Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back at the old desk...

View from the Castle near Langhirano
*SIGH* I'm sitting at my desk looking at my cubicle walls and thinking, "What is this travesty?? where's my views of rolling tuscan hillsides??"
Here's a wrap up of our trip to Italy...

Rows of Parmiggiano Reggiano

Master Cheesemaker in the center cutting the cheese. Yellow liquid is the remaining whey.

After our first night in Parma we took off the next morning to learn about Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese production at C.P.L. cheese factory. Apparently the master cheese maker works 7 days a week and never takes vacation. His presence is critical to the production of the cheese. He's well paid and the job is prestigious but that just gives new meaning to being married to the job!
After the tour we had a bit of the tasting and decided to wait to buy our cheese until just before we left. We had a few hours before our Balsamic Vinegar tour so we decided to hit up the MaxMara Outlet, Diffusione Tessile. Let me tell you...see below for the photo of the outlet itself. It was massive and had TONS of great deals. Erin & I would gladly return to go shopping here.

Erin in back of our royal blue ride getting ready for our shopping experience.

Now, see below for the photo across the street from this outlet...

The field
Needless to say, finding this outlet called for extraordinary measures. Our directions were only so-so and we didn't have a GPS (if you're traveling to europe and planning on driving, get a GPS system). Erin did a great job navigating our way through the country roads. I ended up with a jacket, sweater & scarf. Erin got a sweater & scarf.

Next challenge was finding the balsamic vinegar place. talk about over the river and through the woods. We were 1 1/2 hours late by the time we found the place (after erin spotted a AAA for Italy, we ran in and asked for directions...they found it online and printed out better directions for us and explained the way to help us out!). He only had a few minutes to show us around, but he gladly gave us the tour and tasting! It was fantastic. He told us he, his girlfriend, and one other would be harvesting the grapes this week for the Balsamic Production.

Owner of Villa San Donnino, Balsamic Vinegar producer
Balsamic Vinegars aging anywhere from 3 to 50 years...
The following day brought us to the Parma Ham Festival. We were initially told by the guy at the front desk that we couldn't go on a production tour (which was true on a normal basis) so Erin asked about the Parma Festival and he said, "no, it's not open to the public." Saddened with defeat, we went into downtown Parma to check out the city. First place we visited was the Information Office who told us that it was, in fact, open to the public. So after our quick tour and lunch in Parma we took off 30 minutes away down to the town of Langhirano for the festival. 
Once we finally got parking (illegal parking, of course - the workers promised us we'd be ok...and we were.) we found a tourist booth that gave us the idea to go down to the production facility tour. Naturally, it was all conducted in Italian by this guy to the far right. After the tour was over, he shyly came up to us and started talking to us in Italian wondering how much of it we understood. I said, " parla Italiano..." He was pretty dumbfounded and asked, "at all?" He ran and got his girlfriend (pictured with Erin and our tour guide below) so that she could translate the process. 
It was fun after we got a play by play explanation and I was really glad that we went, although I felt VERY uncomfortable at first. I just knew I didn't belong and they said that they didn't know we didn't understand because it appeared that we were just absorbing everything in. And we answered some questions that were asked of us. (Erin & I learned to guess very, very well)
Very cute couple - we found out that they met at a club, that they had been dating for a year, and they had their first kiss at the Castle.

Erin & I sadly left Parma - this part of the trip went so fast!! and everyone was very helpful in the countryside.
We arrived into Milan by around 3:30pm. We were staying in the 'hood. I've never seen so much graffiti before in my life. Erin walked faster than I've ever seen her walk. We were that scared. We walked around before and after our tour of the Last Supper (i saw people from the US begging for any opening that comes up for the Last Supper...they thought they reserved it but never got charged...hello...clue number one that your reservation didn't go through - I had the same problem but kept plugging on until I finally got a booking confirmation number which took me weeks to accomplish.) I felt bad for them but I was really relieved that we were ok. 
We walked around the Duomo (below) at just after sunset. It was an impressive sight at night. We walked up to the top of the Duomo the following day, which could be a bad thing considering how deathly afraid of heights I am!! It was an amazing view and a beautiful Church...

After traveling for more than 16 hours we finally made it home to Los Angeles. It was a fantastic trip...a lot of fun but I'm definitely glad to be back home! Thanks, erin, for a great time in Italy (despite my hermit like, people hating nature).
they can book tours to Parmigiano plants in the area.  You will need to book ahead if you need the tours in English.
Villa San Donnino s.n.c.
Strada Medicina 25
41010 San Donnino (MO) Italy
Telephone: +39 059469325
Mobile: +39 340 2579734
Fax: + 39 059 469325
To book tours of the Balsamic Vinegar production.
This festival is usually the end of August or beginning of September.

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