Driving, Pisa and the Med

Breakfast Florence

Today’s synopsis is brought to you by Sarah who, in a moment of extreme frustration today said “Some days you make all the right decisions and everything is good and you have a great day, and then there are those other days…”

Today started as one of the other days when our apartment internet connection was painfully molasses-y while I was trying to upload 1000 pictures to finish the post from yesterday. It took forever this morning. I can’t even talk about it. It didn’t put us behind but spending a couple hours glaring at my computer with gritted teeth and saying “U P L O A D!” wasn’t the best start to the morning.

I have to give props to Sarah and all my friends and family who travel with me and have the utmost patience to sit with their hands in their laps while I photograph all their food and wait patiently (and quietly) while I blog and write every day. You’re the best and I love you all.

I finally finished and we packed, left the house, had the breakfast above, which was great and also had a view of the Arno river, and then the sun came out! And so did all the tourists!

Florence from the ponte vecchio

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio for the last time (lovely), tried to take a picture with no people in it (unlovely)  and then tried to find a taxi to take us to the airport to get our rental car.

Things we didn’t know: you can’t hail cabs in Florence like you can everywhere else in the world. Instead you need to go to a taxi stand and act like you don’t care and you don’t need a taxi and then one shows up. Indifference, apathy and the correct location are the only things that get you cabs in Florence. We didn’t have any of those things because it took us a long time to figure that out, multiple cabs passed us by and we really really wanted to get out of Florence.

A couple strangers finally took pity on us and explained the system and we finally got a cab that took us to the airport only to discover that the airport rental cars aren’t at the actual airport, they’re accessible only by shuttle bus. So again with the indifference, apathy and finding the correct location for the rental car shuttle bus. Finally we got our car, finally Sarah figured out the clutch, a rather harrowing business, after which she said “You know what I need now? Chocolate.”

One piece of chocolate later we lurched our way out of the airport parking lot, started out going the correct direction and then it started raining and then we got lost, at which point I remembered a conversation we’d had the night before about whether or not to get a GPS for the car and Sarah said “How much is it? 27 Euros? No! Let’s just get extra glasses of wine instead.”

Perhaps we’d have been less lost if we’d had the glasses of wine before we got in the car. I’m sure we would’ve cared less. As it was, my lap looked like this:

maps of Tuscany

And none of those maps included all the cities we drove through. The next two hours of our lives were small skinny two way highways

Driving through Italy

Leading into one roundabout after another with multiple signs listing cities I’d frantically try to find on the map while Sarah circled the roundabout, I’d find none, we’d make a guess as to our exit, repeat repeat repeat.

We finally gave up on the scenic route and took the “expressway,” a slightly less skinny highway system and then also stopped for lunch when we realized that low blood sugar wasn’t helping.

So, this pizza from a road side stand called al Molinacci in Uzzano was awesome.

Sarah pizza

Can we talk about that wood fired  crust?

Al Molinaccio pizza

We certainly can. And it cost 1 euro! Our whole lunch including beer and a package of nutella cookies (we needed them) cost us 7 euros. And then the tide changed.

The sun came out, Cyndi Lauper came on our radio singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and we got to Pisa in record time with blue skies and good parking.

How precious is this little wedding cake of a complex?

pisa italy

You can just see the famous tower behind it. And speaking of that tower, I’ve never seen so many ridiculous selfies as I saw in Pisa. Here’s a small sampling, Can you see everyone with their hand out?

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s almost impossible not to play along though, especially on a day with such blue skies. So, here’s Sarah

Sarah in Pisa

And me

me in pisa

And us

pisa selfie

And one more just for good measure in case you can’t remember what it looks like.

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s simply so photographable we couldn’t help ourselves. And unlike everything else in Italy, they plunked it in a huge green open field and made it so easy to take pictures! Thanks Pisa! We could have paid 18 euros to climb the tower but we didn’t. We climbed two yesterday. We’re good.

Instead we took a tower break to photograph gelato (carmel) and cafe (macchiatto)

Gelato y cafe

And buy postcards and jewelry and then we got back in our little silver bullet and zoomed our way to the coast. In what seemed like .3 seconds, we were at the sea.

The Med in Italy

So gorgeous, the Mediterranean.

The Med in Italy

We’d decided to spend the night at the shore and head into wine country tomorrow so after climbing up and down that cliff and watching the waves crash for what seemed like hours, we continued driving down the coast looking for hotels. We swung off the road in Castiglioncello at the first hotel we found that overlooked the ocean to ask if they had a room.

They did. Would we like to see it? Yes. She takes us downstairs and turns to the sea side of the hotel, opens the door, says “and there’s a balcony” and then she opens that door to this view.

The Med from our balcony

Are we interested in the room?  ARE WE INTERESTED IN THE ROOM? Can I live here? Perhaps forever? Just for tonight? Ok, yes. We’ll take the room.

We moved in and stood on the balcony to take in the view and then only ripped ourselves away because we were starving and it was getting late. And then we tried to find an open restaurant in a small seaside town during off season… not easy. Sarah finally accosted a little old guy on the street to ask him about anything open and he said “Sto pensando… pensando…” and then gave us directions up the street to a place he was sure was open and promised we would eat very well. He actually kissed his fingers, God bless him.

The place he recommended was Scolapasta, a white table cloth place that looked very shi shi but starving beggars can’t be choosers so we went in and sat down… and then proceeded to have the best meal I’ve had since I got to Europe, perhaps one of my best all year.

Bread and wine

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh handmade pasta so thin I could see through it

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh grilled seafood

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

And a yogurt mousse dessert so light it was the texture of whipped cream.

Ristorante Scolapasta

Sarah and I couldn’t get over ourselves or this food. I’ve never had Italian pasta that good ever. Not once. And if I’d left Italy and not eaten food like this, I’d have been so sad. I’m also so glad it was by the sea because the seafood was so fresh. Outstanding. All around.

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Cheers Scolapasta. You’re magnificent.

And then we bought a bottle of wine and went back to our balcony because.. views.

Sarah and the Med

And that’s how a day turns around. Thank God.

Tomorrow: wine country.

A Meetup at Pauly Saal

Pauly Saal

I joined Meetup when I got to Berlin. It’s an online network with thousands of small communities of people meeting up to share various interests. My first meet up was the BBQ on May Day and I’ve since attended wine tastings and this dinner at Pauly Saal. I think I’d have limited usefulness for Meetup in the states given my transient lifestyle but I think it’s a brilliant way for travelers and expats in foreign countries to get below the tourist track of a city. People with like interests can meet up to do interesting things and the most difficult part – for me – is gearing up to meet and talk to strangers. But it’s always worth the effort.

The best – BEST – part of last evening was the company, which encompassed Julia and Fritz, two Germans who are from other parts of the country but now live in Berlin, Margarita a Colombian who works for her embassy, Paraskevi a Greek lady who works for her embassy, Amy an exotic Egyptian interior designer who also organized the dinner and me, an American traveler. A fascinating mix of people.

My favorite thing about international groups is the range of experience and perception, especially when we all have Berlin in common. I always learn some fascinating new information about different countries and I almost always come away from the event thinking differently about politics or food or travel or expat life. This was a particularly fun evening since the group is based around fine dining and a love of food so a lot of our conversation revolved around food while eating food.

I only wish that our Pauly Saal experience had equaled the fine company.

Pauly Saal Berlin

Pauly Saal is a fine dining restaurant with a Michelin Star housed in a building that was formerly a school for Jewish Girls. After closing in WW2 when there were no more Jewish girls in town, the building became a military hospital and then another school and then was returned back to the Jewish community who have renovated it into a beautiful space with museums, art galleries cafes and Pauly Saal.

Let’s call the decor at Pauly Saal eclectic. Taxidermy foxes wearing bandages (?)

Pauly Saal Berlin

And a rocket. As Julia pointed out “Isn’t is odd to decorate a former Jewish school with something that looks like a bomb?”

Pauly Saal Berlin

Yes, I think that’s an odd choice.

But those curiosities aside, the rest of the Pauly Saal space is great, dark green walls and dark wood furniture with huge windows. Really beautiful.

Here’s the 4 course prix fixe meal that cost 78 euros – all descriptions are mine

Chilled raw shrimp with frozen cucumber gelato on top of a spicy avocado pico de gallo:

Pauly Saal Berlin

Pork belly and baked snails with potato slices and sour onions

Pauly Saal Berlin

Grilled fish

Pauly Saal Berlin

And an apricot desert that included gelato and a champagne soup

Pauly Saal Berlin

In contrast to the terrible quality of my low light pictures, the quality of Pauly Saal’s food is excellent. The preparations are modern, the combinations of flavors and textures are interesting and mostly really delicious and that apricot dessert was spectacular, tart and sweet with a creamy accent. I loved it, which almost never happens with my dessert experiences in restaurants with good savory food.

However… the meal was wildly overpriced for the amount of food served. Especially in Berlin where nothing costs this much. I expected to be blown away and instead I got a good meal that should have cost half the price. Also, it took us almost 3 hours to be served 4 courses and that is ridiculous. Every review I’ve seen of Pauly Saal mentions this abysmally slow service and our meal was no exception. I’m glad I had such good dinner company because it mitigated the wait but still… 3 hours is twice as long as that meal should have taken to serve and eat.

So, here’s the thing: I had a great evening. The company was splendid and the food was good. But I found Pauly Saal over priced and disappointing and I wouldn’t recommend it or go back.

Strange how two things can coexist in the same evening but there you have it.

I’m headed to Prague tomorrow so more later from that part of the world. Have a good weekend everyone!