Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Menton to Viareggio

Viareggio in Italy and Rome
Motorways and the speed that the cars and motorcyclists travel at is something we are not used to in Australia. Our maximum speed is 100 kph or in some cases 110 kph. Sure we have a few crazies - generally the speed limit is adhered to.
An early start without breakfast saw us out of Menton and on the motorway. We decided to have breakfast on the road in Italy. The technology of the motorway amazed us with tunnels through the middle of mountains and over bridges high above the valleys. The views towards the ocean were amazing, that is if you have a chance to look at 130 kph. Incidently the little Citroen C4 was comfortable ambling along at that speed however we were blown into the weeds by the odd Ferrari, Maser or Lambo travelling past us as if we were standing still.

There was a moment we thought we heard the roar of a jet plane above us only to discover three motorcycle riders pass us at what seemed to be at least 200 plus kph. We heard, we thought we saw, and they were gone - down through the abyss of dark tunnels into the mountains. Very scary stuff. We looked at each other in amazement and hoped we wouldn’t have to pick up their remains further down the road.

Viareggio has a carnival atmosphere, well at least the Sunday we arrived it had. The colours of Italy were on show.
Leaving early, the drive to Viareggio was effortless and Sue’s navigation was flawless (this time).
Viareggio has a population of 55,000 and a wonderful layout that made it simple to find our overnight stopover hotel. On this first trip (2006), I was apprehensive about larger cities from a driving aspect and consequently we missed a few opportunities and experiences.

I found a parking spot directly outside the hotel and we were met by a lovely family who owned it. Their son had travelled to Australia previously and his father took a liking to Sue. Although she couldn’t speak Italian, he thought she had the song and dance to match.
Little stalls littered the Promenade creating all sorts of photographic interests.
We decided to explore our surroundings on a sunny Sunday afternoon. People, young families, teenagers on scooters, seniors were walking the beachside promenade and just enjoying the sunny sky – weather perfect. How good is life?
Sue and I enjoyed the local Ice Cream and later a cool and refreshing beer, then just took in the sights.
Feeling mellow by now, we returned to our hotel room balcony to enjoy a glass of red before dinner.
The parking God blessed us once again with a spot directly outside our hotel and that's where the car stayed until the morning. Our tour of Vareggio was confined to walking. After two long days of car travel, we needed to stretch the legs.
Piero’s son, Lucca (the one that had been to Oz) was in the foyer when we returned, and Sue asked him for a recommended “local” restaurant, not a tourist one! He hesitated when we said we had no Italian but Sue said we didn’t care, we just wanted to eat locally and well.
He recommended a little family owned place in the backblocks no more than ½ a km away. If you are ever in Viareggio, the restaurant is called La Vecchia Bettola. He also gave us his name and the name of the hotel to show them if they weren't keen about our lack of language.

Sunday is promenade day in Viareggio - a sunny day brings the people out to stroll.

Our travels seem to be full of sitting on balconies and drinking in the local atmosphere.
Sue talking now - We turned up at 8.00 and were the only people there. The young waitress wouldn’t answer when we spoke in English to her – off she ran to the kitchen saying “Stranieri”, (foreigners). I guess they don’t get many tourists but this is just what we were searching for.

The menu was written in Italian on a bit of a brown paper bag. I don't think they normally used a menu, but it was hard to know as the guy who seated us didn't speak at all, and the young girl who served us put things on the table and ran away! I think we felt more like Martians than Australians. We  also get hungry before the average Italian,  and we were in the restaurant by ourselves.
We ordered, antipasto de mer and then rabbit for Leon and fritto misto for me. They brought us out some (unordered) Tuscan style bean soup to start which was very spicy and yummy, with some Tuscan style bread. It has always amazed me that France and Italy are so close but while French bread is wonderful, Italian bread is.....not wonderful.
The antipasto was a mix of hot and cold seafood, all sparkling with freshness and crowned with one amazing dish of stuffed mussels. They had some sort of minced filling and had been tied closed with string and steamed I would say. I tried to tell the young girl how much we liked them, by this time she was smiling shyly at us, but I couldn't get much further.  I tried in vain to find a similar recipe on the internet back in Australia. Oh well.....just a memory.

Main courses were wonderful also and then we enjoyed a baci creme for dessert. They brought us strong Italian coffee (one thing fabulous about Italy) and two tiny glasses and an open bottle of Limoncello.
In all a generous and delicious meal. The bill was presented on a torn corner of what was probably the same paper bag!
After the meal we were saying how much we enjoyed it all when suddenly the smiling chef appeared from the kitchen with another serve of those stuffed mussels. We were stuffed after that dinner, but how do you say no thanks to such generosity?!
When we left, the kitchen staff came out of the kitchen to say goodbye to us. Tourists really were a novelty there. It remains one of the most memorable meals I've had, either at home in Oz or away.

OK, I'm back now - geee she takes over once she gets the keyboard - It really was a great meal and a great experience as well. Next Wednesday, we drive down the boot to Rome and leave the car at the airport before hopping the train back into Rome and our apartment at Campo de Fiori - and a market every day.
Pista Cyclismo FAUSTO COPPI - one of the great Italian cyclists both pre and post war has the cycle path named after him. For a passionate cyclist, how could I not have a photo of this simple monument to the great man?


  1. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Italy is still one of the places I want to visit. Maybe it will happen when Nigel eventually retires and we are here full time. Diane

  2. Sue, the mussels you had are called 'Moules à la ficelle à la Setoise'. There are many recipes (in French) on the internet. A quick google search will reveal them all :).

    My friend absolutely loves them and one day had them - during the same meal - as starter and main course. You should have seen the waiter's face when he ordered a third portion for dessert:)!

  3. Hi Called in via Diane's blog Food Fun and life in Charente.. I came over thinking I was going to see Melbourne and a surprise .. France and Italy. I stayed in Liguria two years ago for 10 days .. absolute bliss.. loved it. Also recommend going where no tourists go , we were treated so well.

  4. Martine,
    Sue will be delighted - look for a future blog with her experimenting.

    Welcome - yes the blog started with a trip to France in 2009 and on our return we thought Our Home Melbourne might be of interest to friends and people we met on our trips. It's fun to share the experiences and great to get feedback from readers around the world. Wait till we get the the Tuscan part of the journey in a few weeks time - fantastic experience.


Love to get feedback so no reason to be shy - have your say.