sunday of the month, the stalls are extended to the surrounding streets where you will find whatever you can imagine, including furniture, paintings, antiques, coins and jewelry. Maybe you will find a treasure among the many antiques!

• MERCATO DELLE CASCINE: Is located in the beautiful Parco delle Cascine (the largest park in Florence). Open every Tuesday from 7AM to 2PM, it is probably the biggest and cheapest market in town where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares and much more.
• THE CURE MARKET, In Piazza delle Cure, it is open every morning except Sunday and holidays.
• THE FIERUCOLINA: “The Fierucolina” is an organic market that promotes organic farming and biodynamic agriculture with food, wine, and handmade bio-manufactured products. It takes place the third Sunday of each month (except in August) in Piazza Santo Spirito (Oltrarno).

• THE MARKET OF RARE BOOKS: In Loggia del Grano, it is open Thursday to Saturday from 10AM to 6PM.

• THE FLOWER MARKET: Under the porch of Piazza della Repubblica, every Thursday morning from 10 to 19.• THE PIGGY MARKET: Florentine straw objects, handmade embroidery, leather goods, wooden objects, and flowers in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 8AM to 7PM every day except Sunday and Monday morning.

• THE STRAW MARKET: Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 9AM to 6:30PM every day except Sunday and holidays.

14) THAT’S PRATO … THE PRATO YOU DO NOT EXPECT!

Across the pizza from chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.

Available 10 consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:

  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS

Email thatsprato@po.camcom.it to request a spot or visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/

PHONE: +39 328 00 21 009

15) OLTRARNO – SANTO SPIRITO AND SAN FREDIANO NEIGHBORHOODS

If you want to get away from the crowds, head across the river on Ponte Santa Trinita (west of Ponte Vecchio) or turn right after traversing Ponte Vecchio toward the area known as Oltrarno. Here you will find interesting neighborhoods that see far fewer tourists. It is a pleasant place for a walk where you will see typical Florentine buildings, small stores, artisan workshops, and small neighborhood squares. In Piazza Santa Spirito there is a small morning market and in the Santo Spirito Church, designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century, you will find a wealth of art work. Santa Maria del Carmine Church has a beautiful Renaissance fresco in Cappella Brancacci (open 10AM–5PM, Sunday 1PM–5PM, closed Tuesdays).

16) CASA GUIDI: ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING HOME.

Just down the street from Palazzo Piti on the Altarno side of the river, Casa Guidi is located on the first floor (second floor to Americans) of a historic palazzo. There is an engraved stone marker above the massive door indicating where she lived and a brass nameplate above the buzzer outside with details about operating hours. There is also a single brass button below the rest that merely says “Elizabeth”.

The apartment consists of just three rooms that you can visit, but they are spectacular and contain furniture of hers and from the period as well as photos, paintings, busts, and other memorabilia. Her husband study is small, but has elaborate frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dining room is large, but not extremely interesting. The living room, off of which are the bedrooms and kitchen (not open to the public, but apparently you can rent them for lodging). is massive and contains a large library of her works, more artwork, and some beautiful period furniture as well as some of her possessions.

The visit is self-guided and FREE, but you must visit on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday (April to November) between 3PM and 6PM only. Just ring the buzzer for Casa Guidi, though the giant door and a gate, then go up one flight of stairs to her apartment on the left.
Address: Piazza San Felice 8, 50125 Florence, Italy

Phone: +39 055 354457


17) PONTE VECCHIO

Ponte Vecchio, or the “old bridge”, was built in 1345 and was Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River. It’s the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days (the others were destroyed during World War II). Following a flood in 1345, the bridge was reconstructed, adding rows of shops to the bridge where many of the city’s butchers were located. More shops were added later and Ponte Vecchio became a place for gold and silver shopping in Renaissance Florence. It is still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, a good place for window shopping or people watching …

18) IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, PEOPLE-WATCHING IS “THE BOMB”

The best free activity in Florence may very well be people-watching. While you peruse the jewelry and souvenir shops on Ponte Vecchio (the medieval stone bridge over the Arno River), get off the beaten path and head to Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the far and less touristy side of the Arno. Get lost on the narrow cobblestone streets, wander in and out of artisan workshops, and rub shoulders with locals at the daily morning market (closed the second and third Sundays of the month, when artisan and antique markets are held) in Piazza Santo Spirito.

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: 18 FREE THINGS TO DO In Florence, Italy (Firenze)

Key Words: free, things, to, do, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Italia, Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, piazza, signoria, ponte, vecchio, santa, maria, novella, Oltrarno, market, mercato, walking, baptistery, Santa Croce, travel, Value

My “Top Secret” Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Sauce Recipe … If You Read This, I May Have To Kill You


Ingredients:

1lb Bacon
1 Medium Yellow Onion
2 Cups Chicken Broth
24 Ounces Broccoli Florets – No Stems
2 Clove Fresh Garlic
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
6-8 Fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon Oregano (dry is ok)
Salt and Pepper
1 Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
2 lbs (1 Kilo) Orecchiette Pasta (may substitute pasta)

Boil broccoli in a large sauce pan until tender. Set aside.  Pan fry bacon until crisp, but not burnt. Cut into pieces (size unimportant because bacon will be blended) and set aside. Add crushed, chopped garlic to bacon grease, adding chopped onion and simmering on medium heat until soft.

Add broccoli, bacon, garlic, and onion to large blender or food processor, bacon grease included. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, basil leaves, and oregano to mixture. Using a potato masher or similar object, push the mixture down into the blender, freeing additional space for broth. Add enough broth so mixture will not overflow when blended/processed. Blend on high speed, adding broth if necessary, until you have a thick puree.

Start boiling water in large pot, adding a small amount of olive oil and salt.

Pour broccoli puree into a large saucepan and heat on low, adding salt, pepper, Olive oil, Parmigiano (all to taste), and 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding broth if necessary.  Puree should not be so thick as to be clumpy nor so thin as to be runny.

Boil pasta for 12-14 minutes (times vary depending on type, altitude), drain well, and place in large serving platter. Spoon broccoli puree over pasta until well coated, stirring gently and adding extra Parmigiano if desired.

Mangia … e buon appetito!

Serves 8-12 hungry guests

Title: Yummmm … CombatCritic’s Secret Orecchiette with Broccoli and Bacon Sauce Recipe

Key Words: orecchiette, CombatCritic pasta broccoli bacon onion basil Parmigiano puree sauce oregano chili salt garlic blend salt pepper olive oil pasta TravelValue

CombatCritic’s “TravelValue”: Italia (Italy)


Sicilia (Sicily)
Arriving in Rome after an uneventful plane ride across the Atlantic, I found the Easy Jet counter for my leg to Palermo, Sicily. Easy Jet is anything but, with extra charges for everything, my €49 fare quickly became nearly double at €90.
Not So Easy Jet’s Rome (Fiumicino) check-in counter was chaotic and I stood in line unnecessarily for 10 minutes before realizing that there was a bag check counter for those smart enough to print their boarding passes online. Even then, the short line took forever as the large family in front of me took items out of their bags to meet the 20 kg weight limit (44 lbs). Finally checking my bag 30 minutes later, I made my way to.the terminal and in to Palermo.
Trapani and Erice
Upon arrival at Palermo’s new Falcone-Borsellino Airport for my bus ride to Trapani, not quite my final destination, my wife’s picturesque, medieval hometown of Erice, I took the Segesta bus straight from the airport to downtown Trapani where my wife and her cousin were waiting for me. There are trains to Trapani, but the Italian train system is sometimes unreliable and I would have had to travel 20 kilometers back to downtown Palermo to catch the Trapani train, so the bus was faster and cheaper (€9.60).
Trapani is a medium size city that sits on the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest corner of the island of Sicily and Erice sits atop a nearby mountain, easily visible for 20 miles in any direction. Trapani is fairly clean and beautiful, but Erice is the gem of this area and a medieval delight.

 

 
You can take the cable car from Valderice at the bottom of the mountain (€2.80 per person round trip) or if you have a car, you can drive to the top where parking is liberal and inexpensive. Erice is a walled city and quite small, easily walked in 2-6 hours depending on your pace, how many of the quaint shops you want to stop in, or if you want a leisurely lunch or dinner in one of a small selection of restaurants. If you arrive at the right time, June through August, you can try the unique and delicious jasmine gelato (ice cream). You have not had ice cream until you habeas eaten gelato, and jasmine is a variety and delicacy found nowhere else in the world. Spend time enjoying the stroll over the cobblestone streets, but be sure to wear shoes with soles that will not slip on the shiny rocks, which can be quite treacherous, particularly when wet.
 
There are many wonderful things to see in and around Trapani, including Basilica della Madonna di. Trapani, the town of Marsala, the Egadi Islands of Favignana, Marettimo, Levanzo, the Greek ruins at Segesta, the island of Mothia, San Vito Lo Capo, and Agrigento’s expansive Greek ruins, about an hour and one half south of Trapani.
 
The people and food of Trapani must be enjoyed, with the people passionate and friendly, and the food robust and unique. The local cuisine has a definite Arab influence, having occupied Sicily for several centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. CousCous can be found as a staple in many dishes in exchange for pasta, and is a delicious and unique change of pace from many ‘primi piati’ (first dishes) found elsewhere in Italy.
 
Summers are quite hot in Sicily, so make sure you dress appropriately, luring sunglasses and sunscreen, and book a hotel with air conditioning unless you enjoy sticky nights.
 
Firenze (Florence)
 
IL DUOMO
 

 

 
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) is the center of Florence. Begun in 1296, it was completed in 1436 with an exterior covered elaborately with polychrome marble in shades of green and pink bordered by white. 
 
The second largest and most beautiful cathedral in Europe, “Il Duomo” and its equally impressive baptistri (baptistry), dominate this large piazza surrounded by medieval pallazzi (palaces). Crowded during peak seasons, watch out for gypsies and pickpockets, and DO NOT sit on the church steps (it is now illegal), but enjoy this “awe inspiring” scene with a drink. , a gelato (ice cream), or meal at one of the many bars and restaurants in Piazza del Duomo.
 

 
In Tavola (Cooking Course in Florence)
Phone: 39.055.217672
Email: info@intavola.org
 
For those who love to cook and always wanted to attend a Tuscan cooking course, In Tavola is a small Tuscan cooking school across the Arno via Ponte Vecchio from centro storico (the historical center) and down an ally across from Palazzo Piti. The school has offerings from a 3 hour pasta making class on Saturdays at noon during the tourist season (April to November), as well as 2, 4, 9, and 17 lesson courses (beginner and intermediate), all the way up to the 25 lesson advanced course. Here are just a few of the many courses offered:
 
Home-style Pizza and Focaccia
This course is dedicated to the preparation of Pizza and Focaccia. Participants learn how to prepare, knead and cook pizza, breads, bread sticks and Focaccia.
 
Regional First Courses
This course is dedicated to the wealth and variety of Italian Regional cuisine, from the North to the South of the peninsula. Typical dishes from each region will be prepared, including Spaghetti Carbonara, Trennette al Pesto and Linguine alla Viareggina.
 
Tuscan Cuisine
This course is dedicated to the cuisine of Tuscany. Participants learn how to prepare traditional recipes such as Ribollita soup, Baccala’, Spelt soup, Crostini and typical desserts.
Professional Course I level
4 Week Course (Total 9 lessons / 27 hours)
2 lessons per week ( 3 hour each lesson)  + 1 exam
Participants learn the basics of the Italian culinary arts as taught by an expert Chef.
 
 
Fabrizio, the school’s owner and resident expert teaches classes with zest and humor, making all participants comfortable and left feeling included, no matter their level of expertise. We attended a 2 1/2 hour course where students made an antipasto, melanzani pizzaiola (eggplant smothered with fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese, then drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven), looking like a miniature pizza and tasting delicious when done. The antipasto was followed by a primo (first course), gnocchi pomodoro, which consisted of hand made potato gnocchi in a fresh and simple tomato, garlic, and parsley sauce. The course, and the subsequent meal, concluded with a chocolate souffle, first frozen after preparation, then baked to perfection and sprinkled with cocoa powder and powdered sugar. A nice compliment would have been a dollop of fresh whipped cream, but the souffle was delicious nonetheless. 
 
Finally, the meal is enjoyed as a group in the schools medieval wine cellar, a cool, arched brick structure immediately behind and below the school’s kitchens. The meal is accompanied by an abundance of water and local wine, for those who wish to imbibe. We were there with the University of Kansas Italian Department’s “Study Abroad” Italian total immersion program, so the students, mostly underage by American standards, could not enjoy the vino…and neither could the instructors. Fabrizio and other staff members make their way around the tables to chat and answer questions and the course concludes with the distribution of menus including all of the recipes attempted, successfully in this case I might add, during the 3 1/2 hour class. 
 











Coming Soon

 

Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo    
Vecchio, Galleria degli Uffizi        
 


                                       Ponte Vecchio

Galleria dell’ Accademia


Palazzo Pitti



Bargello



Fiesole



Lucca and Pistoia by Train

Venezia

Roma

Verona

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Capri, Ischia, and Procida

Sardegna

Cinque Terre

and many, many more …

Title:  CombatCritic’s TravelValue: Italia (Italy)
 
Key Words: Italy, Italia, Florence, Firenze, duomo, ponte vecchio, ponte, vecchio, destination, cooking, class, course, piti, palazzo, Bargello, Fiesole, Lucca, Venice, Rome, Capri, Naples